PAB Magpies 11U shows unusual grit in Easter Extravaganza

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 31, 2024

The Magpies’ Nick Howe slides safely into home plate in the fourth inning.

By Rich Bevensee

It’s early in the 2024 baseball season and coming from behind in ballgames is already becoming a habit for the Philadelphia Area Magpies 11U squad.

That can be both a blessing and a curse. Magpies coach Kenny Koplove said his young players are quickly learning that while digging yourself a hole is never a good thing, finding a way back out can lead to a mountain of confidence.

“It’s something we preach, that mental toughness,” Koplove said. “When you get punched in the mouth you gotta punch back. At times it’s lacking and other times we have it. Being 11 years old, you never know what you’re going to get any given day. But seeing it twice this year when we came back, it’s showing that we’re maturing and that’s the biggest thing I can ask from them as a coach.”

A week after the Magpies came from behind to win a tournament game in Pennsylvania, they struck again Saturday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

Spotting the Central Jersey Rebels of Mercer County to a four-run first inning lead, the Magpies clawed back for a 6-5 victory in their final pool play game of the 11U Easter Extravaganza. Alex Koplove scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fourth. 

Braydon Baranich sparked the Magpies rally with a no-doubt-about-it, two-run home run over the left field fence in the bottom of the first. Koplove called the first homer of Baranich’s career “an absolute nuke.”

“I saw it was an inside fastball, one of my favorite pitches, so I took a turn on it and just smashed it to left field,” Baranich said. “As soon as I made contact, I was like, that’s gone.”

Baranich took center stage in the sixth and final inning as well, coming on in relief to record the final three outs, but not before the Rebels’ Tyler Rich reached on a walk and stole second with one out to represent the tying run. Baranich got a strikeout and a popup to end the game.

“I feel like I do my best in those situations,” Baranich said. “I focused on the batter, and I’ve got my defense behind me and let them make the plays.”

Last week at the Maplezone Sports Institute in Aston, Pa., the Magpies finished the Mid-Atlantic Season Opener 3-0 while outscoring the opposition 42-15. One of those wins was of the come-from-behind variety.

That result, coupled with Saturday’s win over the Rebels, has Koplove thinking his team’s confidence level received a major boost.

The Rebels’ Lorenzo Mannino leads off first with the Magpies’ Colin Baker holding the bag.

“After this we can walk into a tournament and tell ourselves, it doesn’t matter how pool play goes, and it doesn’t matter if we lose the first game,” Koplove said. “Our team is mentally strong enough to win a game after that.”

The Magpies would be best served to pay close attention to Koplove. He was named 2012 Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year after his senior year at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia before moving on to pitch and play shortstop for Duke. He was selected in the 17th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball draft and played for the Phillies, Marlins and Rockies organizations. In 2017 Koplove played for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

The other aspect of the Diamond Nation victory over the Rebels which pleased Koplove was that the Magpies bounced back from a lopsided loss to the Flores Baseball Braves a day before. 

“In the past we struggled after losses. They’re young and they tend to hold onto it,” Koplove said. “But to come out here after a loss to a good team – and the FB Braves are a good team – and then have a bad first inning and respond and find a way to win, it’s phenomenal.”

Fighting back from a 4-0 hole in the first inning, Baranich hit a two-out laser over the fence. 

The Magpies took a 5-4 lead in the third when Nick Howe scored on a wild pitch, Easton Taylor tied the game with an RBI single and later scored on an infield error.

Braydon Baranich launches a two-run home run to get the Magpies’ rally started.

The Rebels bounced back to tie the game in their next at bat when Lucas Liberman earned a walk and later scored on a wild pitch. 

In the top of the first inning, RBI groundouts by Liberman and Gary Leonardo were sandwiched by Marco Gerard and Dominic O’Rourke scoring on fielding errors to lift the Rebels to a 4-0 lead. 

The Magpies received sound pitching from Carter Robinson and Koplove for two innings each, and from Jack Gamble and Baranich for an inning each.

The Rebels countered on the mound with Mason Hudanish and Logan Saganowski for two innings each, and with Rich for one. 

The Magpies finished the Easter Extravaganza 2-1, beating the Rebels and CK Cardinals American, 8-6, and bowing to FB Braves Select, 16-3. 

The Rebels closed out the weekend 1-2. They opened the weekend in dramatic fashion against the East Brunswick Cubs when they rallied from five runs down in the bottom of the sixth and Saganowski delivered a three-run walk-off homer.

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