Nick Ferri, second from right, hit a walk-off grand slam on Wednesday.
Nick Ferri sat dead red on a 2-0 pitch and was rewarded in grand fashion and Christian Pareja righted himself after a rugged start as the Diamond Jacks Super 17 defeated the L.I. Titans (Phelan), 10-2, in the 17/18U Blue Chip Prospects showcase at Diamond Nation on Thursday.
The Diamond Jacks improved to 3-0 in the event with a game remaining on Friday afternoon as the Titans fell to 1-2.
The lefty-hitting Ferri launched a much-desired fastball just to the left of straightaway center field that amounted to a walk-off grand slam as the Diamond Jacks secured an eight-run mercy rule victory in the bottom of the fifth inning. The blast capped a five-run outburst for Super 17 that began with Mike Boyer’s leadoff opposite field home run to right field.
“The last couple games I was getting a little pull-happy,” said the Seton Hall University-bound Ferri. “So I was trying to focus on middle-away today. I got a good swing on a fastball my last at bat.”
He certainly did. Ferri said he wasn’t sure the shot would clear the fence in what is the deepest part of Field 4. “I haven’t seen too many go out at that spot,” said Super 17 assistant coach Tony Gsell. Ferri also tripled to straightaway center field in the fourth to score Connor Dreyer from second and tie the game at 2-2.
“I hit a pitch middle-out on the triple, too,” said Ferri of an approach that has immediately paid dividends.
The Diamond Jacks scored nine of their 10 runs in their last two at bats, coinciding Pareja’s transformation from a struggling to an untouchable pitcher in a matter of a couple innings.
“I felt like I was overthrowing with all the scouts there,” said Pareja. “I was nervous and pumped up.”
The Titans reached Pareja for all three of the hits he allowed and two runs as the righthander walked four batters in the first two innings. But no one realized when he struck out the Titans No. 2 hitter to strand two runners in the top of the second, that Pareja had begun his turnaround.
“I tried to attack the zone,” said Pareja, a rising senior at Passaic Tech. “I was getting my curveball down for strikes.” Pareja had his curveball churning from the start but he finally reined in his fastball and it made all the difference. He struck out six batters in a row while retiring the final 10 Titans he faced in order. He would permit just the two runs on three hits, strike out eight and walk four. More importantly, he turned the lights out on the Titans offensive over the final 3.1 innings.
“They had something going on but I think I killed their whole vibe,” said Pareja. Fastball command will do that.
The Long Island Titans loaded the bases in the top of the first on Ryan Setter’s leadoff walk, an infield single by Michael Steinberg and Garrett Grathwohl’s single to left field. Setter scored from third when a Pareja fastball got away from him but the Diamond Jack pitcher got out of further trouble.
The Diamond Jacks got the run right back in the bottom of the first on Lorenzo Meola’s grounds rule double to right-center field that scored Matty Wright from third. Wright drew a leadoff walk, stole second and reached third on a wild pitch.
The Titans jumped back in front in the second after Pareja walked Zach Ganca and Jake Hall to start the inning. Kenneth Tavares then dropped down a sac bunt attempt and beat it out to load the bases with no outs. Pareja buckled down to get the next three batters, though Ganca scored on Setter’s fielder’s choice grounder that he barely beat out to prevent an inning-ending double play.
That’s when Pareja began his transformation to a lights out pitcher, striking out Steinberg to squelch the rally.
Dreyer was hit by a pitch with one out in the fourth and took second on an errant pick off attempt. Ferri’s triple to the center field wall was nearly caught by a diving Rocco Hall but it fell safely as Dreyer raced home with the tying run. Ferri got himself hung up between third and home on Ben Romano’s come-backer and was thrown out in a rundown. But Super 17 kept the rally going with the bottom half of its lineup.
After Romano stole second, Nick Bergamotto (2-for-2, RBI, run) singled to center to deliver him with the go-ahead run. Christian Rice followed with a triple down the right field line to score Bergamotto. And Rice scored moments later on a wild pitch to cap the four-run inning and boost the Super 17 lead to 5-2. Ganca made a long run and a diving attempt at Rice’s long looper near the line but couldn’t come up with it.
Wright beat out a bouncer in the middle of the diamond, Hugh Pinkney drew a walk and Dreyer was hit by a pitch for the second time to load the bases ahead of Ferri in the bottom of the fifth.
The 6-3, 185 Ferri then went into launch mode and that was that.
NOTES: Titans’ left fielder Aidan Kueffner made a beautiful diving catch charging in for a line drive by Wright in the third inning. … Boyer’s home run to right was impressive, too, but became almost forgotten after Ferri’s grand slam. The Hopewell Valley rising senior’s shot was an opposite field blast that looked gone off that bat. … The last six batters in the Super 17’s 11-batter order account for two singles, a triple and a home, four runs-scored and three RBI.