By Rich Bevensee
The Rising Rebels 13U ballclub prides itself on its hitting, and that has never been more evident than when the New Jersey-based club brings its caravan of lumber to Diamond Nation.
For the third time in as many trips this summer to the Flemington complex, the Rebels knocked the baseball all around the yard with dizzying effect, blitzing the opponent until the mercy rule – mercifully – is employed.
With Finn O’Loughlin and Jadon Krisanda providing the biggest blasts in a six-run third inning, the Rebels once again pounded an opponent into submission. This time, their victim was Five-Star Northeast Browne 13U after a 9-1 triumph in five innings in the championship game of the August Showdown on Sunday at Diamond Nation.
It was the Rebels’ third championship in as many title game appearances.
The Rebels won the Spring Classic May 13-15 and two months later captured the Midsummer Classic July 15-17.
The only 13U team to match what the Rebels have accomplished this summer at Diamond Nation is the Diamond Jacks Super 13s, who have gone 3-3-1 in their seven trips to the finals.
“This team has been showing grit and determination throughout the spring and into the summer,” Rebels coach Simon Hwang said. “We’ve played in a lot of tournaments, we’ve improved and excelled through the tournament season, and this is a culmination of everything we’ve been working for.
We’re very happy to be at Diamond Nation. We love this place. This is what we excel at – we build up to Diamond Nation tournaments.”
The Rebels concluded their summer tournament season with an incredible 14-0 record in their three Diamond Nation appearances this summer. They outscored the opposition 151-34 by scoring an average of 10.8 runs per game.
The Rebels path to the final included victories over Team Crush Baseball (7-4), RBI Thunder 13U (10-2), Academy Stars (8-4), and Diamond Jacks Super 13U (8-6).
“We have a very good hitting team. That’s one of our strengths and it’s what gets us from championship game to championship game,” said Rebels center fielder and rising eighth-grader Curt Friedrich, who collected three extra-base hits over the weekend and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s been the same team since 9U. We’ve been together, progressed together, just being a team. We’re all friends. We all hang out outside of baseball. It helps us be confident in the rest of our team.”
Riam Shapiro was exceptional in his complete-game effort on the mound for the Rebels. He allowed one run on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts.
“I love being on the mound and I love this field. Turf is my thing and so is playing at night,” Shapiro said. “I like the pressure. It’s good that my team trusts me in a situation like this. Championship games are where you prove yourself.”
“Riam’s arm is developing into an extremely good arm,” Hwang said. “His command, his location, his presence on the mound – everything he does is amazing. He’s going to be a really good pitcher in the future.”
Shapiro, a Clarkstown, N.Y. resident and rising freshman at Don Bosco Prep, wasn’t overpowering, but he was outstanding under pressure. He pitched out of jams twice to make the Rebels’ six-run third inning stand up.
“If you want to judge him by age, you want to bring him up to the 15-16 level,” Hwang said. “His poise on the mound is phenomenal.”
Shapiro yielded a single run in the top of the third inning when Josh Caldwell drove in Hunter West with an infield ground out. That run very nearly didn’t happen due to the Rebels’ exceptional defense, which later turned two double plays.
One batter before Caldwell, Rebels shortstop Brandon Fry nearly made a leaping catch of Tyler Jorett’s line drive up the middle. Had Fry made the catch, West would most certainly have been doubled off second base.
No matter. In the bottom of the third, the Rebels took over the game.
After Fry walked to load the bases, O’Loughlin cracked a grounds-rule double over the left field fence for a 2-1 Rebels lead. Krisanda followed with a two-run triple, and later scored on a pickoff throwing error for a 5-1 lead. Shapiro’s RBI groundout scored pinch-runner Eric Hokenberg from third capped the scoring, and Five-Star was fortunate it ended there.
The Rebels strung together two more hits to load the bases once more before Five-Star reliever Caldwell wiggled out of the jam by inducing an infield popup.
In all the Rebels strung together seven hits in a nine-batter stretch, an impressive display of how offense can be contagious.
“We were all hitting the ball hard, hitting the ball far. The other team changed pitchers and we kept doing the same thing,” Friedrich said. “Once we get our energy up it just happens. It’s always been a thing with our team. I don’t know how to explain it. It just works I guess.”
Friedrich is a prime example of the unselfish atmosphere which exists in the Rebels dugout. He said he struggled offensively to kick off the summer and not until he sought advice from those closest to him did his bat begin to catch fire.
“I was focused too much on hitting the ball over the fence, and at this age you can’t really do that,” Friedrich said. “Mid-July was when I realized it was about base hits and not hitting the ball 400 feet. Once I realized that’s not going to happen, I fixed it. I had a couple tips from my coaches and my parents but at the end of the day I was the one who incorporated it into my game.”
“Curt’s a great hitter and a great pitcher,” Hwang said. “He’s excelled at everything from fundamentals and defense and offense. This weekend he had a few line drives hit right at people, but he’s been smoking the ball.”
The Rebels closed out the game via the mercy rule (leading by eight runs in the fifth inning) after John Krisanda walked, Holden Cohn singled and Shapiro bunted for a base hit to load the bases. Andrew Young laced a two-run single to left for an 8-1 lead, and Toubes plated Shapiro with a single through the middle to close out the victory.
Five-Star finished the weekend 4-1 and outscored its opponents 40-21. It defeated Rockland County Baseball Club Marucci 13U Americans, 8-0, tied Longwood Lions Elite, 0-0, defeated Diamond Jacks 13U Gold, 9-6, and beat Brooklyn Bonnie Bulls 13U, 9-1, in the semifinals.
In the final, Five-Star starter Jeremy Marandola surrendered five runs (four earned) in 2⅓ innings on five hits and four walks with one strikeout. Caldwell pitched 1⅔ innings and yielded four runs on seven hits and one walk. Ryan Rude came on to get one out in the fifth and gave up a hit and a walk.