Antonio Ciccone of NJ Hammers is safe at third after tagging on Nick Verdiglione’s fly out to right.
By Sean Reilly
Opponents of the NJ Hammers should take note: Do not run on catcher Brian Cabreja. And when pitching to Cabreja, the No. 3 hitter in the lineup, do so with extreme caution.
Cabreja went 2-for-2 with a double, sacrifice fly and three RBI when the Hammers made their 2023 Diamond Nation debut with a 10-0 win over Diamond Primed Silver on Friday morning at the 11U Easter Extravaganza Tournament in Flemington. He also easily threw out the only two runners who attempted to steal.
The Hammers followed that game with a 13-1 triumph over ASBA Broomall, in which Cabreja was 1-for-2 with a hard RBI base hit. He also threw out the only base stealer who tested his arm.
As a catcher, he’s gained outside experience this year playing on a larger field, despite his age. It makes a difference playing on the smaller 11U field with his Hammers buddies.
“I’ve been playing up for my middle school in Keyport, and that field is 60/90,” he said. “It feels big. Compared to that, this field is tiny.”
At the plate, he drove in runs during four of his five at-bats during the day. He missed out on a perfect showing after being retired on a grounder that was hit sharply to third base in the second game.
“I just try to see what the situation is, and then I try to put the barrel on the ball,” he said.
The Hammers are one of the winningest teams from any age group that competes at “The Nation.” They won two tournaments last year, and were rained out in the championship of a third.
The team finished the 2022 spring/summer tournament campaign with a 55-1 record, and ended the summer with an overall record of 157-9 since the Monmouth County team formed in 2019. The Easter Extravaganza is their second tournament this year, and they went unbeaten while winning the first.
It was easy to see why the Hammers are so good on Friday. The bats were clutch, the base running was alert, and the pitching and defense on point while putting the team in strong position to be among the four teams among the 10-team field to qualify for the Saturday playoffs.
Diamond Primed Silver, from New York City, put a runner on first after a full-count walk with two out in the top of the first. He was promptly thrown out stealing by Cabreja.
In the bottom of the inning, leadoff man Antonio Ciccone IV was hit by a pitch on a full count. He stole second and crossed to third when Nick Verdiglione flew out to right field. Cabreja then hit a sacrifice fly to center.
The Hammers added four more runs in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
Winning pitcher Logan Bonici (2 for 2) led off the frame by reaching on a single to shortstop. He stole second and scored when Jake Karpell singled to left field. Braden Edelle then walked, stole second and scored on a single to left field by Joey LoPresti. The other runs in the inning scored on a ground out to shortstop from Ciccone and two-out single to center by Cabreja.
Michael Annucci hit a one-out infield single in the third inning, stole second and came home on a single to center by Bonici for a 6-0 advantage.
The Hammers scored their final runs in the fourth inning.
Edelle led off with a single to left and stole second. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when LoPresti grounded out to second base. Ciccone singled to left and advanced on a wild pitch. Verdiglione walked, and Cabreja followed with an RBI double to right field. Mike Faulk drew a walk to load the bases for Travis, and his single scored two runs to end the game via the mercy rule.
“We practice a lot so that we’re ready,” Cabreja said. “It’s fun playing here.”