Pena, Team Citius pen finesse Expos in 13U Fall Harvest

By DN WRITING STAFF | October 23, 2022

Alejandro Peña pitched four innings of one-run ball and supplied a two-run single for Team Citius.

By Rich Bevensee

Alejandro Pena doesn’t possess a sizzling fastball or a knee-buckling curveball. But what he does have is an innate ability to throw strikes in critical situations.

On Saturday afternoon, those critical situations were of his own doing, but he slithered out of trouble enough times to allow Team Citius of Mount Vernon, N.Y., to begin its weekend in the win column.

Pena, relying on his slow, looping fastball to throw off batters’ timing, pitched four innings of one-run ball and boosted Citius to a 6-4 victory over the Locked in Baseball Expos in the 13U Fall Harvest tournament at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“He really did just that – he worked out of trouble, kept himself in the game by attacking the strike zone, letting our defense work, and that’s how we were able to squeeze this one out,” Citius coach Diego Gonzalez said. 

Pena, a diminutive lefty, surrendered three runs on three hits and six walks and struck out three by using a fastball, curve and slider. Most of his called strikes literally dropped into the zone, confounding Expos hitters.

He cleverly pitched out of danger twice after his team rallied for five runs in the bottom of the second to claim a 5-1 lead.

“I like to step behind the mound and look at my glove and read different things on the glove – it’s called a reset – so I can clear my mind and get back into it,” Pena said. “I stay pretty cool about it unless I keep walking them and can’t throw a strike.”

In the top of the third, the Expos had runners on second and third with one out and Pena got an infield popup and strikeout to escape that jam.

In the third, he allowed a single and a walk to start the inning but he rebounded with a flyout, popup and strikeout.

Justin Garcia had an RBI single and struck out three of four batters he faced in relief for Team Citius.

“My pitching trainer (Alex Pena of Portchester, N.Y.) sometimes gets mad at me when I keep throwing balls and he tells me you have to stay calm because if you stay angry you’ll keep walking people,” Pena said. “So I just breathe and step off.”

The Expos finally roughed up Pena in the fifth inning for two runs, but his defense bailed him out before any more trouble arose. 

After giving up a pair of walks to Landon Hesse and Aiden Insinga to start the inning, Pena got an infield out, then got Ryan Brady to hit into a fielder’s choice. The throw home was dropped and Hesse scored the Expos’ first run since the first inning.

Here’s where Pena got a major lift from his defense. The next Expos batter, Brendan Keown, slapped an RBI single into center, scoring Insinga. Citius center fielder Brayden Moore fired to third baseman Justin Garcia to nail Brady, and Moore wasted no time in whipping a throw to second, where second baseman Danny Giaquinto tagged out Keown to complete the double play. 

Credit the Expos for fighting until the final out. In the top of the seventh, with Citius protecting a 6-3 lead, Citius fireballing reliever Justin Garcia got a strikeout before handing off to Graycin Howard. Gus Grove walked and eventually scored on a Hesse single to center to make it a 6-4 game. 

With two out, the Expos had Hesse at third and Insinga at second representing the tying runs. Howard was relieved by Mike Droney, who snared a comebacker by Max Webber for the final out of the game. 

“We’re expecting to have a long day tomorrow,” said Gonzalez, explaining why he used three pitchers for the final three outs. “We’re lining up to play a maximum of three games tomorrow so we wanted to keep our boys fresh. That was a big play by Mike Droney on the mound to finish things up.”

Team Citius scored all but one of its runs in the bottom of the second by sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring five runs on one hit, seven walks and one hit batsman. 

Moore scored on a wild pitch, Giaquinto forced a run home when he was hit by a pitch, Vincent Valvano had an RBI single, and Pena helped his own cause when his blooper fell just behind third base and inside the foul line to drive in two and make it a 5-1 game.

Expos starter Brian Morhardt pitched 3⅓ innings and allowed six runs on one hit and nine walks with three strikeouts. Alex Ruiz pitched 2⅔ innings of scoreless relief, allowing three hits and a walk while benefiting from two double plays. 

In the bottom of the fifth, Mikey Allyn started a 4-6-3 double play, flipping to shortstop Keown before he threw to first baseman Carter Smith.

In the sixth, Ruiz snagged a Garcia line drive and doubled up Pena at first base. 

Both teams have doubleheaders scheduled for Sunday. Citius will take on Tucci Elite 13U and Diamond Jacks 13U Gold. The Expos will start with the Diamond Jacks and finish against Tucci Elite.

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