Pudlak ably guides OOTP Cyclones to 13U title from behind the dish

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 9, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

Dylan Pudlak may be the perfect example of why the Out Of The Park Cyclones 13U ballclub has enjoyed a sensational start this spring. 

This past weekend Pudlak caught all but one inning of five tournament games, he anchored a defense which yielded only six runs all weekend, and he batted leadoff for a lineup which scored 49 runs.

The result was a perfect 5-0 weekend and the 13U April Fool’s Tournament title after an 11-1 dismantling of the Keystone State Bombers in the final on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

Pudlak, named Most Valuable Player after leading the Cyclones to their second tournament title in as many weeks, was asked to pinpoint why his team has enjoyed a sizzling start.

“Last season we weren’t too hot,” Pudlak said. “I think it was because we were getting used to the (60-90) field, but now we’re super hot.”

Super hot may not be a big enough superlative to describe what coach Travis Zilg’s team has accomplished these last two weeks. 

The balanced Cyclones followed up a 13U title in the Easter Extravaganza March 29-30 at the Nation by bull-rushing through their five-game April Fool’s Tournament, a run which included two shutouts. 

Over the last two weeks the Green Brook-based Cyclones have gone 9-0 and have outscored the opposition 94-7. 

“The defense has been elite and, like we said last week, the pitching has been as expected, but the offense has been great and it has continued to carry us,” Zilg said. “No, I didn’t anticipate doing as well as they’re doing (offensively). They’re just seeing the ball well, and we’re deep.”

Balance is what fuels the Cyclones’ potent offense. In the April Fool’s championship game, the Cyclones’ 10, 11 and 12 hitters – Dylan Boehm, Ethan Mecchi and Nick Yacykewych – went a combined 3-for-4 with a walk, three RBI and four runs scored.

All three players figured largely into the Cyclones’ eight-run fourth inning which clinched the title via the mercy rule against the Bombers.

“It’s pretty scary when the top does what they do but the bottom is also contributing,” Zilg said. “Boehm had the big two-out RBI – he hits 10th,” Zilg said. “Mechhi had the last RBI – he hits 11th. And Nicky Y had a single – he hits 12th. They put it in play and give us quality at bats. 

“Some teams are less fortunate because they have to flip, flip, flip to get back to the top. Of course we want the top (of the order) to be up all the time but we don’t have to stress or panic because we have guys who contribute from top to bottom.”

Dylan Pudlak of the OOTP Cyclones was named 13U April Fool’s Tournament MVP.

Like in the Easter weekend tournament, the Cyclones used plenty of pitching and defense to storm to the title. The Bombers entered the final having scored 36 runs in four games, but were limited to one run on one hit by Cyclones pitcher Lucas Funk.

Funk, the Easter Extravaganza tournament MVP, allowed one walk and struck out seven. Aside from the run he surrendered in the second inning, no Bombers base runner advanced past first base. 

And Funk benefitted from an exceptional receiver in Pudlak, whom Zilg said did not permit a single stolen base all weekend. 

“Debatably the best catcher on our circuit that we’ve seen. That’s my opinion,” Zilg said. “He throws out a high percentage of his runners, he blocks the ball extremely well, he receives at an extremely high level. And most importantly of all, he caught every inning except one and that takes a certain kind of individual to handle that.”

Pudlak joked after the final that his knees and arm were sore from bending and throwing all weekend, but he’s not looking for pity. Anyone listening to him describe his game can tell he’d catch another five games straight if asked. 

“I try to focus on receiving the ball, keeping soft hands and trying to be a wall back there – sometimes you can’t block all of them but you gotta try,” Pudlak said. “Throwing guys out is my favorite part about catching. It’s so rewarding when you throw out a kid. The key is you have to be accurate and you have to be quick on the transfer.”

In the early stages of the championship game it appeared the Bombers of Manheim, Pa., who survived in a walk-off win over the St. Francis Xavier Huskies of Brooklyn in the semifinal, were an equal match for the Cyclones.

The Cyclones claimed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Lucas Bolton scored on a fielding error on a Funk grounder. And when Funk stole second, the throw went into center field, allowing Cody Alicea to score. 

The Bombers bounced back with a run in the second inning on a Johnny Hess fielder’s choice RBI. The Cyclones made it 3-1 in the third with a Bolton RBI groundout. 

Then came the fourth inning, in which the Cyclones sent 11 men to the plate and scored eight runs on four hits and four walks. 

Funk tripled and scored on a wild pitch and Andrew Schmeider also scored on an errant pitch for a 5-1 lead. Boehm slapped a single into right to score two runs, but not before Cole Webster’s slide into home evaded a superb, pinpoint throw from Bombers right fielder Carter Reyes.

Mecchi had an RBI single and Yacykewych stole home before Bolton drilled a single through the middle to score Pudlak with the game-ending run.

It’s worth noting that in the semis the Bombers slipped past a SFX Huskies team that victimized two other teams with walk-off wins in pool play before the Huskies themselves allowed two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to see the Bombers walk off that win.

In the sixth with the score tied 5-5 and the bases loaded with two out, Brodie Hess hit a sharp grounder up the middle which appeared to be the game winner. Huskies second baseman Michael Stathoudakis made a diving stop and lunged for second base for what would have been an inning-ending out. But the Bombers’ Benny Shehan beat Stathoudakis to the bag, and that meant Caleb Melendez crossed the plate with the winning run.

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