NH Crush pitcher Garrett Schmidt is congratulated by coach Dave Maffei after a 1-2-3 inning.
By Sean Reilly
The NH Crush made their first-ever appearance at Diamond Nation on Friday night, and enjoyed every bit of the experience.
The boys from New Hampshire traveled to Flemington to compete in the 12U Battle At The Turf. They’ve made a weekend getaway from their hometowns after a storm a week ago left anywhere from one to three feet of snow on the ground.
Needless to say, their season-opening tournament at “The Nation” represents the first chance the team has had to play ball in 2023.
“We have snow on the ground back home and haven’t been outside once,” Crush coach Andy Whigham said. “We weren’t expecting it to be 50 degrees and sunny before the game started. This is our first time here, and this place is gorgeous. To be able to come down here, with all of these turf fields, great lighting and the people are great. It’s awesome to be here.”
One other important thing made the night a good one for the Crush – the team opened with a crisp, well-played 7-2 victory over the Morris County Cubs, one of the outstanding local programs to have made Diamond Nation their home away from home over the years.
The Crush got an excellent pitching performance from right-hander Garrett Schmidt, who worked the first five innings. He allowed two hits, with four strikeouts and one walk. He got five ground-ball outs, and two more on infield pop ups. He pitched three 1-2-3 innings, including his last, as the Crush defense played errorless ball.
“He came out and got us five innings in the first outing of the year, on 65 pitches,” Whigham said. “He was efficient. In his last inning, gutting it out, he went behind 3-0 on his first batter and came back and struck out two of the last three, it was incredible stuff.”
“I was using my fastball,” Schmidt said. “I also changed my windup during the game. I thought it was quicker and it gave me more confidence. Everyone played well and we all did what we needed to do. It was fun to get out and play.”
The offense was also clutch, as a five-run bottom of the third inning broke open a 1-1 game against the Cubs, who were also making their 2023 debut.
The Crush took a 1-0 lead in the second when Carter Glines led off with a walk, advanced to third on two wild pitches and then scored when Nick Ciardelli grounded out to first.
The Cubs tied the game in the top of the third when Liam Vonroth led off with a home run over the fence in left-center.
Schmidt had retired the first six Cubs batters prior to the hard-hit long ball by Vonroth. But the pitcher was far from rattled. He smiled, went back to work, and retired the next three batters.
The Crush then broke the game open in the bottom of the inning. Gates Kelly led off and was safe on an error. Aaron Ackerman singled on a chopper between home and the pitcher, and Cole Dube walked to load the bases.
With Romeo Dominguez at the plate, a wild pitch scored Kelly. Dominguez then singled to center to bring in Ackerman. Dube scored on an errant pickoff try, and Dom Maffei grounded out to second to score Dominguez for a 5-1 lead. Gavin Whigham walked, stole two bases and scored when Glines singled to left field.
The Cubs got a run back when Nico Olives produced a RBI single in the fourth. The Crush responded with a run-scoring opposite-field single by Maffei in the fifth.
“This was a better game that we played tonight than we played in our entire 40 game season last year,” coach Whigham said. “We played clean baseball. The game gets easy when you catch the ball, throw the ball and get a couple of key hits.
“All of them have matured. They’ve grown up a little bit, they want to be pushed harder, and they’re realizing that they’ve got more responsibility than just playing for themselves. They’ve got to do the right things to help each other out. It shows. Kids that maybe didn’t get on the field a lot tonight but were still in the batting order also had clutch hits and were willing to do what they needed to do to help the team win. Everything clicked.”