Luca Catanzarite reached base three times, scored three runs and belted a triple for the DJacks.
By Rich Bevensee
Somehow, someway, pitchers Gabe Miller and Jason Baker found the inner strength to ignore the stinging sensation in their fingers brought on by the frigid temperatures in the high 20s and the brisk winds which whipped across Diamond Nation in Flemington and made those temps feel even colder.
To be precise, Miller and Baker said it was the “dog” in them, the willingness to fight through the cold when their team relied on them the most.
Then again, kids in the northeast have been playing baseball in ridiculously cold temperatures for 140 years, so there’s that DNA thing that kicks in.
The Diamond Jacks Super 13U would be wise to call on those two young men for future assignments, because it was their fortitude which carried the day. Miller pitched four no-hit innings and Baker closed out a scary situation with a pair of game-ending strikeouts for the Diamond Jacks, which claimed a 7-5 victory over Grand Slam Foundation 13U in the final pool play game for both teams in the Nation’s season-opening Spring Invitational on Sunday.
The Diamond Jacks led 7-1 after four innings, but, in the sixth, Grand Slam whittled its deficit to two runs thanks to a Fausto Dominguez RBI single and a bases loaded walk to Jeremy Puello. Baker entered the game with the tying run on second base (Dominguez) and one out, and he struck out the next two batters looking to end the drama.
“Before I came in, I knew what I had to do – I had to throw strikes,” Baker said. “And if they hit it I knew my defense would back me up. It was really cold and hard to concentrate but I adjusted pretty quickly once I came in. Even though my first three pitches were balls, you gotta have that dog in you, that inner dog. Today I had it.”
“He’s not one that pitches a ton – he didn’t get to pitch a whole lot last year – so for him to come into that situation, he showed some grit and he got after it and was awesome,” Diamond Jacks coach Matt Markowitz said.
Miller was nearly perfect as the Diamond Jacks starter, pitching four innings and allowing just one unearned run on two walks and five strikeouts. While he was on the hill the Diamond Jacks raced to a 7-1 lead thanks to a balanced offensive effort.
“When you’re on the mound and dealing with those conditions, it’s not about thinking of the physical things that you’re struggling with, but just thinking about just getting to it, getting the outs,” said Miller, a Diamond Jacks Gold team member last season. “As the game went on the winds picked up and you had to just stay warm and do whatever you can to get outs.”
“Gabe was phenomenal,” Markowitz said. “After being with our Gold team for the last couple years he joined us seamlessly. Today he showed some grit and a competitive mindset.”
As far as backing up Miller, leadoff man Luca Catanzarite seemed to be igniting or fueling rallies, reaching and scoring in all three plate appearances and adding a triple as well. Matt Filiaci had a two-run double while Geno Spigarelli, Owen Rivenbark and Owen Ehrenkranz each drove in a run.
Lots of credit goes to Grand Slam for not folding its tents after falling behind 7-1 in the cold conditions. In the top of the fifth, Puello stole home and John Rosado had an RBI double to trim the deficit to 7-3.
In the sixth, with no time left on the clock, Grand Slam loaded the bases with one out and Dominguez walked to the plate representing the tying run. He lifted a soft fly into shallow left which got wind blown and fell in for a run-scoring hit. Puello followed with a bases-loaded walk, pushing Dominguez to second.
But that’s where Baker drew the line. He got his first batter striking out swinging and his last one looking.
“Regardless of this weather, it’s tough to get a win out here. It’s March baseball,” Markowitz said. “This shows you have to stick it out to the end and the better team will prevail.”
Way to go grandson Gabe, you have the grit as well as the animal that lives inside you.