Nik Holot, who went 3-for-4, breaks for second for the Diamond Jacks Super 15U team.
By Rich Bevensee
When the Diamond Jacks Super 15U squad and the EABO Riverdawgs squared off Friday evening, their game had the makings of a rout but ended as a gutsy comeback.
The Diamond Jacks were staked to a six-run, first inning lead, but the Riverdawgs, bolstered by stellar relief pitching from Zach Wagner, scored three in the fourth inning and two more in a dramatic fifth inning to earn a 6-6, six-inning tie with the hosts in a 16U Slugfest pool play opener at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“It was a great comeback. I’m proud of them,” Riverdawgs coach Mike Martino said. “I like that the kids actually showed me something, a little gall in that last inning. Before we were just touching the ball. Then they started hitting the ball and running. Definitely gave us a little more excitement.”
The Riverdawgs of EABO (Easton Area Baseball Organization) received a huge lift from righthander Wagner, who entered in the bottom of the first inning with two out and pitched 5⅓ shutout innings to keep the Diamond Jacks in check.
“It feels great. I just held my team there until they could score some runs for me,” Wagner said. “I tried to shut them down as best as I could. It’s amazing. I’m really proud of my team, how they hit, how they fought back. I’m really proud of them.”
The Riverdawgs, trailing 6-4 in the top of the sixth inning, put the winning run on first base with one out thanks to a pair of walks sandwiching a Shawn Danielson double.
With Mikey Martino up, Jameson Stell scored from third on a wild pitch to draw the Riverdawgs within 6-5. Another wild pitch to Martino prompted Danielson to dash for home but he was tagged out on an extremely close call at the plate.
Martino walked, and with Zach Mattes up, Quinn Campbell scored the tying run on yet another wild pitch.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Diamond Jacks rallied with back-to-back, two-out singles by leadoff hitter Nik Holot and Nick Do to get the winning run aboard. But Wagner induced an infield grounder to end the game and preserve the tie.
“Zach kept us in the game,” the elder Martino said. “He shut them down for the rest of the game, basically. He pounded the zone, threw strikes and kept us in the game. He mixed it up and did really great.”
Wagner allowed four hits, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out eight. The bottom of the sixth was a microcosm of what he did for nearly his entire outing, escaping tricky jams in nearly every inning to keep the Diamond Jacks at bay.
Diamond Jacks coach Travis Anderson said as much, confirming that it was his team’s inability to manufacture a run with runners aboard which was their undoing.
With Wagner on the bump, the Diamond Jacks stranded seven runners – four in scoring position – in the last four innings.
“Straight from when I got on the mound, I felt like I was going to hit my spots today,” said Wagner, a Easton High junior who employed a fastball, curveball and slider. “I was hitting my spots inside and outside with the fastball. The curve was iffy in the beginning but in later innings I started to get it down and over the plate. And the slider started inside, but I got my arm across my body more and it started going where I wanted it to and I started to K kids up.”
The Riverdawgs began their comeback with a single run in the fourth thanks to Danielson scoring on a wild pitch.
Michael Wachter cracked a key two-run single in the fifth inning for the EABO Riverdawgs.
In the fifth, Michael Wachter roped a two-run single into the right field corner to make it 6-3, and he later scored from third when Rowan Tom purposely got into a rundown between first and second base. The Diamond Jacks escaped further damage with an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Perhaps lost in the late-game drama was the sturdy pitching performance of Diamond Jacks righty Tommy Denvir, a freshman at Delaware Valley. Denvir scattered nine hits over five innings and exited with a 6-4 lead. The Riverdawgs were unable to build a rally against Denvir until their three-run fifth inning.
“I was stringing hits out and getting outs in between,” Denvir said. “I was spreading out the hits until the last inning when the hits were starting to bunch up. So I tried to focus on pouding the zone and getting a double play ball, which I did to get out of the inning.”
Denvir said he threw a lot of two-seam fastballs, curveballs and cutters, the latter of which he said was most effective against the Riverdawgs. In addition to yielding nine hits, he allowed two walks and struck out three.
“Tommy did a nice job of mixing up his pitches,” Diamond Jacks pitching director Steve Schrenk said. “I thought he used his curveball and his changeup early in counts and he commanded his fastball well. And the biggest thing for me today was he threw his curveball for strikes and he had them chasing breaking balls outside of the zone.”
Denvir was staked to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, a rally highlighted by an opposite field, two-run single down the left field line by No. 10 hitter Michael Meyers.
Holot, who went 3-for-4, began the rally by singling up the middle, stealing second and third and scoring on an errant throw to third. With the bases loaded, Elijah Dawes and Ethan Huang were both hit by pitches to make it a 3-0 game.
The next batter, Parker New, walked to force in another run, and Meyers made it 6-0 with his sharp two-run single.
The Riverdawgs incredibly tied the NJ Titans, 3-3 in a game later on Friday, and were slated to face the Out Of The Park Cyclones Prospects on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
The Diamond Jacks dropped a 2-1 decision to the Cyclones later on Friday, and are scheduled to face the NJ Titans on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.