By Rich Bevensee
When the last of the players and their families trickled into the Diamond Nation parking lot and the lights turned off exactly at midnight, it may or may not have been due to an automatic timer.
Upon the conclusion of the Summer Finale 16U Red pool playoffs, those lights may have flickered off from tournament-induced exhaustion.
The New York Dynasty of Staten Island, N.Y., survived not one, not two, but three rounds of extra innings with the highly-stressful California rules in place – starting the inning with bases loaded and one out.
Second-seeded Dynasty survived third-seeded Philadelphia Area Baseball National 15U, 7-6, in an eight inning thriller in the semifinals, and then outlasted fourth-seeded North East Baseball West of Springfield, Massachusetts, 5-4, in nine innings in the championship game to claim the Summer Finale championship at ‘The Nation’ in Flemington.
Dynasty coach Ryan Kennedy said his players never faced those extra inning rules until Sunday, but they seemed to use the semifinal experience to their benefit in the title game.
“First time we’ve had to do that, ever,” Kennedy said. “After doing it once in the semis, the guys were saying we’ve been here before, we know what to do. I give them all the credit in the world for being that confident after never being in that situation.”
The entire drama was settled in the bottom of the ninth of the championship game, when Dynasty’s first batter, Vin Grimaldi, was hit by a pitch to force in Mateo Gordon with the winning run.
In the top of the ninth, it was Grimaldi, primarily a catcher with hardly any pitching experience, who came in to pitch. With the bases loaded and one out, he leaped to grab a come-backer and get the force at home, and he induced a fly ball for the final out.
Grimaldi, who in the championship game drove in two runs and got the win in relief, and caught two and a half games on Sunday, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“I don’t know how he’s gonna feel tomorrow,” Kennedy said. “He caught two and a half games today, came in and shut the door in the championship. He’s just a baseball player. He’s awesome.”
Kennedy said Grimaldi began to ask to pitch in the second inning of the final and never let up, all the way until reliever Ayden Rosario lasted through the eighth inning after four innings of work.
“When I’m on the mound I feel like I’m that guy and no one’s gonna touch me,” said Grimaldi, a rising junior at St. Peter’s Boys High School in Staten Island. “Feeling the adrenaline out there is amazing, through the roof. I love that feeling. You have control, the ball’s in your hand, and the crowd’s going crazy.
“And when you have a great team behind you, you feel like you can do anything.”
Grimaldi struck a chord there. Dynasty’s defense, which was errorless in the final, featured a terrific left side of the infield – strong-armed shortstop Justin Levine and acrobatic third baseman Gordon, both of whom are rising juniors at St. Peter’s. Gordon had five defensive chances at third and four of his plays were of the highlight-reel variety, with one back-handed stop after another.
NEB West, playing for the first time as a group, never led the championship game until the top of the eighth inning. Again, starting with the bases loaded and one out, Aiden Palen was hit by a pitch to force in a run, and pinch-hitter Bryce Barlow sliced a base hit through the right side for a 4-2 lead.
“The majority of these guys haven’t played with each other before, so how quickly these guys came together and developed chemistry and played as a team to a championship game is pretty cool. Very impressive,” NEB coach Mike Ahmed said.
Dynasty shut down the NEB rally when Levine began a 6-4-3 double play, then countered in the bottom of the eighth when Lou Demontreux walked to force in one run and Jack Kehoe ripped a single to right to tie the game.
Once Grimaldi held NEB scoreless in the top of the ninth, the stage was set – for Grimaldi again.
“I figure if you give up one run you have a chance, so we’re trying to limit it to one, but that didn’t work out,” Kennedy said. “But we got a two-out hit from Jack Kehoe, and then to give up none like that in the ninth is pretty impressive. Once they had none I figured we’d score one way or another.”
The pitching from both sides was impressive as well.
Dynasty starter Chris Caccavale surrendered one run on two hits and one walk with three strikeouts in four innings. Rosario pitched the next four and allowed three runs on four hits and no walks with two strikeouts.
Vin Grimaldi of NY Dynasty was named the 16U Red Summer Finale MVP.
“Every single guy who pitched, all gutsy guys,” Kennedy said. “Caccavale pitched the last two innings of the last game (semis) and four innings of this one. He’s almost hanging by the end and he wanted to stay in, which I love. Ayden’s really a catcher, but he’s like, ‘I can throw strikes. I said all right,
“And Vin, he was asking me to pitch all night, and I told him I’ve got three outs for you, that’s it. I didn’t want to do it because it’s so much on his arm. But he was begging me and begging me, and at that point (the ninth inning) I didn’t have anyone else, and Vin said, ‘I can get two outs.’”
Grimaldi was asked if he’d consider pitching as a secondary position after his gutsy performance in the final.
“Nope,” he said. “That’s a firm no. I’ll always be a catcher.”
For NEB, Griffin Gauthier pitched in relief in the semifinals to help his team advance, then started the final and lasted five strong innings with nine strikeouts. He allowed two runs on five hits and no walks. Ethan Purcell pitched the final four innings and permitted three runs on one hit and two walks and a hit batsman with four strikeouts.
“They did what we asked them to do – throw strikes and compete – and that’s what it was,” Ahmed said. “They came through and did an awesome job for the team.”
The Red Bracket semifinals generated enough drama for an entire week.
In one semi, Dynasty trailed PAB National 5-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning but began an unlikely rally, capped when Levine was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in the tying run.
PAB took a 6-5 lead in the top of the eighth. In Dynasty’s half of the inning, Anthony Macaluso ripped a grounder through the middle to score two, lifting his team to a walk-off, 7-6, win and propelling the Staten Islanders into the final.
In the other semi, NEB West shocked top-seeded Lehigh Valley Revolutions, 5-4. That was a huge win for NEB considering the 16U pool of teams featured two championship brackets and the Revs were the No. 1 overall seed after out-scoring the opposition 24-5 to go 3-0 in pool play.
The Revs allowed just five runs in three games heading into the semis, but NEB jumped on the Revs starter for five runs in the first inning and never trailed. The Revs plated two runs in the seventh inning and had the tying and winning runs aboard, but their rally fell short when reliever Montgomery Gantz got a strikeout for the final out.