By Sean Reilly
The RCBC Marucci Nationals 12U team has taken quite a liking to competing at Diamond Nation.
The Nationals have participated in three tournaments in Flemington so far this spring, and the Staten Island-based team has won them all. Richmond County Baseball Club is also one of Diamond Nation’s longest running visitors.
The latest RCBC triumph came on Saturday when opportunistic offense, solid pitching and stellar defense resulted in a 4-3 victory over the Franklin Warriors for the 12U championship of the Easter Extravaganza Tournament.
RCBC, which is now 13-0 on the season, went 4-0 for the weekend and outscored its opponents, 27-6. Its other Diamond Nation tournaments this spring were a 5-0 showing to win the Battle at the Turf last month and a 4-0 co-championship at the April Fools Tournament when the final game (against the RCBC Americans) was rained out.
“Pitching and defense has been the key for us,” said Nationals coach Vinny Nichilo. “We’ve hit enough, but the pitching and defense is always there with this group.”
RCBC showcased its opportunistic nature when it broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning. Anthony Rao led off with a single to right field, and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by tournament MVP Joseph Spungin. With Vince Sileccia at the plate, Rao stole third and then scored when the throw was off.
RCBC scored its first three runs in the bottom of the first, getting RBI hits from Justin Haag and Anthony Tepedino, and a run-scoring ground out from Spungin.
Franklin, which exhibited its own high level of play throughout the tournament, answered right back in the top of the second. It started with a single from A.J. Huber and walk to Kelvin Heuston before Nico Tejeda launched a three-run home run to tie the score.
After that, the pitchers from both sides locked in, with the help of impressive defense from their infielders.
Spungin, the RCBC starter, retired the final nine batters he faced until hard-throwing Gabe Lucca took over with two out in the fifth and continued to keep Franklin off the board.
Franklin starter Huber retired the final five he faced before Rosario Dipollina relieved in the third, and he pitched 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth frames.
Spungin, aside from hitting well throughout the weekend and pitching impressively in the final, closed out the game at shortstop and made a nice play to throw out Franklin’s leadoff batter in the sixth.
“This was a lot of fun,” Spungin said. “We enjoy it. I just wanted to throw strikes and get my curveball down, and our defense made plays. It’s fun coming here and playing on these fields.”
RCBC clinched its championship berth earlier in the day with a 9-1 win over PS2 Athletics.
Meanwhile, it was another strong showing at Diamond Nation for Franklin, a town-based program that finished tournament runner-up for the second time this spring.
The Warriors also went 3-0 in the pool stage of the six-team tournament, having earned their slot in the final by beating Monmouth Liberty, 13-5, earlier on Saturday. Franklin’s bats generated 46 runs in its four games, which was 19 more than RCBC and 22 more than the next closest team.
Mason Bonds singled twice and was hit by a pitch in his three at-bats for the Warriors in the final.