Jacob Gonzalez of Hustle Baseball leads off first as Montgomery Superior pitcher Ty Akins delivers.
By Sean Reilly
It was all there in front of Brayden Peoples.
Peoples, the Hustle Baseball Academy left-fielder and No. 5 hitter, stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s matchup against Montgomery Superior in the semifinals of the Diamond Nation Fall League playoffs.
There was one out, the score was tied, and there were runners on second and third. To make the stakes even higher, the infield was playing in.
Peoples, a junior at Wayne Valley High School, was locked and ready.
“I was just ready to swing,” he said. “I was looking for a fastball, and I got it.”
Peoples drove a hard single through the middle and into center field that knocked in both baserunners and sent third-seeded Hustle Baseball Academy to a 4-2 victory over seventh-seeded Montgomery Superior in Flemington.
The hit provided plenty of backing for winning pitcher Kevin Wood, a junior right-hander from Seton Hall Prep. Wood closed out his 2022 season by throwing a 100-pitch complete game. He allowed three hits, with seven strikeouts and three walks.
“My catcher, Nate (Ullman), called a great game,” Wood said. “He was framing pitches all day and got me some good calls. My fastball had a good amount of movement, and it felt like I had a second life starting in the fourth inning that really helped me out. I got a little velo out of it. I also can’t thank my teammates enough for giving me the run support.”
The go-ahead rally for Hustle Baseball Academy began after Montgomery Superior reached into its bullpen for the first time. Lefty starter Ty Akins, a senior from Somerville, had allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, with five strikeouts and one walk, through five innings of impressive work.
Jacob Gonzalez, the No. 2 batter for Hustle Baseball Academy, began the sixth with a single to shortstop. Mike Kelly then walked on a full count. And in a very important at-bat, cleanup hitter Peter Peluso dropped down a sacrifice bunt that advanced the runners into scoring position.
That set the stage for Peoples, who was one of the standouts in a 11-0 quarterfinal win over the Go The Distance Bulldogs on Tuesday. And in his two prior at-bats against Montgomery Superior, he flew out to right field and singled to left.
The fact that the infield was playing in did not alter his approach.
“It was a 2-1 count and I was ready for it,” Peoples said. “The infield in didn’t change my mindset. It was all normal. I was just looking to hit it, and it felt really good to help my team.”
Montgomery Superior had taken a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Robby Wright reached on a throwing error with one out, and moved to second on a ground out. Justin Swerdlow then hit a fly ball to center that went for an RBI single when the outfielder lost the ball in the lights and twilight.
Hustle Baseball Academy, which had beaten Montgomery Superior, 8-5, in a Fall League game back on Sept. 20, tied it in the bottom of the third. Aiden Pichardo walked with one out. After the next batter struck out, leadoff man Adam Hladik (2-for-3) drilled an RBI double to the gap in right center.
Hustle Baseball Academy went up, 2-1, in the fourth. Kelly led off and was hit by a pitch. The next man struck out looking, but Peoples followed with a single to left field to advance Kelly to second. Ullman then reached on an error which scored the go-ahead run.
Montgomery Superior answered after sending up the top of its order to begin the sixth. Lucas Haines singled between the pitcher and third baseman. He stole second, and moved over to third after Jackson Sgro flew out to right field. With the infield playing in, Akins singled over the head of the shortstop to score Haines for a 2-2 score.
Wood retired the next two batters, on a liner to shortstop and a short-to-first ground out, to keep the game tied and set the stage for the clutch hit by Peoples in the bottom of the inning.