By Sean Reilly
A championship was on the line when Lance Morgan came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning in the final of the Diamond Nation 15U Summer Finale Tournament on Sunday night.
But after all his team had done to reach that point, delivering in that spot seemed almost easy.
Morgan, the second baseman and No. 2 batter for Hudson Valley Select Delanoy Jr., stepped to the plate with the score tied, runners on second and third and one out.
The odds were in his favor, even if they weren’t for his team throughout much of the day.
“There was a runner on third, so I was thinking, just put it in play,” he said. “That’s all I had to do.”
Morgan followed with a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Zach Kantor with the winning run, as Hudson Valley Select beat Biopitch Baseball of Toms River, 5-4, for the title in Flemington.
It was the only lead of the game for the New York team, which was playing its third contest of the day.
The team’s Sunday began with a 8-0 victory over the NJ Titans, which clinched a first-place pool finish and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
In the semifinals against the RCBC Ghost 15U Americans, Hudson Valley Select was limited to one hit and trailed 1-0 until scoring a run in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings.
After allowing two runs in the top of the eighth – under the California Tiebreaker – Hudson Valley tied the score before Branden Jenkins delivered the winning hit with two out in the bottom of the frame by legging out an infield single.
Then came the final against Biopitch, in which Hudson Valley scored twice in the home half of the sixth to tie, 4-4, before winning the title in the seventh.
Hudson Valley Select, which went 5-0 on the weekend with a 30-11 run differential, got a break in the seventh inning when Kantor’s routine infield pop up with one out was dropped.
That sent up the top of the order, and D.J. Aviles (2-for-4) hit a first-pitch single to right field. Kantor stopped at second, but a wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position for Morgan, who was already 2-for-3.
With the infield now having to play in, his job became that much easier.
“I hit the ball to center, and that’s all I had to do,” he said. “Coming back in the two games showed that we’re a really gritty team that never gives up.”
Biopitch finished the weekend 4-1, but was playing its second game of the day in the final, since it completed pool play on Saturday.
The Shore team took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Joey DiMeo led off and was hit by a pitch. Davis Harr was then retired on a sacrifice bunt, with DiMeo alertly racing to third after he noticed the base was unoccupied. DiMeo scored when Nicholas Rakoski hit a sacrifice fly to left field.
Biopitch Baseball extended its lead when Nick Malinowski led off the second inning with a home run over the fence in left-center field.
Hudson Valley Select closed to 2-1 in the bottom of the second. Brayden Rakov led off with a single, advanced on a ground out and moved to third when Nico Simou singled to center. Rakov was forced to hold when the next batter grounded out to third, but he scored on a wild pitch with Logan Garvey at the plate.
Biopitch Baseball pushed its lead to 3-1 in the third. DiMeo, who ended 2-for-2, hit a one-out grounds rule double to right center, and moved to third when Davis Harr was safe on a fielder’s choice on the left side of the infield. Rakoski then hit an RBI double to left field. The trail runner was thrown out at the plate.
Alex Jendras of Hudson Valley Select has been named the 15U Summer Finale MVP.
Hudson Valley Select got back within 3-2 during its half of the third. Morgan singled to center with two out and Alex Jendras followed with a stand-up triple to right center. Two walks loaded the bases, but a strikeout ended the inning.
Biopitch Baseball extended its lead to 4-2 in the fifth inning, after Chase Kaplan reached on a one-out error, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored when DiMeo singled to right field.
Hudson Valley Select rallied to tie in the sixth. Kayden Durkin led off with an opposite field double to right field. Rakov was up next and walked. John Esposito then dropped down a sacrifice bunt, and an error on the play scored courtesy runner Jendras and sent Rakov to third. Simou was up next, and grounded out to right field, with the tying run scoring.
Durkin, who had a strong weekend at the plate, also pitched the final two innings to gain the victory. He allowed no hits, with four strikeouts and one walk.
Jendras was named the tournament MVP.
“We played great baseball in the last couple innings of both games,” Jendras said. “We came together as a team and as a family.”