By Rich Bevensee
With the offense struggling to get out of the gate in the final tournament of the year, the Bucks County Generals 16U ballclub relied on the arms of Ryder Olson and Brady Sell to jumpstart the team’s weekend.
By coming through with a pair of gems, the two high school sophomores bought enough time until the Generals offense began to hum. As a thank you to his teammates, Brandon Labs provided a pair of final-inning highlights to cement the Generals’ title hopes.
Labs, a sophomore at Faith Christian Academy in Quakertown, Pa., made a terrific running catch in left field in the sixth and final inning, and in the bottom of the inning he cracked a game-clinching solo home run which propelled the Generals to a 6-2 victory over Colossal Baseball in the 16U Halloween Mash championship game on a chilly and rainy Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“These kids are resilient, for sure,” Generals coach J.R. Barder said. “The weather wasn’t great, we were put in some tough spots and we made plenty of mistakes. They let it go and continued to work, and that’s why I’m proud of this group.”
Olson and Sell combined for 30 strikeouts in the Generals’ first two pool play games and shared Most Valuable Player honors. Olson is a sophomore at Pennridge High in Perkasie, Pa., and Sell is a sophomore at Archbishop Wood in Warminster.
“This really means a lot,” said Olson. “It’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. And it’s really cool to finish on a W.”
“This is really cool. I’ve never won one of these before,” Sell said while cradling the black wooden Victus bat presented as the MVP award. “To have one of my best outings of the fall and finish on that note, it’s amazing.”
In the final, in which neither team led by more than a single run, the Generals entered the top of the sixth inning safeguarding a 3-2 lead. With one out, Colossal’s Zach Livingston launched a long fly ball which sent Labs retreating into deep left field. Labs made a running catch with his back to the infield – and mere steps from the warning track – and prevented what would have been an extra base hit and a man in scoring position.
Labs came to bat in the bottom of the sixth with one out, and hit a bomb to left which bounced off the yellow barrier on top of the fence and over for a solo home run and a 4-2 lead. With eight minutes left on the 1-hour, 50-minute game clock, it was a crucial blow to Colossal’s hopes of getting another at bat and a chance for a comeback.
“That was huge. It put the nail in the coffin,” Sell said.
The Generals’ Matt Wambold and Sean Hill walked with the bases loaded to account for the final score as time ran out.
With a tepid start offensively to the weekend, Barder said he was thankful for Olson and Sell for getting the team off to a good start. And finishing a long Sunday with a third game in misty, chilly conditions made for a challenging finale.
“Take care of the baseball, don’t make mistakes, throw lots of strikes, and you get some bats on balls,” Barder said. “That’s what it takes to win at 10 o’clock at night. Staying focused is tough to do on a very long miserable day.
“The fall is special to the Generals at Diamond Nation,” said Barder. “The reason for that is over the last three years we have played in a Diamond Nation Fall League with one or two of our teams, and last year we were lucky enough to have our two groups play each other. To see both of your teams there was very special. This is where we like to finish our season. I would not like to finish anywhere else but Diamond Nation.”
Olson got the Generals’ weekend started with a 17-strikeout performance in a 5-0 victory over PPH Mafia Blue on Friday night. It surpassed his club career high of 12 and his high school best of seven.
Brady Sell, Ryder Olson of the BC Generals were named co-MVPs of the 16U Halloween Mash.
“That’s how he’s been all fall,” Barder said. “To get that kind of number and the recognition that goes with it is fantastic.”
Sell, while happy for his teammate, had a message for Barder in advance of his start against PPH Mafia White on Saturday.
“At the end of the first game Brady came up to me because he knew he was pitching game two. He said, ‘I’m going to match that,’” Barder said of Olson’s whiff total. “Unfortunately because of defensive mistakes his pitch count got little up and he couldn’t go out there in the seventh. But he got 13 strikeouts, so we had 30 between the two in two days. That will always be a good start in any tournament.”
With Sell sending batters back to the dugout – his 13 strikeouts came up one shy of his career best – the Generals won that one, 5-1.
And yet Barder still wasn’t pleased with his players and their approach at the plate. With the potential for three games on Sunday, Barder issued a message to the team after Saturday’s game.
“The first couple of games we weren’t as aggressive as we had been in the past,” Barder said. “Once we made a mindset change, then we were good. We started to attack baseballs, trying to put them in play. Our aggressiveness changed.”
With a new plan in place on Sunday morning, the Generals mopped up pool play with an offensively resounding 15-5 win over Prospects Baseball.
By outscoring the opposition 25-6, the Generals earned the top seed for the playoffs and advanced to the championship game with an 8-0 verdict over PPH Mafia Red in the semifinals.
Brycen Clarke, a sophomore at LaSalle College Prep in Wyndmoor, Pa., was exceptional on the mound for the Generals in the championship game, going the distance and allowing two runs on three hits and four walks with six strikeouts.
“There’s been ups and downs but we persevered through pressure and challenges and now we’re at the top at the end,” Sell said.
In the final, the Generals took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Olson scored after an infield error on a Sell ground ball.
Colossal tied the game in the second when leadoff hitter Tyler McCullough lofted a towering, wind-blown fly ball which eventually landed safely. Justin Feegans scored from first while McCullough coasted into second with an RBI double.
The Generals retook the lead 2-1 in the bottom of the third when Chase Fulford singled through the middle and Hill scored from second on an errant throw back to the infield.
Once more, Colossal tied the game in the fourth when Braxton Gillis grounded out to the right side while driving in Zach Cohen from third.
The Generals took the lead for good at 3-2 in the fifth when Hill lashed an RBI triple into the right center gap, scoring Wambold.