O’Connor’s arm, DiMascio’s HR steer Grit 11U Silver in World Series

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 10, 2023

James O’Connor of Grit 11U permitted two hits, struck out nine and walked one over five innings.

By Joe Hofmann

The game was on the line. The pressure was mounting, the crowd buzzing, and it was all building up inside Evan DiMascio’s head.

It was getting to be a bit too much.

So he sang a song to himself.

Just like that, he was at peace with the moment.

And he hit a home run to win the game.

The three-run blast cleared the left-field wall and lifted Grit 11U Silver to a dramatic 6-3 victory over the Hudson Valley Renegades in the Diamond Nation 11U World Series Saturday night.

So, what was the song? Power, by Kanye West.

“The start of it reminds me of Penn State football,” said DiMascio, a longtime Nittany Lions fan.

The song soothed the kid’s nerves.

Hey, whatever it takes.

DiMascio’s eyes lit up when the ball left the pitcher’s hand and he ripped a first-pitch fastball over the fence.

“I connected and the adrenalin started rushing,” he said. “I was hyped up. It was unbelievable. I was happy to help the team. They were all cheering.”

Grit coach Dustin Brundage, coaching third, knew DiMascio’s hit was gone even before he made contact. He’s watched DiMascio hit enough to know that when things line up properly, good things will happen.

And a good thing sure happened this time.

“For me, as soon as I saw the foot go down and he was on time, I just knew,” Brundage said. “Before he even started to swing, I started walking off. I just knew. You could see that he was about to get all of it.”

Grit trailed entering the final inning, 3-2, but rallied to win it.

Lucas Valentino had a base hit, stole second and third, and then scored on Thomas Leahy’s single to tie the game at 3-3.

Teammate Tyler Aboyoun (2-for-2 with a double) singled to put two runners on, setting the stage for DiMascio, who would soon send the Grit side into absolute pandemonium. The team’s dugout was rocking – loudest it has ever been, according to Brundage – and the crowd in the nearby bleachers followed suit.

Bedlam began with the home run and soon escalated after DiMascio rounded the bases, touched home plate and picked up his bat.

Brundage caught and played third base collegiately at Division 1 Campbell University and was drafted by the Cubs in the 1994 draft, so he has been around the thrills and suspense of baseball.

And Saturday night’s victory was exciting as it gets.

Evan DiMascio ripped a three-run, game-winning home run for Grit 11U Silver.

“Water was flying everywhere,” Brundage said. “When I spoke with the kids after the game … there was so much positive energy. The parents were all so happy. It was such a great moment. I’ll never forget it.”

There were plenty of other heroes in the Grit dugout. Pitcher James O’Connor, a 5-foot-11, 130-pounder nicknamed the Moose, was dominant, allowing two hits and fanning nine while walking just one over five innings.

“He pitched very well,” Brundage said. “He was in and out, up and down. He pitched to soft contact. His father (Brian) and I have coached together for four years and I have had the pleasure of watching James grow up.

“He is called the Moose for a reason. He has so much size for his age. He is all arms and legs and his coordination is coming together. He wants to be a great baseball player.”

When O’Connor and his three-quarters sidearm delivery is on – as it was Saturday – he utterly dominates opposing hitters. The ball is difficult to pick up and is in on the hitters quicker than usual. And his fastball tops out at 67 MPH – much more velocity than most 11-year-old hurlers.

“He has great run on all his pitches,” Brundage said. “We emphasize to the kids that movement is more important than velocity and he has

both. He’ll be a force for years to come.”

Others to have a hand in the Grit victory included Nathan Brundage (1-for-2), a first baseman-catcher-third baseman, and shortstop Christopher Shenoogian (2-for-2).

“Nathan is fast with some pop,” Brundage said, “and Christopher is an athletic kid who is always reliable. He’ll become a great player.”

The team is jelling in its first full season together.

“We are made up of kids from several organizations,” Brundage said. “Me and my staff want to establish an identity and we wanted to get everyone onto the same page and get the kids to believe in each other.

“That’s what made the win so exciting. It was a total team win. Even when we were down, you could see that we were never out of it. You could smell it.”

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