By Rich Bevensee
Bam Pelzer’s nickname didn’t originate because of baseball – his father came up with the name when Xander was a toddler – but Pelzer has made the moniker a perfect fit because of his knack for smacking the longball.
Now as fortune would have it, Pelzer steps into the batter’s box with the game on the line more often than most players. And the Centercourt 11U Makos are fortunate to have such a heavy hitter at the plate in that situation.
With two out, two runners on and his team trailing by a run in the top of the sixth inning, Pelzer said he was looking to make contact and drive the ball. Instead, what he did was drill a 1-1 fastball over the center field fence for a three-run home run and lift the Makos to a 6-4 victory over Grit 11U Black in the championship game of the 11U World Series on Monday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“I’ve been under pressure before, and I also heard this kid (pointing to teammate Quinn Brittian) yelling, ‘Hit a bomb, hit a bomb, Bam!’“ Pelzer said. “I know if I hit it too high, it’s gonna get caught. I was thinking, either go to right center or pull the ball. When I hit it I knew it was gone. I even did a little bat flip. It was great to win here again. We had all our fans, and we get rings, too. This is amazing.”
Indeed, the Makos, who ran roughshod over the competition this past weekend, won their second Diamond Nation trophy of the summer. On June 26, the Makos defeated Diamond Jacks Super 11U for the School’s Out title. Pelzer hit a prodigious two-run homer which cleared the right field scoreboard in that one.
The championship game win against Grit completed a 5-0 run through the tournament for the Makos, who outscored the competition 60-23.
Grit 11U Black also won the King of the Diamond tournament at Diamond Nation on April 10. So, both Grit and Centercourt are 2-for-2 in championship game appearances at ‘The Nation’ this spring and summer season.
Making the championship perhaps even more satisfying for the Makos is that they held Grit to just four runs, after Grit rumbled through pool play by out-scoring the opposition 58-4.
“It always feels amazing to win here,” said Most Valuable Player Alex Gladwin, who allowed one earned run in two innings of relief and was aboard first base thanks to a two-out walk just before Pelzer’s game-winning blast. “Everyone’s watching, everyone is cheering and you feel great. And I never thought I could win something like this (holding his MVP trophy), because of Bam. That made us all amazingly happy. Running around the bases, I was screaming.”
Pelzer, the Makos’ third baseman, affected the outcome with his defense as well as his bat. Grit took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when Lucas Lanzo doubled to left, driving in Shawn Peques. Two batters later, with runners on first and second and no out, Pelzer fielded a Maddox Rodriguez grounder, stepped on third for a force out and fired to first to nail Rodriguez and complete the double play, keeping the Makos within striking distance.
In the sixth, the Makos had a runner on second base with one out after Brennan Babkowski reached on an error and Charlie Solovay advanced him with a sacrifice bunt. Grit’s catcher got the second out when he fired to second to nab Babkowski, leaning too far off second base.
Down to their final out, the Makos set the stage for more drama after J.R. Holly and Gladwin earned two-out walks against Grit reliever Declan O’Donnell.
“We preach it all the time: Be patient,” Makos coach Mike Rogers said. “They (Holly and Gladwin) had an approach, they didn’t get away from their approach, and when they do that good things happen.”
Then Pelzer stepped to the plate. He struck out looking in his two prior at bats.
“He’s a big kid and he hits the ball really well, but he never gets rattled, ” Rogers said. “I don’t think the situation ever got too big for him. If he hits a home run, great, and if he doesn’t, it doesn’t change who he is.
“He does hit the ball a long way a lot of times, but we talk about approach a lot especially with him. Sometimes he gets pull-happy and it gets away from him. When he tries to hit in the middle of the field, that’s what he does with the ball.”
Grit was the first to reach the scoreboard, as starting pitcher Alex Mandio rapped an RBI single and O’Donnell added an RBI fielder’s choice, giving their team a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
The Makos took a 3-2 lead in the top of the third. With Brittian on third and Solovan on first, Solovay broke for second. The overthrow to second allowed Brittian to cruise home, and when Solovay hustled to third, the throw back to the infield sailed out of play, allowing Solovay to score.
Holly, the next batter, jacked a 2-0 pitch over the left field fence for a solo homer, giving the Makos their first lead.
In the bottom of the third, Grit first baseman Alex Reyes singled up the middle to drive in Fazulak from second, tying the game at 3-3.
The heavy-hitting Makos, who scored 64 runs in their four prior games, were held in check for five innings by Mandio. He allowed just two hits and one walk in five innings with six strikeouts.
Donovan Kane pitched the first three innings for the Makos, yielding three runs on four hits and four walks with three strikeouts. Championship game MVP Gladwin came on for the fourth inning and permitted one earned run on two hits and two walks in two innings.
“The main thing I wanted to do is throw strikes and not give up too many runs because I didn’t want my team to fall behind and get down,” Gladwin said. “But I threw strikes and kept with it and we came out on top.”
Hard-throwing Shane Sammons, who, like Pelzer, displayed a knack for handling the big stage like a veteran, pitched a scoreless sixth with a strikeout.
“When I came in for Alex I was just thinking, Be me,” Sammons said. “Throw strikes, get the outs and be me.”