By Will Harrigan
It’s been a successful calendar year for the baseball program known as PPH (Power Pitching & Hitting) Mafia Blue 15U. The squad had won five tournaments coming into last weekend and reached the finals on four other occasions.
So it was only fitting that PPH Mafia Blue wrapped up its fall season with trophy number six, and it has its offense to thank for it.
With a balanced lineup one-through-11, PPH rolled to a 13-7 victory over OOTP Cyclones in the 15U Halloween Mash championship game at Diamond Nation last Sunday. The tournament marked the 2022 tournament finale at ‘The Nation.’
Mafia Blue went 4-1 in the tournament, out-scoring its opponents by a 51-22 margin en route to the title. OOTP Cyclones finished 3-1 on the weekend. Nick Wysokowski — who drove five runs in as part of a championship game rampage — garnered MVP honors for PPH Mafia Blue.
“I know this sounds generic, but I could really tell this group was gelling back in March,” said PPH coach Bill Bethea, who procures his players locally from the Middlesex County area. “We ended up winning six tournaments and got to the USABL World Series. I think it was a really strong year for us.”
What turned out to be the decisive rally came in the top of the third, when the champions struck for seven runs to extend their lead to 11-0.
Three fielding errors and four walks issued by the Cyclones did themselves no favors, but a two-RBI single by Wysokowski with one out was a key hit in the rally. Ryan Leach drove in a run later in the inning by drawing a walk with the bases loaded.
An inning earlier, Collin Perna’s one out double set up Wysokowski’s RBI single to get the scoring started. Two errors — part of seven on the day for the Cyclones — allowed three more runs to score, culminating with Christian Pereira taking home on a first-and-third double steal.
“When you are given opportunities, you have to take advantage, especially when getting a lead. We preach putting the ball in play always,” said Bethea.
But the Cyclones — a team with mostly Somerset County players — launched a seven run rally of their own in the bottom half of the third to make things interesting.
Landon Pudlak walked and Rob Centamore singled to set the table for Connor Price, who tripled in both to cut the deficit to 11-2. Two batters later, North Hunterdon’s Hunter Brown singled in a pair of runs.
Alex Skwarek, Nevin Swanson, and Joe Kaecker all singled in runs later in the inning, and suddenly the scoreboard showed 11-7 after three innings.
Wysokowski would strike again in the fourth to help PPH extend its lead to 13-7.