By Sean Reilly
The Baseball U Anthracite 12U team came to Diamond Nation over the weekend with a special purpose in mind.
The Pennsylvania squad was coming off a trip to an event in Maryland a week earlier that brought a disappointing showing.
Its visit to Flemington to compete in the Summer Bash tournament not only brought a chance at better results, but an opportunity to close out a season which began back in March in fine style.
“We struggled last week,” said Anthracite player Chris Knelly. “We came here to win it, especially since it’s our last tournament. We wanted to end it on a good note.”
With Knelly’s bat and arm leading the way, Baseball U Anthracite achieved its goal.
He was 3-for-3 with a double, triple, home run and five RBI, and also pitched three innings of scoreless relief to earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors as his team defeated Elite Baseball U 12U, 8-1, to win the championship on Sunday afternoon.
“Last week we just weren’t ready to play,” he said. “This week we were. We were more focused. Last week we were more just messing around. We didn’t have many hits.”
Baseball U Anthracite went 4-0 at Diamond Nation, outscoring its opponents, 55-5.
“They played well all weekend,” said winning coach Patrick Knelly. “We hit and hit and hit. Last week, we got shut down by a couple of good arms. We worked on it, came here and hit all weekend. It was fun to watch.”
Elite Baseball NY 12U, which ended 3-1 in the tournament, took an early lead when Noah Goodrich slugged a two-out solo home run in the top of the first.
On the opposite side, there was no need to panic. Just a desire to get to work in the bottom of the inning.
Starting pitcher and leadoff man James Pecora got things going with a single to center field. Knelly followed with an RBI double on a full count to the gap in right-center.
“I was just trying to work opposite field on a fastball outside,” he said.
Kaden Koerbler was up next, and after Knelly stole third, and with the infield playing in, he singled past shortstop for a 2-1 lead.
The next three batters were retired, but Baseball U Anthracite had regained control.
In the top of the second, Pecora got three quick ground ball outs.
In the bottom of the inning, eighth batter Miles McShea was hit by a pitch with one out, and took second on a wild pitch before Chase Lowe walked on a full count.
Pecora was out on an infield fly caught by the pitcher, which sent Knelly to the plate in what turned out to be the most important at-bat of the game. He walloped a home run over the fence in left field, giving his team a 5-1 lead.
“It was an off-speed pitch and I was trying to pull it with a line drive into the gap,” he said. “And it went over the fence.”
Baseball U Anthracite extended its lead in the fourth inning. Ethan Bench led off with a single over the head of a leaping first baseman and into right field. McShea walked. An error on a pickoff throw to first sent Bench to third, and McShea would next steal second. After an out, Pecora hit a sacrifice fly to right field. Knelly then put an offensive capper on his afternoon by hitting a triple to center field for his fifth RBI.
“He makes it look easy,” the coach said. “We come to expect it. He’s the whole package. Speed, power, great arm, phenomenal defender and an even better kid. He’s a great player.”
Baseball U Anthracite closed out its scoring when Evan Knelly led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run.
Pecora earned the win by pitching three innings. He allowed two hits with three strikeouts and one walk. His other six outs were via ground balls. Knelly yielded one hit over his three innings, with four strikeouts and one walk.
“I’m upset because I’m going to miss this team,” Chris Knelly said. “But I’m happy with the way we ended it. We learned to come together, figure out our differences and make it work.