By Rich Bevensee
Bryan Rios had no plans whatsoever to play baseball Labor Day Weekend. But on Sunday evening while he was in New York City celebrating a cousin’s birthday, he received a phone call asking about his availability to pitch in a championship game for PS2 Academy.
“I wasn’t supposed to play this weekend and they told me (Sunday) night they needed a pitcher, so I came,” Rios said. “As soon as I got the call, I said, I’m in!”
That’s one heck of a contact list PS2 has. Rios, a senior at St. Joseph of Metuchen, pitched the game of his life against a foe which had been knocking the baseball around all weekend.
While throwing a career-high 127 pitches, Rios held offensive-minded Mid-Atlantic Ghost of Tinton Falls to four hits over 6⅓ innings and powered PS2 to a 5-3 victory in the Labor Day Blast 17-18U Wood Bat championship game on Monday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Rios eventually ran out of gas in the seventh inning, when Mid-Atlantic rallied for a run and had the tying run at first base with one out. But hard-throwing Abdiel Ventura came on to relieve Rios, and he threw one pitch and induced a title-clinching double play.
“My arm feels fine now. Probably when I wake up tomorrow it’s gonna be sore,” said Rios, who estimated his previous high pitch count reached 105. “I wasn’t going to play at all this weekend, but I couldn’t pass it up. My team did a lot of things out there to help us win.”
PS2 had extra incentive to bring home the title. Four weeks ago, in the August Showdown 17-18U finale at Diamond Nation, PS2 lost to 5-Star NY 17U on the very same field. It was PS2’s first title of the summer/fall season.
“This is one of those teams that puts it together with a lot of hunger, and I think that comes from them believing sometimes they are underappreciated,” PS2 coach Evan Gettle said. “Knowing that we had some opportunities this summer to capitalize and didn’t and then getting it done today is huge for them.”
PS2’s Bryan Santana, a senior at Richmond Hill High in Queens, earned Most Valuable Player honors after going 2-for-4 with a two-run double in the first inning and an RBI single in the fifth. He also played a flawless third base and anchored the game-ending double play.
“It’s a compliment to be the MVP, but it means a lot more to me to compete with my guys,” Santana said. “I’m a team player so as long as we win I’m happy.”
“Bryan has been one of those guys where, when he goes, everyone goes,” Gettle said. “We have guys who have carried the team, but he has been an anchor at third base and he swings a hell of a bat. He doesn’t always hit you for the long ball but he’ll come up in the clutch.”
PS2, based in Wayne, N.J. and comprised mostly of players from Passaic and Bergen counties, lost its first pool game of the weekend to Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy, 4-3. PS2 rebounded to defeat the Jersey Shore Wildcats, 3-0, and the PPH Mafia, 9-6, to earn a berth in the semifinals. When the second-seeded Wildcats opted out of the playoffs due a pitching shortage, PS2 slid into the championship game against top-seeded Ghost.
Mid-Atlantic earned the top seed by running roughshod over its pool competition, outscoring four opponents by a combined 24-5. But the Ghost lineup was unable to produce any kind of fireworks on Monday against Rios.
“He did a good job getting ahead with fastballs, located the zone, and painted the outside corner very well,” Ghost coach Gerry Patrizio said. “Universally, if your starting pitcher can pound the zone with fastballs, it’s gonna be a long day for the offense. We hit him hard early on but went to sleep in the middle. Hat’s off to him, he pitched a great game.”
At one point through the middle innings, Rios retired 14 of 16 batters. In the fourth inning, Ghost shortstop Joe Cordi led off with a single, stole second and took third on a passed ball. But Rios stranded Cordi with three straight strikeouts. For the game Rios gave up five hits and four walks and struck out nine.
“My fastball was really good, spotting on the outside corner. They couldn’t hit it, they were swinging and missing,” Rios said. “I worked my slider in there, they swung and missed a lot – they were reaching for it.”
“Bryan is one of those guys where, the more the game builds, the better he gets,” Gettle said. “He didn’t have his best stuff today but he was able to go in, out, in, out. When he got into some less than ideal situations he was able to battle out of it. That gives an indication of what kind of player he’ll be at the next level.”
PS2 first baseman Luca Reyes swung the biggest bat of the game, going 3-for-3 including a clutch RBI triple which broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the fifth inning. He was intentionally walked in the seventh with a runner on second base.
“When I slow the game down it really helps me,” said Reyes, a 6-2, 185-pound Miami commit from Bergen Catholic in Oradell. “I saw the ball really well today. I’m an in-the-moment kind of guy. I slowed the game down, took a deep breath and tried to perform. But it’s not about the individual, it’s about whatever I can do to help us win.”
Reyes almost didn’t get the chance to launch that fifth inning triple. With the score tied at 2-2, Ghost starter Chris Collina, a senior at Marlboro, retired the first two PS2 batters of the inning before yielding a walk to James Zwolinski. That brought up the lefty-hitting Reyes, who singled his first two times at the plate.
Reyes blasted a high fly which appeared headed for center fielder Glen Cantalupo’s glove before the ball began tailing toward left center. Cantalupo gave chase and he appeared to have caught the ball before he tumbled to the turf and the ball popped free.
“I had a two-strike count and I laid off a curveball to make it 3-2,” Reyes said. “I thought he might go back to it because he didn’t throw a good one, and I was on the fastball so I know he wouldn’t give me one in that spot. He threw a real good pitch but I wanted to drive the ball the other way with two strikes. I got a good one and I guess with the spin it tailed the other way.”
MVP Santana drove in an insurance run when he followed with a single to plate Reyes, giving PS2 a 4-2 lead. That run was important because Cantalupo drove in a run in the bottom of the seventh to make it a 5-3 game before the Ghost rally fell short.
PS2 charged to a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to Santana’s two-run double down the left field line, and Ghost retaliated with single runs in the first and second innings to tie the game. Michael Kansky had an RBI double in the first inning, and Enrique Beltra tied the game with a fielder’s choice RBI in the second.
Reyes’ RBI triple and Santana’s RBI single to right gave PS2 a 4-2 lead, and PS2 added another run in the top of the seventh when Zwolinski drove an RBI single through the middle.
Mid-Atlantic rallied in the bottom of the seventh by loading the bases with one out against Rios, when Andrew Hausman singled and both Kansky and Diego Tavarez walked. When Cantalupo singled through the middle to make it 5-3, Tavarez represented the tying run at second base.
Ventura relieved Rios and got Beltra to hit a chopper to Santana, who stepped on third and fired to first for the championship-clinching double play.
For Mid-Atlantic, Collina pitched 4⅔ innings and allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts on 78 pitches. He was relieved by Frankie Kern, who yielded a run on one hit and two walks with two strikeouts in 2⅓ innings.