By Sean Reilly
The odds were not in the favor of Northeast Pride 13U Scout entering the championship game of the Summer Bash 13U tournament on Sunday night at Diamond Nation.
The Pennsylvania team was facing Sportika Baseball 13U Elite for the title. And as the schedule, combined with other results, all worked out, Northeast Pride was playing its fourth game of the day. The Manalapan-based Sportika, in contrast, was playing its first.
Not only that, in its playoff game immediately preceding the final, Northeast Pride had to rally in the last inning to force extra innings, and then prevail via a tiebreaker to earn its chance at the championship in Flemington.
“It was a lot of games,” Northeast Pride shortstop and leadoff man Leo Nockley said. “We were underdogs, we were tired, but the final game was just one more big stride.”
Northeast Pride scored twice in the top of the first, kept pressing and gained a 6-1 victory to make its first visit to “The Nation” a memorable one.
“This was our first tournament here and it was a great experience,” Nockley, who was named tournament MVP, said. “I love this complex. The atmosphere, with all the fields in one area, was great.”
Northeast Pride wound up 5-0 over a weekend that began with a 10-1 decision over Dirtbags 13U Mann Up on Saturday.
The remaining two pool play games were on Sunday, starting with an 11-6 victory over PPH 13U Red Renner in the 10 a.m. slot. That was followed by a tough 8-6 win over 5 Star National at 2:15 p.m.
The latter victory clinched first place in the pool, and a 4:30 playoff game against the Hudson Valley Bulldogs. The winner would face Sportika in the final immediately after, since Sportika had the best record and fewest runs allowed among the three pool winners. It had also won twice on Friday, and once on Saturday, to be well rested and have its pitching lined up for the championship.
In the semifinal, Northeast Pride trailed by a run for most of the game before scoring in the top of the sixth for a 3-3 tie against Hudson Valley. With the play clock expired, the game went to an extra seventh inning, which began in the California tiebreaker format with the bases loaded and one out. Northeast Pride took advantage by scoring four times, and then allowed just one run in the bottom of the inning for a 7-4 triumph.
The Northeast Pride pitching staff was thinned as a result of the long day, but still had lefty Jake Snyder – who had played in the outfield in the other games – available for the final. Before he went to work on the mound against Sportika, he stepped into the batter’s box in an important top of the first against the Jersey Shore team.
Nockley led off for Northeast Pride and hit a grounder to shortstop, but was safe when the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Snyder was up next, and doubled to right field. Thomas Raphael then grounded out to shortstop, with Nockley scoring the first run. Dom Salvo added a RBI single later in the inning.
“That inning definitely played a big role in the rest of the game,” Snyder said.
Sportika threatened in the bottom of the inning. It got one run back, but could have scored more. Jordan Walsh led off with a single to right field. After a strikeout, walks to Robert Wrobel and Dieter Van Harten loaded the bases. Cristian Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Walsh, but the next batter also flew out to right field to limit the damage.
Snyder initiated a game-breaking inning for Northeast Pride in the top of the third. He led off with a single to deep shortstop, and Raphael followed with a base on balls. Alex Vacula, who ended 2-for-3, then hit an RBI single to center field for a 3-1 lead.
After a pitching change, Salvo hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Raphael. The next batter popped out to third base, but a single by Jacoby Harnen extended the inning. Jordan Serra then reached on an error to bring in Vacula for a 5-1 advantage.
Snyder, meanwhile, was dominant on the mound. He struck out the side in the second inning. He yielded a single and a walk to start the third, but then struck out the next man looking before fanning the next two on full counts. He kept up his outstanding work by striking out the side in the fourth.
“I was using my legs a lot,” he said. “My slider was definitely working.”
Sportika used a walk and hit batter to put two on with one out in the fifth. Northeast Pride then made a pitching change, with Raphael taking over for Snyder, who allowed two hits with 10 strikeouts, four walks and the one hit batter.
Raphael got outs from the next two batters, and, in the top of the sixth, Logan Mayo walked with one out, moved to second on a ground out and scored when Nockley reached on an error.
“We made it through it,” Snyder said. “This is my first year of travel ball, so the four games in one day is definitely a new thing for me.”
“Our guys were clutch when we needed to be,” Northeast Pride coach Ryan Callahan said. “They showed determination, grit and resiliency. That’s what it’s all about. They had to go 4-0 on the day, and it started early in the morning. They battled the whole way through and never got down on themselves.”