Anthony Macaluso scores in the RCBC Marucci Nationals’ six-run third inning.
By Rich Bevensee
Anthony Macaluso had never tried batting left-handed in a game before, and he may never try it again.
But for one at bat, he looked like a pure contact hitter in a strange place known as the left-handed batter’s box.
With the Richmond County Baseball Club Marucci 14U Nationals trying to put the brakes on scoring so as not embarrass their opponent in an already lopsided game, Macaluso, a right-handed hitter in the team’s No. 2 slot, stepped up to swing from the south side.
“That was definitely weird, being in the lefty box,” Macaluso said. “We were up by a lot so we thought it would be fun if I went up there and batted lefty just to see what would happen. First pitch, I swung and fouled it off. Second pitch, I took it. Third pitch, I don’t know how but I hit it to left center. It was better than I thought I would hit it.”
And that’s how the day went for Macaluso and the Staten Island-based Nationals. Macaluso’s fly ball dropped in for a two-run double to fuel a well-balanced attack for the Nationals, who defeated the Lagrange Lumberjacks 16-1 in four innings in both teams’ pool play opener in the Summer Finale on Friday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Macaluso led RCBC by going 2-for-3 with four RBI. Every batter in the Nationals’ 10-man lineup got a base hit and seven recorded an RBI.
“We’ve been playing very good as a team,” said Macaluso, a rising sophomore at St. Peter’s Boys High School in Staten Island. “We’re not the biggest team so we work together, and we win. We’re a good hitting team.”
Anthony Molinini went 2-for-4 with an RBI, Mateo Gordon was 2-for-2 with an RBI, Ayden Rosario was 2-for-3 with an RBI, and Michael Uccio laced a two-run single. Molinini, Macaluso and Gordon each scored three times.
“They know we have a short roster (this weekend) so each guy has to produce and do all the little things,” RCBC coach Mike Grippo said. “Put the ball in play when they have to, get a big hit when they have to. And some guys can run the bases, too. So everyone has to have an offensive impact one way or another.”
The Nationals’ pitching was equally as effective on Friday, as three pitchers came within one out of combining for a four-inning no-hitter.
Mateo Gordon pitched two innings, cruising through the first perfectly before allowing three walks in the second and then escaping the jam with a strikeout to end the inning.
“It was a technical thing – I just had to speed up my mechanics in the second inning,” Gordon said.
Rosario handled the third inning and allowed one walk and struck out two. Molinini came on for the fourth and struck out the first two batters before allowing a walk to Derek Lois and an RBI double to Lumberjacks shortstop Scott Giles. Molinini ended the game with his third strikeout.
“The guys who pitched today haven’t logged a lot of innings so I definitely wanted to finish up the summer by getting those guys some innings,” Grippo said.
The Nationals pasted four runs on the board in the top of the first inning by making the Lumberjacks, making their Diamond Nation debut, pay for some early mistakes. Molinini beat out a slow grounder, Macaluso reached on a throwing error, and Cuccio drove them both in with a single to left. Rob Cruz singled home Cuccio and Rosario plated Cruz with a ground out.
In the second, RCBC picked up a single run when Gordon scored on a passed ball for a 5-0 lead.
Mike Grippo, the coach’s son, sparked the Nationals’ five-run third inning when he forced in a run after getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Molinini rapped an RBI single and later scored on a passed ball. Macaluso ripped a two-run single through the middle, and Uccio added an RBI groundout for an 11-0 bulge.
In the fourth, Gordon forced in a run with a hit by pitch and Grippo walked with the bases loaded to make the score 13-0, and Nationals coach Grippo instructed his players to slam on the brakes.
Nick Zarski was an easy force out at home after a Molinini bunt. Macaluso swung awkwardly from the left side but somehow turned in a productive at bat. Nationals base runners nearly got picked off in an effort to truncate the inning, but it backfired when Molinini scored on a balk.
“At some point, certain scores, certain games get out of hand, and I’ve been on both sides of it,” Grippo said. “It doesn’t do anyone any good, doesn’t help either team, to keep the pedal to the metal.”