The Canes’ Chris Marano hit a two-run single in the fourth inning to give his team a 4-2 lead.
By Rich Bevensee
Canes Tri-State 15U coach Nick McConnell has developed an unshakable faith in his players when they face game-breaking situations. That faith is based on reasons of the heart, and of the head.
Chris Marano and J.C. Pacheco, both rising seniors at DePaul Catholic in Wayne, exemplified both reasons on Thursday by producing clutch hits in back-to-back innings to lift the Canes.
Marano had a two-run infield single to tie the game, and an inning later, Pacheco singled home the game-winning run to propel the Canes to a five-inning, 5-4 walk-off victory over the Ambler Boilermakers in the 16U Blue Chip Prospects tournament at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
The Canes, based in Monroe, N.Y., improved to 3-0-1 for the week after defeating Phenom N.Y., 12-1, and sweeping their Thursday doubleheader.
Rationally speaking, McConnell believes in simple math. The Canes stranded eight runners in the first three innings, but McConnell said he wasn’t overly concerned about the lack of scoring because the odds favored his team.
“We play probabilities that when we put guys on base, good things are going to happen,” McConnell said. “Just because we didn’t get the breaks early on in the game doesn’t mean we won’t get them later. So if we keep putting ourselves in good positions, sooner or later the percentages are going to work in our favor.”
“We weren’t worried at all. We trust our bats,” Pacheco said. “We know what we can do at the plate so it’s a matter of time, whether it’s the first inning or the last inning. Of course you don’t want to wait till the last inning, but we know what we can do with the bats.”
The math finally worked in the Canes’ favor in the bottom of the fourth inning. As far as playing with heart, well, that came into effect as Marano came to bat with the bases loaded and two out.
Marano’s at bat was set up by leadoff hitter Jacob Herrera, who scored from third on a wild pitch to tie the game. Marino fell behind in the count 0-2, worked a full count and then scorched a 3-2 pitch up the middle. Boilermakers second baseman Lucas Albert dove headlong for a sensational stop but couldn’t make the throw, and that allowed Pacheco and Chris Kim to score for a 4-2 Canes lead.
“The one thing about our two-strike approach is our boys swipe ‘Canes’ across the chest,” Mcconnell said. “They’re saying, ‘The team is bigger than me right now, so even though I want to get the home run, let me put this ball in play and give our team a shot.’ ”
“When I’m down 0-2, I’m just trying to stay alive, put something in play, and not strike out,” Marino said. “I’ve been in that situation before, so I was comfortable. I try to breathe in and not make the moment bigger than it is.”
The Boilermakers tied the game in the top of the fifth when Adam Hadjar knocked in a run from third after a ground ball error, and Dan Murray forced in the tying run with a bases-loaded walk.
In the bottom of the frame and with just five minutes left on the 1 hour, 50 minute game clock, Chris Cundari and Chris Ariola singled and Herrera hit into a fielder’s choice to advance Cundari to third.
With 45 seconds left and knowing it would be the Canes’ final at bat, Pacheco singled to right to plate Cundari with the game-winning run.
“Right there when I stepped in the box I took a deep breath to calm the nerves. It’s a nerve racking situation,” Pacheco said. “My approach is to get something in the outfield. Man on third with a minute left, just get that man in. That’s my approach.”
Boilermakers’ Dan Murray, center, is greeted by teammates after his solo home run in the fourth.
McConnell had reason to believe in his players despite the offensive woes early in the game, because he’s seen them succeed all summer. Just two weeks ago they won a Perfect Game Northeast Regional tournament on Long Island, N.Y.
“Players win games and coaches lose them – I really believe that – and our boys have been resilient all year,” McConnell said.
The Canes had three position players handle the pitching because they were thin after playing in Long Island two weeks ago and at a showcase at Duke University in Durham last week.
Jaden Vasquez pitched 2⅔ innings and gave up one run on two hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Chris Kim also allowed one run on two hits in his one inning of work, with no walks and two strikeouts. Nick DeFelice finished up with 1.1 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks with one strikeout.
Boilermaker starter Brett Barrett flirted with danger through the first three innings but kept his team afloat by escaping each time, stranding the bases loaded in the first two frames, and slipping away in the third with runners on second and third.
While Barrett was walking that fine line, the Boilermakers used the longball to seize an early 2-0 lead. Paul Cifra, the second batter of the game, whipped a solo home run over the right-center field fence. Boilermakers leadoff hitter Dan Murray added his own solo bomb in the top of the fourth.
When Barrett drifted into trouble again in the bottom of the fourth, Hadjar came on to relieve. He allowed Marano’s two-run single but also eliminated any further trouble with a pop-up and two strikeouts.
The Boilermakers, who train at EL1 Sports in Ambler, Pennsylvania, closed the week 2-2. They beat NJ Rising Rebels 2025, 7-1, and Phenom N.Y., 10-2, and bowed to Canes Tri-State and to Hustle Baseball Academy, 7-5.