North Jersey Heat keeps aces up its sleeve in 14U Easter Extravaganza

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 1, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

After seeing his North Jersey Heat team lose the first two games of the 14U Easter Extravaganza, coach Dan Conway had an ace up his sleeve.

Actually, he had a few aces. Conway knew that all four teams in the 14U pool would qualify for the playoffs, so he held out his best arms for the semifinals and final. 

And Conway’s plan started to look very astute after his Heat defeated the Morris County Cubs in the semis, the same Cubs which run-ruled the Heat the day before in pool play.

Enter Andrew Swanick. In the final, the tall righty not only came on in relief and escaped a final inning scare, he went 3-for-3 with two doubles to lift the Heat to a 4-3 victory over the North Jersey Diamondbacks Black to earn the 13U Extravaganza title on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“Andrew is a silent leader. He just goes out and does his thing,” Conway said of Swanick, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “He hit in every game, runs the bases well and plays good defense, and he got us through that last inning.”

Luke Fazio allowed just two runs over the first three innings before Swanick came on in relief. Swanick was still on the hill to protect the Heat’s one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh. 

The Diamondbacks’ Hector Liriano led off with a double and promptly stole third with no out. With all indications pointing to a tie game at the very least, Swanick bore down, retiring a pair of Diamondbacks on strikeouts looking before he induced Ethan Chung to line out to third for the final out of the tournament.

“You can’t let them ever get to you,” Swanick said. “You have to dial in and focus on the strike zone.”

In a tournament which featured more than a few mercy-rule endings, the 14U final was a well-played ballgame on both sides of the diamond, with neither team gaining a significant edge. 

“The weather was tough but we played the game the right way,” Conway said. “We played good defensive baseball. That’s the key, especially in this weather, and we pitched well.”

Also, both finalists went 0-2 in pool play. Perhaps Diamondbacks coach Joe Clemente had the same strategy as Conway, as the Diamondbacks defeated Somerset Select 16-4 in the semis, the same Somerset team which beat Clemente’s team 10-2 the day before. 

In the final, the Diamondbacks drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning on Luke Havel’s RBI single, and scored again in the second when Sebastian Bruno walked and later scored on a wild pitch.

Andrew Swanick of the North Jersey Heat is the 14u Easter Extravaganza MVP.

The Heat climbed back into the ballgame in the top of the third. Quinn Baron knocked in a run with a bases-loaded fielder’s choice, and Swanick drove in two runs with a blast to left, his first double of the game as the Heat claimed a 3-2 lead. 

“I’m looking to see the ball, hit the ball,” Swanick said of his fast offensive start this spring. “I like to keep it simple because following a simple format helps me stay with what I know.”

The Diamondbacks tied the game in the bottom of the fourth when Bruno tripled to left center, scoring Liriano.

The game-winning run came via an unlikely fielding error by the Diamondbacks. With two out, the Heat’s T.J. Curnow scored from third when Nate Friedman hit a grounder to short and the throw couldn’t be scooped. 

For the Heat, Fazio threw three innings and allowed two runs on two hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Swanick took over in the fourth and allowed one run on two hits and two walks with four strikeouts.

“I’m thrilled with our pitching,” Conway said. “Those guys, I’d put them on the mound against anybody. They’re just quiet leaders, they go out there and do their thing and pitch well.”

The Diamondbacks’ pitching combo of hard-throwing lefty Cole Patterson and right-handed off-speed specialist Chung had most of the Heat lineup guessing throughout the contest. Patterson allowed three runs on three hits and three walks with six strikeouts in three innings. Over the final four frames, Chung permitted just one run on one hit with no walks and four strikeouts.

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