Richmond County, Bell Ringers play to tie in Super 16

By Bob Behre | August 21, 2020

Kyle Donaphon works a walk in sixth inning against RCBC Nationals’ Chris Polemeni.

The old saying “A tie is like kissing your sister” doesn’t hold true in tournament baseball since a tie could eventually have a positive impact on your team earning a playoff berth.

With that in mind, Richmond County Baseball 16U and Bell Ringers 16U Red will take their bats, balls, gloves and tournament-opening tie and live to see another day in Diamond Nation’s Super 16 Invitational.

RCBC coach Nick Defendis, in fact, yelled out to his team as the Bell Ringers were batting in the bottom of the seventh, “Let’s go! Let’s get half a win.” And if you know Defendis’ competitive approach to the game, there was no sarcasm in that comment, rather implorement to bring home the bacon, or at least a half a piece of it.

Richmond County reliever Rob Salifa complied, retiring the Bell Ringers in order in the bottom of the seventh, getting the last batter on a curveball to end the game.

It was a crisply played late August game that pitted two starting pitchers that battled gamely with runners on base much of the game. Richmond County’s starter Chris Polemeni permitted one run on two hits over five innings while striking out two, walking four and hitting a batter. His counterpart, Zack Liberatore, allowed one run on seven hits over seven innings while striking out two and walking three.

Polemeni stranded five baserunners and Liberatore stranded eight.

“My changeup  was good,” said Polemeni. “I was throwing it low and outside to lefties and away to righties.” Polemeni admitted to battling a bit with his mechanics, which led to some pitches sailing well high or wide of the strike zone. “I had to make an adjustment. I need to tuck my glove in during my windup.”

Christian Rice of RCBC Nationals 16U zones in on a pitch during Super 16U Invitational.

Polemeni also thought he may have missed out on a few strikes.

“My catcher sets up outside as a target for my pitches on the corner and at the bottom of the strike zone,” said Polemeni. “But I wasn’t always getting the call with home plate umpire behind the mound.” Diamond Nation has positioned home plate umpires behind the pitcher’s mound as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, making precise calls more difficult.

“Chris is working hard,” said Defendis. “His velocity has been at 84-85 and he’s touched 86.”

Salifa entered with a runner aboard and no outs in the sixth and got six straight outs despite facing only five Bell Ringers’ batters.

Polemeni also went 2-for-3 at the plate batting from the No. 6 spot in the Richmond County order. He ripped a double down the left field line with two outs in the top of the fourth, stole third base and scored on a wild pitch to give his team a 1-0 lead. He even gave Richmond County an opportunity to take the lead in the top of the seventh when he led off with a single and reached second with one out. But Liberatore, to his credit, got the final two outs around a walk to preserve the tie.

The Bell Ringers tied the game at 1-1 in the fourth when Matt Abate laced a two-out double into left-center field to score Kyle Donaphon. Donaphon drew a leadoff walk and was bunted to second by Dillon Can. Polemeni would get out of a  second-and-third jam later in the inning.

Liberatore showed early he was going to be tough with runners on base. Richmond County’s Rob Rispoli led off the game with a single through the middle and he stole second with one out. But Liberatore got a fly out and induced a comebacker to get out of it.

Both teams had runners thrown out on the basepaths. The Bell Ringers, in fact, had two separate runners caught straying too far off of third base in the second inning. And RCBC catcher Jack Ryan (1-for-3, walk) caught a runner trying to steal second in the third inning and picked another one off of first base in the sixth.

Rispoli stole second in fifth and raced toward third when the throw got away. But Bell Ringers’ center fielder Abate charged in and gunned him out at third base. Bell Ringers left fielder Jack Esher had a huge assist in the sixth when he threw out Stephen Stafford at second trying to stretch a single down the line into a double.

“We have to hit better as a team in big spots,” said Defendis. “But this has been a great group of kids to work with. They are very coachable. It’s a developmental year for these kids. We have a mix of (rising) freshmen and sophomores and they just do the right thing.”

Both teams, in fact, played a strong brand of baseball defensively. Each committed just one error. And their aggressive style on the basepaths is appealing to watch as well.

Richmond County returns to Diamond Nation for an 8 a.m. game on Saturday opposite ASBA Futures Red on Field 5. Bell Ringers 16U Red faces Hustle Baseball Academy, also at 8 a.m., on Field 4.

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