By Rich Bevensee
When Prime Time Aces 15U coach Colin Casey assumed his place in the third base coach’s box for the bottom of the fourth inning, he and Monmouth Liberty coach Russ Dunn shared a few kind words about how they were enjoying the current ballgame, which was highly competitive and unlike the lopsided affairs they experienced in pool play.
Little did either man know just how competitive things would get down the stretch in the 15U Halloween Mash championship game.
The top-seeded Aces, trailing by multiple runs and down to their last strike on two separate occasions, received clutch hits from Kyle Peterson in the fifth inning and from Will Lepre in the sixth to outlast the second-seeded Liberty and claim the 15U title with a heart-stopping, 12-11 victory on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“We had confidence in our hitting and we know our hitting can help us come back,” said Lepre, who tied the game in the sixth with a two-run single and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “We have good pitching and we knew we could lock them down defensively and beat them on the hitting side.”
The first time the Arlington, Virginia-based Aces were down to their last strike, they trailed 9-6 in the bottom of the fifth inning. With two out and facing a full count – and as time expired on the 1-hour, 50-minute game clock – No. 13 hitter Sutton Denny earned a walk to load the bases.
The next batter was Peterson, the Aces leadoff man and a freshman at McLean (Va.). He drilled a double into the left center gap to clear the bases and tie the game, where it remained heading into the sixth inning.
The California tiebreaker was utilized in the sixth, with each team beginning the inning with the bases loaded and one out. Monmouth’s Finn Dufficy, who in the fourth inning belted a huge three-run double, demonstrated his cool under pressure once more by earning a walk to force in a run. Jack Russo added a sacrifice fly to give the Liberty an 11-9 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Lepre came up with two out and worked the count to 2-2. With the Aces down to their final strike for a second time, Lepre, a freshman at The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland, lined the next pitch into center to drive in two runs and tie the game at 11-11.
“That’s baseball,” Dunn said. “I thought we were going to put it away but things happen.”
It was Lepre’s third extra-base hit of the weekend. He tripled twice and went 6-for-8 with four walks for the tournament, a performance he called one of his best weekends ever.
“I hit well because of our team, because of the momentum of our team and the hitters before me,” Lepre said. “For instance, Kyle, our leadoff hitter, gets on almost every AB. He starts everything and gets everyone going.”
Robert Kilpatrick began the sixth inning on first base and Casey expressed some displeasure that Kilpatrick, who stopped at second on Lepre’s base hit, didn’t advance to third on the throw home.
“I thought if I get thrown out at third, we go another inning, but if I stay at second there’s a chance to keep the inning going,” Kilpatrck said.
No one was questioning Kilpatrick for very long. With Kyle Fontenot at bat, Kilpatrick broke for third. He slid in safely, and when the throw was mishandled and the ball dribbled into left field, Kilpatrick scrambled to his feet and raced home with the championship-winning run.
“It was the adrenaline of having the chance to win the game and everyone yelling,” said Kilpatrick, a freshman at Washington Liberty in Arlington. “I saw an opportunity and I decided to take it.”
The Aces had, quite improbably, survived a pair of final-strike scenarios to win a championship in the final game of their fall season.
The entire weekend the Aces dominated the competition, outscoring three pool play opponents, 32-3, to earn the top seed and a bye into the final. The championship game was an entirely different challenge, as Prime Time saw its 4-0 first inning lead erased when Monmouth took a 9-4 lead into the fourth inning.
“Honestly, we never felt like we were down in that game,” Kilpatrick said. “The whole weekend the bats were really good, so we got together and all got on the fence and started cheering and put everything together and gave it everything we had at the end.”
William Lepre of Prime Time Aces was named the 15U Halloween Mash MVP.
Lucas Grubb went 2-for-3 for the Aces with a triple, two RBI and two runs scored. Lepre was 2-for-2 with a walk and three RBI. Luke Larimore, who homered in the team’s second pool play game, added an RBI single in the final.
Owen Liu-Bailey pitched three innings for the Aces, allowing six runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts. Landon Somers, who earned the win, entered in the fourth in relief of Jackson Reidel and threw the final three innings. He yielded three runs on three hits and four walks with four strikeouts.
The Liberty received exceptional pitching from Brett Laude, a Red Bank Regional freshman who entered the game in the first inning after Thomas Lee allowed the first three Aces batters to reach. Laude held the Aces to one run through the first three frames and he exited after the fifth with the Liberty leading 9-6.
Laude permitted six runs on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts.
“He literally kept us in the game the whole time. It was huge,” Dunn said. “If he doesn’t do what he does, we don’t make it as far as we do.”
The Liberty, which scored 21 runs in three pool play games and defeated PPH Mafia, 11-3, in the semifinal, showed the offensively-talented Aces they came to swing their own bats. They overcame a 4-0 deficit after one inning by exploding for five runs in the third for a 6-4 lead.
In the fourth, Dufficy, a freshman at Christian Brothers Academy, came to bat with the bases loaded and roped a full-count fastball into right center for a three-run double and a 9-4 Liberty lead. He finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and four RBI.
“That was the biggest hit right there,” Dunn said. “It really opened things up and got the guys really energized. It’s just too bad that we faded at the end.”
Monmouth leadoff hitter Matthew Korth reached base in all four plate appearances. He had a third-inning triple, three walks and three runs scored. Jack Daugherty went 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored. Jack Russo singled, walked twice and scored twice.