By Sean Reilly
The Richmond County Baseball Club Ghost 11U Nationals may have been down, but they were hardly out.
The Staten Island team trailed by seven runs in the second inning, and allowed their opponent to score in each of the four frames, but the gritty group exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the fourth before the 1:50 time clock expired with two out.
The result was a 12-9 victory over the equally tough Keystone Baseball Club Lions for the championship of the Diamond Nation 11U April Fools Tournament on Sunday night in Flemington.
Stephen Grippo wound up earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors for RCBC. He gained the pitching victory in relief, and hit a two-run double to center field with one out in the fourth for a 9-9 tie. Grippo scored the go-ahead run when Vincent Ruggiero followed with a triple to the gap in right-center field.
“We didn’t give up,” Grippo said. “We work hard and we don’t give up.”
The Lions, out of Mechanicsburg, Pa., put forth a game effort while competing in their fourth contest of the day. The first two of those matchups were in pool play – a 10-7 loss to the NJ Renegades and a 15-1 win over the Morris County Cubs Navy for a first-place finish. That sent the Lions into the playoffs, where a 13-2 semifinal decision over Top Level Athletics earned the championship appearance against RCBC. The Staten Island-based club had secured the No. 1 seed and a bye into the final after winning two of its three pool games by shutout.
The Lions high-scoring ways carried into the final, where they scored four times in the top of the first inning and added three more runs in the second for a 7-0 lead.
After loading the bases with one out in the opening frame, the Lions got consecutive walks from Will Hoover, Parker Stine and Kyle Ellestad, before Chris Scaringi hit a full-count, RBI-run single to right field.
RCBC loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning, but an infield fly to shortstop and fly out to left field ended the inning without any scoring.
Keystone added the three more runs in the second, even after RCBC turned a nifty 4-6-3 double play following a leadoff single by Ryan Schreiber.
Milez Hobby then hit a double which landed along the left field line, and he scored on a single from Blake Keller, who took second on the throw to the plate.
After Adien Schreiber drew his second of three walks in the game, Keller scored on a wild pitch. Hoover then reached on an error which scored Schreiber for the 7-0 lead.
RCBC began to chip away by getting four runs back in the bottom of the inning. Evan Yaverbaum singled in the first run with one out, and next-batter Chris McConnell was safe on a three-base error that brought in two. McConnell scored on a wild pitch to get RCBC within 7-4.
Keystone added a run in the third when Ellestad led off with a walk and later scored on a wild pitch. The Lions scored again in the fourth, as Keller was safe on a first-and-third fielder’s choice that resulted in a force out at second and Gavin Gross scoring from third.
There were roughly 12 minutes remaining on the game clock entering the bottom of the fourth, so the game seemed very unlikely to go six innings. That meant for RCBC to come back, its rally would have to be condensed over two innings. But instead, they came back in one.
The uprising began with Yaverbaum drawing a full-count walk with one out. He advanced on a wild pitch and scored when McConnell doubled to left field.
That sent up the top of the order, and Joseph Bonura reached on an error to score McConnell and get RCBC within 9-6.
Chace Curro was up next, and he was safe on an infield hit to third base. Michael Garland followed with a single to score Bonura and send Curro to third.
Grippo, who had walked in his first two at-bats, followed with his game-tying, two-run double.
“I was just trying to hit the ball and get a single,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about the time starting to run out. It felt really good to get that hit.”
Ruggiero then hit his triple that put RCBC ahead for the first time in the game. Frank Sblendorio was up next and walked, and both ultimately scored on wild pitches before time ran out to end the game.
While the RCBC is a very successful team, having to come back the way it did will serve the team well going forward in its 2023 season.
“This says a lot about our team,” Grippo said. “We usually win a lot of our tournaments, but we had to really work for this.”
That point was echoed by coach Mark Yaverbaum.
“These guys showed a lot of heart,” he said. “We were down 7-0, and they came back and persevered. They battled. The other team kept the pressure on them, and put up a run in every inning. We had to work for this one, and at the end, we outlasted them.”