Chaz Spotswood of Plus Performance Stingers 11U takes a cut against Sportika Baseball.
By Rich Bevensee
Pio Carotenuto made a major announcement with his right arm on Saturday, and opposing 11U lineups had better pay attention.
No longer is the lanky pitcher one to pout and complain at the slightest mishap. No longer does he lose his composure when things go wrong. Instead, he bears down and gets outs. It’s that simple.
Carotenuto, who credited an older cousin for his growth in maturity, was terrific in a complete game effort for the Plus Performance Stingers 11U squad. He scattered eight hits and three walks while striking out 10 in six innings in a 12-5 victory over Sportika Baseball 11U Elite on Saturday in the Spring Fever Tournament at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
It was Carotenuto’s debut as a starter this spring. His only other appearance on the mound this season came on Friday night when he pitched one inning of relief in a 7-4 win over LBC.
“I’m a different Pio now,” Carotenuto said. “Every time I pitch and I get mad, I just take a deep breath and think about my next at bat. Just keep breathing between pitches. I’ve come a long way.”
Carotenuto proved just how much he’s grown as a ballplayer in the bottom of the second inning, when he surrendered three walks and two hits to five of Sportika’s first six batters. With two runs in and one out, Carotenuto struck out the next two batters to strand the bases loaded, keeping the Stingers in the driver’s seat at that point, 10-2.
“I just tried to calm down, breathe deeply and pitch strikes,” said Carotenuto, who mixed a fastball, curveball and changeup over 68 pitches. “When there was a walk I used to get really mad and I would keep walking people. I’ve gotten much better.”
“In years past he’s had a problem with composure, where if there was a walk or a bad pitch, he’d lose it,” Stingers coach Curt Dahl said. “Last night I brought him in to pitch for the first time in a while, just for an inning, eight pitches, and he pitched phenomenally. I told him you’re going to start tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes, and you can see what he did.
“He threw strikes, commanded three pitches and he was fantastic all day.”
After escaping that jam, Carotenuto became workmanlike, permitting Sportika to only scratch and claw at its deficit, getting single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings. In the final four frames Carotenuto allowed three runs on five hits and no walks.
Proving he could get stronger during the course of a game amidst temperatures in the mid-90s on Saturday, Carotenuto struck out the side in the fifth.
Carotenuto credited the drastic change in his mental makeup to his 13-year-old cousin, Michael Testa.
“Me and my cousin play baseball a lot and he usually beats me and I used to get mad,” Carotenuto said. “He would tell me not to get mad, about keeping my composure, and even though I was losing against him, it’s still a game and I should keep playing.
“One big difference in me is I’m not nervous to pitch anymore. I’m excited to pitch and get the team a win.”
Carotenuto had plenty of reasons not to be nervous in his spring debut as a starter, 12 reasons to be precise. The Stingers exploded for a nine-run second inning in which they sent 13 batters to the plate and benefitted from four hits, four walks, a hit batter and an infield error.
Chaz Spotswood had the big blow which ignited the Stingers offense in the top of the second inning, roping a two-run double which hugged the third base line. He was followed by a James Esposito RBI single, back-to-back bases loaded walks by Carotenuto and Brody Fedison, and an RBI single by Dante Glynos. Two unearned runs scored on Chris Dahl’s infield grounder, and Drew Chonka tacked on an RBI groundout.
“All our bats were going today, and Pio was awesome,” Spotswood said.
The Stingers padded their lead in the sixth thanks to a Fedison RBI single and a Glynos RBI groundout. Carotenuto finished 2 for 2 with a double, two walks, an RBI and three runs scored.
Plus Performance finished pool play 2-1 (losing to Moorestown 20-16 in its opener), scoring 35 runs and allowing 29. The top four seeds compete in the semifinals on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. and the 11U final is slated for 6:30 p.m.
For Sportika (also 2-1 in pool play), pinch hitter Zach Stein had the blast of the day in the fourth inning, sending a Carotenuto offering off the left field fence, just two feet shy of leaving the yard for a home run. Stein settled for a double and later scored. He also pitched two scoreless innings of relief with two strikeouts.
Sportika collected four doubles in all. In the second inning Mike Gelicke lofted a fly ball to right which bounced over the right fielder for a two-bagger. Brady DiStefano slammed a hard hit ball to left center for a ground-rule double in the third. Sisco’s blast came in the fourth, and Collin Rattigan also knocked a sixth inning grounds-rule double to about the same spot as DiStefano’s shot.
Rattigan finished 2 for 3 with two RBI, while Jake Boyle, Aiden Herbert, Mason Siet each drove in a run for Sportika.
Sportika relief pitchers Nick Sisco (two innings), Stein (two) and Hudson Corsano (one) held the Stingers in check over the final four innings, allowing two runs on three hits with no walks, a hit batsman and three strikeouts.
In pool play Sportika defeated LBC 9-2 and Moorestown 9-5, finishing with 23 runs scored and 19 allowed.