By Sean Reilly
The Northeast United 13U were truly anxious to compete over the weekend at Diamond Nation in the 13U Fall Harvest tournament.
With a multitude of fields, all featuring artificial turf surfaces, when you visit ‘The Nation,’ unless the weather is truly awful, you’re always going to be able to play.
Northeast United, based in Rockland County, N.Y., had been scheduled for tournaments at different locations the prior five weeks, and every one was rained out.
So when Northeast United came to Flemington this weekend, the team knew it was going to play. They also made the most of it, by going unbeaten in four games to capture the championship.
The capper was a 9-6 comeback victory over the Diamond Jacks 13U White in the tournament final on Sunday afternoon.
Aiden Miranda led the way in the game for Northeast United by hitting a three-run inside-the-park home run and a two-run double, while Luke Fazulak, who walked three times in the final, was selected tournament MVP for his overall play during the weekend, in which his team outscored its opponents, 48-9.
Some of the players got to get a few reps over the past month as guests on other teams, which is important as they make the transition from the small to big field that goes with the September move to the 13U level.
But there’s no substitute to competing alongside your friends and regular teammates, which is what Northeast United was finally able to experience over the weekend.
“It felt great to be able to play,” said Fazulak. “It was very hard, because you’re looking to play with your friends, but keep getting rained out.”
The Diamond Jacks 13U White took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Logan Kurzeja led off by reaching on a two-base error, James Cokeley was hit by a pitch and Tucker Gallagher singled to left field to load the bases. Connor Lahey followed with a RBI single to third base, with an error on the play scoring the second run.
Northeast United took the lead in the second inning, on a play affected, appropriately enough, by the sun.
D.J. de la Fuente led off with a single to left field and stole second base. Jason Sporer walked, and was replaced by courtesy runner Nick Mandio. The next batter lined out to shortstop.
Miranda followed, and a wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position. He then hit a ball well to center field, which the outfielder had trouble tracking due to the glare. The ball fell, and headed all the way toward the fence, allowing Miranda to circle the bases for a three-run home run and 3-2 lead.
“I’ll take it,” Miranda said. “When I was up there, I was thinking about driving the ball into the gap.”
The Diamond Jacks fought back, however.
Luke Fazulak of Northeast United was named the 13U Fall Harvest MVP.
Kurzeja led off the third inning with a triple to left center, and he scored the tying run on Gallagher’s one-out ground out to first base.
In the top of the fourth, Nico Zamrock singled with one out, and moved to second on a wild pitch. Ben Vannozzi came up with two out, and sent a 2-2 pitch into center field for an RBI single and 4-3 lead.
Northeast United reclaimed the lead by scoring twice in the bottom of the frame.
Antoine Huet led off with a single and stole second before Shawn Pegues was hit by a pitch with one out. Cihan Paso was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Steven Degree followed by hitting a ball to shallow right field that was caught by the backpedaling second baseman and went for a game-tying sacrifice fly. A full-count walk to Fazulak re-loaded the bases, and Alex Reyes also walked on a full count for a 5-4 lead.
Northeast United added four more runs in the fifth for a 9-4 advantage.
The inning began with a de la Fuente single to right field, before Jason Sporer was hit by a pitch. Huet then hit an RBI double to center, which left runners on second and third for Miranda. He responded with his second big hit of the game, a two-run double to center. He scored later in the inning on the front end of a double steal.
The Diamond Jacks came to bat in the sixth inning needing a big rally, since the 1:50 game clock was running close to zero.
Gallagher led off and was safe on a throwing error after hitting a tapper in front of the plate. Lahey was up next, and hit a two-run inside-the-park home run to left center to draw the Diamond Jacks to within 9-7.
After a ground out, William Ashley drew a walk. But Fazulak, who was now pitching in relief for Northeast United, induced a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning and also the game, since the clock ran out seconds later.
Lahey finished 3-for-3 and Vannozzi went 2-for-2 for the Diamond Jacks White.
In addition to Miranda, de la Fuente and Huet finished with two hits for Northeast United.
“This was a good weekend,” Fazulak said. “We had confidence we were going to win. We just needed a chance to play.”