By Rich Bevensee
One of the smallest players on the field had the biggest hit of the game, and of his young career.
The Diamond Jacks Super 12U had just completed a six-run rally to tie the score and wipe out all the momentum built by the Richmond County Baseball Club Ghost 12U Americans, who enjoyed an eight-run outburst just a half-inning earlier.
So, with the score tied late in the game and precious time slipping off the game clock, leadoff hitter Jace Lawless launched a bomb which will have the RCBC baseball family gushing about the rest of spring and into the summer.
Lawless’ towering two-run home run in the top of the fifth inning lifted his team to an eventual 11-9 victory over the Diamond Jacks in the championship game of the April Fool’s Tournament on Sunday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“I’m blown away because that’s not something that happens a lot to me,” said Lawless, who chalked up his fourth career home run. “It was a great feeling.”
The score was tied 8-8 in the top half of the fifth inning when RCBC’s No. 11 hitter Thomas Moglinicki led off with a single up the middle. Lawless was next, and he drilled a 1-1 pitch over the left field scoreboard. In fact, the homer was such a prodigious blast, there was no doubt about if it was going out, but where it would land. Kids, just google Roy Hobbs of “The Natural,” or Reggie Jackson’s home run in the 1971 All-Star Game to get an idea of how high and far this blast traveled.
“I’m a line drive hitter usually, and I had to get my team back up,” said Lawless, who saw his team’s 8-2 lead wither away after the Diamond Jacks scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth.
“There was a guy on first and I have to at least score him or get him to third,” Lawless said. “My approach was line drive, and I hit a curveball hanging over the plate. At first I thought it was by the fence. I didn’t think it was going over and I didn’t see it. When everyone started screaming is when I knew it was out. I got excited because I knew my team was up and we had a good pitcher on the mound.”
Luca Scarangello, who started on the mound for the Americans, was named MVP of the tournament for his hitting and pitching.
“I feel honored, excited,” Scarangello said. “I thought it was going to be Jace – he never stopped hitting.”
RCBC enjoyed an explosion of offense over the weekend, outscoring its opposition 51-7 going into the final and reaching double digits in all five games. The Americans trailed 2-0 when they backed Scarangello with eight runs in the bottom of the third.
“Just putting this team together and it’s our first tournament, we just never stopped hitting,” Scarangello said. “It’s probably the best offense I’ve played with. I knew they’d pick me up when I was down.”
The Diamond Jacks were no offensive slouches, either. The host program outscored four teams 63-12 heading into the championship game.
It appeared the Diamond Jacks were bound to keep at least one April Fool’s trophy at home when they opened the game with two runs in the top of the first inning. Bryson Auten drove in Fenton Morrissey with a single to left and later scored on an infield throwing error.
The bottom of the third is when RCBC woke up offensively. The Staten Island program sent 13 batters to the plate and scored eight runs on three hits, six walks and an error.
One of the biggest at bats came early in the rally, when Moglinicki laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Salvatore “Pork Chop” Novello from third to make it a 2-1 game. Santino Yulfo scored on an infield error to tie the game and Rich Raneri’s two-run single gave RCBC the lead, 4-2.
Sal Iacona had a two-run single, Nick Bianco added an RBI groundout, and Yulfo contributed again with an RBI single.
If the mood was downbeat in the Diamond Jacks dugout, it never showed. The hosts rebounded immediately with six runs in the top of the fourth while sending 12 batters to the plate and collecting seven hits and a walk.
Ryan Jezorwski drove in a run with a single, Jordan Vesey slapped a two-run single up the middle, Andrew Finarelli had a run-scoring single on a slow roller to third, Rich Griswold forced a run home with a bases-loaded walk, and Morrissey’s two-out laser to right tied the game at 8-8.
The Diamond Jacks scored once in the top half of the fifth on Harry Politi’s infield single and brought the tying run to the plate with two out. RCBC reliever Christian Falzone then induced an infield fly to end the drama and clinch the championship for the Americans.
“The kids worked hard all winter and spring and they sure put the bat on the ball,” RCBC coach George Quinn said. “I’ve been practicing with them since January, but this is our first time on the field so you don’t know what you’re going to get. I knew it was a talented group. We didn’t perform that well under pressure, but we got the job done so I guess everybody gets to go home happy.”