North Jersey Cardinals 14U do all the little things right

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 21, 2022

Dominic Labisi of North Jersey Cardinals eyes up a pitch during Spring Fever tournament.

By Rich Bevensee

Liam Melvin and Dominic Labisi provided the offensive fireworks but even these heavy hitters acknowledge that batters box intangibles like aggressive at bats, execution of small details and putting the ball in play are the ingredients for getting crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

The North Jersey Cardinals 14U Red squad had 10 of its 11 players put the ball in play, they collected eight hits, accounted for two sacrifice bunts which set the stage for crucial runs and took advantage of four errors in an 8-3 victory over Cage Academy Elite in the Spring Fever Tournament on Friday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“We didn’t necessarily get a lot of hits but I thought we grinded out a lot of at bats,” North Jersey coach Frank Dasti said. “We put the pressure on them to make plays, had a couple bunts that were big for us because we advanced the runners, and we scored on their mistakes. So I thought our overall approach was very good today.”

Melvin and Labisi both had close calls with inside-the-park home runs for the Cards. 

Dasti held Melvin up at third after the Cardinals shortstop led off the bottom of the second inning with a triple which skittered to the wall in left center field. He later scored on an infield error on James Doehner’s grounder. 

“As I see the ball roll to the wall I’m thinking four all the way,” Melvin said. “I was looking for coach to see if he waves me around, and just digging with my head down. I trust my speed, I would take a shot. I wanted to score but I trust coach.”

Three innings later, in the bottom of the fifth, Labisi hit a two-on, two-out laser which bounced just past the outstretched glove of Cage center fielder Lincoln Maikos and rolled to the right center field fence. It will go in the books as a two-run triple because Labisi chugged for home but was thrown out at the plate.”

“Sure I thought I would make it,” Labisi said with a big smile. “Right when I was rounding first I was watching him (Maikos) and saying, get past him, get past him. And then I was looking for coach, looking for the signs. 

And when the ball rolled to the fence?

“I was thinking four, just going home. I’m scoring today.”

“He came out of the box real hard and he’s 150 miles an hour all the time,” Dasti said. “It was a situational decision to send him. With two outs, he was going.”

Jack Vallilla of Cage Academy takes a rip during Spring Fever tournament action on Friday.

Four Cardinals pitchers combined to scatter six hits and give up three runs, two unearned. Doehner started and chalked up a scoreless inning. Sahil Shah threw 2⅔ innings and allowed one hit and one walk. Melvin threw 2⅓ innings and yielded three hits and got a strikeout. And Patrick Layng threw a scoreless seventh, allowing a hit and getting a strikeout.

Melvin’s second inning triple set the stage for a 3-0 Cardinals lead. Jack McLoughlin singled after Doehner reached on an error, and those two moved to second and third thanks to a perfect Layng sac bunt. Brady Sodano then hit a grounder which was misplayed and both Doehner and McLoughlin scored. 

“Approach, contact, getting bunts down, manufacturing runs, putting pressure on their defense. We’ve been struggling with that so this game was a big step for us,” Dasti said. 

The Cardinals tacked on a pair of runs in the third for a 5-0 lead when Luke McGuire singled and Andrew Haviland drove him in with a single to center. The throw home in an attempt to get McGuire was cut off and the ensuing throw sailed into center, allowing Haviland to score. 

Cage woke up the bats in the top of the fourth when Jack Vallilla singled and Tommy Kwiatkowski earned a two-out walk. An outfield error on Jake Ricchuti’s fly ball allowed both Vallilla and Kwiatkowski to score. Then Matt Trimble added an RBI single, cutting the Cardinals lead to 5-3. 

North Jersey splurged in the bottom of the fifth with a three-spot of its own. Sodano singled, Ryan Gianchiglia walked and they moved to second and third with one of coach Dasti’s favorite plays, the sac bunt, executed by leadoff man Carter Ferris. 

McGuire followed with a two-out grounder which was misplayed, allowing Sodano to score. Then came Labisi’s rocket to center, which plated Gianchiglia and McGuire. 

“In the beginning of the year we weren’t there 100 percent,” Labisi said. “We didn’t look like a great baseball team, but now we’ve improved so much, it’s crazy. I think confidence has come into play for us. Our last few tournaments we’ve come out with wins and we get a lot of confidence and then we win baseball games.”

Labisi and Cardinals first baseman Haviland combined for the team’s defensive play of the game in the top of the third when Labisi made a feet-first diving snare of a Chris Elmsari grounder up the middle and Haviland made a nice pick off the turf for the putout.

Maikos may not have tracked down Labisi’s triple – not many players would have, but the Cage center fielder provided his team with a web gem of his own in the bottom of the fourth with a terrific running catch of a Layng fly ball to right center. 

Elmsari pitched five innings for Cage, allowing one earned run on eight hits and a walk with three strikeouts. Kwiatkowski pitched a scoreless sixth with a hit and a strikeout. Jack Vallilla and Matt Trimble had two hits apiece for Cage Academy.

The North Jersey Cardinals are scheduled to conclude pool play with a game against the Morris County Cubs on Saturday and against Wladyka Baseball Continental on Sunday.

Cage Academy will face Wladyka on Saturday and the Morris County Cubs on Sunday.

The top four seeds meet in the semifinals on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. and the championship game is slated for 6:30 p.m.

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