Super 16U’s Matty Wright gets his second bunt single against Baseball Warehouse’s Jaxon Appleman.
Watching the Major League Baseball playoffs one would think the three-run home run accounts for creativity in a sport hampered by way too many strikeouts. That’s what made watching the Diamond Jacks Super 16U championship game victory so refreshing.
Blunt force can be enjoyable at times in baseball but winning is most pleasing of all. So, faced with a challenging arm in Baseball Warehouse 2023 Black’s righthander Jaxon Appleman, the Diamond Jacks simply found another way.
The Super 16U struck for two runs in the third inning during a rally propped up significantly by Matty Wright’s bunt single and Jason Cozzi’s sacrifice bunt. That rally and the tidy pitching of righthanders Mike Fattore and Marco Maselli would be enough to send the Diamond Jacks to a 2-1 victory on Sunday night at Diamond Nation.
The 16U Grand Slam championship game was the first championship game played on brand new Musclelicious Field which boasts stadium seating wrapping behind home plate and incredible views of the field. Diamond Nation’s seventh field was opened a weekend earlier during the Finch’s Aces Fall Invitational softball tournament.
The Diamond Jacks’ Martin Howell was named the 16U Grand Slam tournament Most Valuable Player.
The Diamond Jacks had reached Appleman for singles in each of the first two innings but the freshman at Edison High would run into a bit of deeper trouble in the third, starting with a Logan Mason’ leadoff single through the middle. Everything fed off Mason’s single that inning but the artistry came next.
The lefty-hitting Wright dropped a beauty of a bunt down the third base line for a single. Jason Cozzi, the No. 11 hitter, then laid one down the first base side for a perfect sacrifice. First baseman Frankie Garbolino, in fact, had to make a terrific play to barely get Cozzi at first.
That flipped the lineup to leadoff hitter Giffin Mills, who recently committed to Stanford University. Mills had a good at bat in the first inning when he, nonetheless, swung through a fastball for strike three. With two runners in scoring position in the third, Mills wasn’t working the count.
“I had a long at bat before that,” said Mills. “But this time I jumped on a first-pitch fastball. It was a little in.”
And Mills drove it through the left side of the infield for a single that easily scored Mason from third to tie that game at 1-1. Wright, charging from second, made a wide turn at third base that drew a throw to the plate, triggering Mills’ next move, a dash toward second base.
Diamond Nation was blessed with two things at this exact moment. It had two runners who were heady base runners and had speed to match. The moment the ball left the hand of Baseball Warehouse’s catcher Charlie Taub, Wright sped for home.
“I just read the throw there,” said Wright. “You can’t think twice or you’ll be out. Once the catcher pops up and the trajectory on the throw is a little up, like coach Travis says, you go.”
Wright slid in barely ahead of Taub’s throw at second and the throw back home was just a tad too late to get Wright, who slid safely across the plate for a 2-1 lead. Mills had taken off for second without much of hesitation off his single.
“I didn’t want to stop for a second,” Mills said. “I just saw the throw go through and took second. Matty did the rest.”
To Appleman’s credit, he got the next two batters to strand Mills at second and shut out the Diamond Jacks the rest of the way, retiring 11 of the last 12 batters in the game. Appleman permitted the two runs as he scattered six hits over his six innings of work, while striking out two and impressively walking none. The three pitchers in the game, in fact, combined to issue just two walks.
Wright’s second bunt single, leading off the sixth, would provide the Super 16U with its only base runner after the third inning rally.
“That’s all coach Travis,” said Wright about the Diamond Jacks efficiency in the bunt game. “We practice bunting a lot.”
Meanwhile, Baseball Warehouse would strand seven runners over the final four innings as Fattore and Maselli combined on a two-hitter. Fattore surrendered just one run, and it was unearned, on one hit, struck out one, walked one and hit a batter. Maselli shut out Baseball Warehouse over the final three innings on one hit, striking out two and walking one.
But holding onto that 2-1 lead was a lot more tenuous for the Diamond Jacks then it appears.
Baseball Warehouse had scored its run in the top of the third with the help of an error by Fattore. Taub had singled through the middle with one out before Jackson Ferrer hit a comebacker to Fattore. The pitcher wheeled and threw to second in a double play attempt but the throw was wide. Fattore then walked Frankie Flannery to load the bases and flip the lineup back to the top.
Leadoff batter Thomas Papeo hit a bouncer to shortstop that got Taub home on the fielder’s choice, but Fattore short-circuited the rally right there when he induced a flyout to center field. Baseball Warehouse would get runners in scoring position during the next three innings, but the Diamond Jacks would slither free.
Fattore hit Ryan Della Fave with a pitch with one out in the fourth and a pair of infield errors loaded the bases for Baseball Warehouse. Fattore uncorked a wild pitch with Garbolino at the plate as Della Fave charged home. But catcher Logan Eilbacher retrieved the ball and fired to Fattore at the plate, who tagged Della Fave before he reached the plate.
Fattore’s work was done when he retired Garbolino on a bouncer to second to end the threat.
Ferrer drew a one-out walk off Maselli in the fifth and Flannery followed with a single to center field. Thomas Papeo then hit a sinking liner to right field that looked like a single, but Mason raced in, dove and came up with the ball for the second out. Maselli got the next batter looking at a two-seam fastball for the third out.
Justin Batts led off the sixth for Baseball Warehouse by hitting a fly ball to center field, but the ball was dropped for an error. Della Fave then dropped down a beauty of a bunt to move Batts into scoring position. Frankie Papeo hit a liner the other way that first baseman leaped for and grabbed for the second out. Maselli then got the next batter to pop out to third base and end yet another threat. The frustrating part for Baseball Warehouse was it had put together good at bats in big spots but luck wasn’t on its side.
Maselli made sure there wasn’t any drama in the seventh when he retired the side in order with a strikeout and a pair of groundouts to Nick Lorenzo at shortstop. The slick Lorenzo made four putouts in the game without issue. He also went 1-for-3 with a single and a stolen base. Eilbacher had the other hit for the Diamond Jacks, a single in the second inning.
The Diamond Jacks (5-0) outscored their tournament opponents 38-8. Baseball Warehouse (4-2) held a 18-15 runs advantage on their opponents.