‘Papa Fish’ and the Young Guns a tough combo to overcome

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 21, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

The pitcher who gutted out four grueling innings was emotional in praising his teammates. The winning coach was emotional in expressing pride in his favorite assistant. And the tournament’s Most Valuable Player was in tears in expressing his joy for the entire experience. 

The 14U South Jersey Young Guns arrived at Diamond Nation in Flemington on Saturday looking to extend their winning streak and add to their string of championships. 

What they left with on Sunday was their 12th straight win, the 14U Spring Fever title, and the satisfaction of knowing “Papa Fish” enjoyed watching them succeed under the most stressful of circumstances, and would take home a nice little glass trophy to commemorate the occasion.

A trio of Young Guns hurlers held the Locked In Baseball Expos to one run before Owen Pignatelli chalked up his second career walk-off single to vault the Young Guns to a dramatic 2-1 victory and the Spring Fever championship on Sunday evening at ‘The Nation.’

After the game, the Young Guns agreed to name assistant coach Joe “Papa Fish” Fisher the MVP of the tournament. Fisher, father of Young Guns head coach Patrick Fisher, celebrated his 90th birthday on Saturday. The younger Fisher is also an assistant at Rutgers-Camden.

“These kids – 14 years old – they are just unbelievable,” Fisher, Sr. said with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I came up here (from Young Guns headquarters in Sicklerville, N.J.) and it was a great way to celebrate my birthday. Seeing them win makes my day.”

“What can I say? He’s my dad,” said Patrick Fisher, his voice suddenly breaking when the conversation turned to his father. “He’s 90, and he just brings a certain level of enthusiasm that the kids appreciate.”

The third-seeded Young Guns went 4-0-1 this weekend and improved to 18-1-1 this spring. They went 2-0-1 in pool play before knocking off second-seeded Diamond Jacks Super 14U, 4-2, in the semifinals. 

The Young Guns set up their final inning drama when Ashton Ray led off with a walk, Mason Chambers bunted his way on and Alex Gerber loaded the bases with a walk.

With the infield playing in and no outs, Pignatelli smashed a grounder through the box that caromed off the glove of Expos pitcher Kieran Brendle. By the time shortstop Joe Kealy fielded the ball in front of second base, Ray already scored to give the Young Guns a dramatic victory. 

“This feels awesome, like you just saved the world,” said Pignatelli, who noted that he had been in that situation once before and got the game-winning hit then, too. “This time was just as easy because I had the same amount of confidence that I did the last time. You always have to keep your calm.”

The Young Guns may have entered the final on a hot streak but their bats went cold against Expos pitching, which was in question before the game because the final was their fourth game of the day. Expos righties Brendan Keown and Brendle held the Young Guns to 0-for-10 hitting with runners in scoring position through the first six innings. 

“I give a lot of credit to Locked In – four games in 24 hours,” Patrick Fisher, Jr. said. “They just wouldn’t go away. Our bats were a little lethargic and I give credit to Locked In for making us look lethargic.”

The Young Guns’ hitting may have been sparse in the final but there still were scoring opportunities. They stranded five in the first two innings alone. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth, they stranded two more in scoring position.

That fact that Keown and Brendle were able to silence the Young Guns bats came as a mild surprise to Expos coach A.J. Yurista, who said before the game that his team, playing its fourth game of the day, was thin on pitching and that staffing the final would be a patchwork effort. 

And yet, going into the seventh inning, Brendle pitched as though he was the ace of the staff, allowing one run on one hit and three walks over five innings with eight strikeouts.

“We weren’t really sure what we had going into the game,” Yurista said. “Kieran knew he was throwing in the second inning but I don’t think he knew to what extent he was going to go throughout the game. We were going to piece it together but he really gave us a quality outing, and you gotta stick with whoever is hot on the mound. He battled and kept us in there.”

Brendle pitched the final six innings for the Expos and allowed two runs on five hits and five walks with eight strikeouts. 

Michael Fogarty started for the Young Guns and pitched two scoreless innings before handing off to Ryan Chiesa, who cruised through his first three innings of work, preserving his team’s 1-0 lead. The Young Guns scored that single run in the third when speedy leadoff hitter Brendan Cohen walked, stole second and third and scampered home on a wild pitch.

In the top of the sixth, Chiesa yielded a leadoff single to Pat Keown before Kealy moved Keown over with a sacrifice bunt. After a walk to Max Webber, Noah Folmar battled Chiesa through an eight-pitch at bat before knocking in Keown with a liner to left to tie the game.

With the go-ahead runs still on base and two out, Chiesa found another gear and popped the catcher’s mitt with three straight fastballs to end the inning with a strikeout, preserving a tie for the Young Guns.  

“I knew I couldn’t give up another run,” said Chiesa, who began to get choked up when asked what the victory meant to the program. “I just wanted to do it for my team. I just love them and would do anything for them.”

Chiesa pitched four innings and allowed one run on two hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

“That’s what makes us a special team,” Patrick Fisher said. “When our backs are against the wall there’s always somebody new stepping up. Chiesa dug a little deeper and got us out of trouble.”

Ty Siitonen pitched a perfect seventh inning for the Young Guns before the eventual champs won the game in dramatic fashion.

“We had three guys take the mound for us,” Fisher said. “Usually our bats are very good but they were off today and our pitchers kept us in the game.”

The fourth-seeded Expos went 2-1 in pool play and earned a semifinal bid by coming out on top of a three-way tiebreaker; they surrendered 11 runs while pool opponents ABA Avalanche and Wladyka Continental gave up 14 and 19 runs, respectively. The Expos then upended top-seeded Lower Bucks Minutemen Red, 12-6, in the semis. 

“I am really proud of this group,” Yurista said of the Expos. “It’s a resilient group. We really battled. I take the whole weekend as a positive. Win or lose, it was a hard fought game and we’ve been here since the break of the morning. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Share With A Friend:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *