By Rich Bevensee
Offenses combined for 15 runs and three lead changes. Pitchers stranded 11 base runners in scoring position.
A kid named Bam blasted an emphatic three-run home run over a scoreboard.
And the son of the winning coach not only got the game-winning base hit but ended the game by striking out the last batter.
When it comes to tournament finales dripping with drama, this one checked all the boxes.
Drew Rogers dropped an RBI single into left field to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning, then came on in relief in the bottom of the frame and struck out the final batter looking with the potential tying run on third base. That lifted the Centercourt Makos to an 8-7 victory over Diamond Jacks Super 11U and the School’s Out 11U championship on Sunday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Makos No. 3 hitter Bam Pelzer earned Most Valuable Player honors for his titanic three-run blast over the right field scoreboard which gave his team a short-lived two-run lead in the top of the fifth inning.
“This is about as good of an 11-year old game as you’re going to see,” said Makos coach Mike Rogers, father to Drew. “We always talk about how the game’s not over till it’s over, and we competed ‘til the last out. The good thing is we came out on top.”
It was a huge victory for the Makos considering the DJacks rolled over the competition in three pool play games this weekend by a combined score of 33-3.
The Makos, on the other hand, needed two late rallies just to get into the final. They rebounded from a five-run deficit for an 11-6 win on Saturday over Diamond Jacks Gold 11U, and on Sunday they scored a run late to tie the Sandsharks 6-6 in their final pool play game and earn a bid to the final by virtue of run differential.
“I trust my boys all the time that we’re gonna compete,” the elder Rogers said. “Hats off to the Diamond Jacks, too. They’re coached well, they train well. Teams like that, you’re not gonna stop, you just have to keep them from getting that big inning. They had a good inning, and we matched them with our big inning.”
In the top of the seventh inning, the Makos’ Kevin Latham attacked Richard Griswold’s first pitch, ripping a double to left center field, and later scored the eventual winning run when Rogers plopped a one-out single into shallow left.
“I was just thinking, ‘Hit the ball hard,’” said Rogers, who went 2-for-3. “I wasn’t nervous, I was excited because I wanted to hit. I stayed focused. I like those moments because of the pressure. I like to show people what I’m made of.”
Asked if the moment meant more to him because his dad was there coaching, Rogers said, “Totally! 100 percent.”
Rogers, the fourth Makos pitcher of the game, came in to relieve Shane Simmons in the bottom of the seventh and hit leadoff batter Logan Koziupa, who stole second and reached third on a passed ball with none out.
Rogers showed remarkable resolve at this point, striking out one Diamond Jack swinging, inducing a pop-up and getting the last DJack looking at strike three to ignite the celebration for the visitors from Lawrence in Mercer County.
“I’m extremely proud of Drew,” Rogers said. “I had a lot of success at this level and I just want Drew and all these kids to enjoy the same success. It’s great that he got it this time. He’ll remember this for sure.”
Overshadowed by Rogers final-inning heroics was the massive blast provided by Pelzer, who hit his 10th homer of the spring and estimated that Sunday’s shot was by far his longest of the season. Just minutes after the DJacks took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fourth, Pelzer’s two-out homer in the fifth vaulted the Makos back on top, 7-5.
“Down 0-2, I needed to put the ball in play,” Pelzer said. “I knew from the sound of the bat it was going over. When I was running to first, I was thinking, yeah it’s gone. I like that I gave us excitement. I heard the bench cheering and I heard the fans cheering. It just made me feel good.”
Pelzer, the Makos’ third baseman, finished 2-for-3 with four RBI but credited his teammates for giving him a boost after his throwing error in the bottom of the fifth allowed the DJacks to score two unearned runs and tie the game at 7-7. Cameron Glovas scored from second base when Pelzer’s throw on Griswold’s two-out grounder was off the mark. Griswold later scored on a Nico Comiskey RBI single.
“I want to thank my team, because I made a bad play costing us two runs and they had my back and scored the runs we needed,” Pelzer said.
“As good of a baseball player he is, he’s a better kid, and that’s what we stress here,” Rogers said. “He came up big with that homer. We have a good group of kids here and everyone feeds off each other. That’s what Bam did. It’s definitely a fun team to coach.”
The championship game was just minutes old when the Diamond Jacks hung three runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first, and it appeared they were about to victimize the Makos like they did to the FB Braves (4-2), the Richmond Tides (18-0) and the Morris County Cubs (11-1) in pool play.
Dylan Brito slapped a two-run double into center field – Ryan Jezorwski narrowly avoided the tag at home by Makos catcher Jordan Bennett to score the second run – and Brito later scored on a wild pitch.
The Makos responded with two runs in the second and third innings for a 4-3 lead. In the second Jackson Burns launched a leadoff solo home run to center, and Latham scored on a Rogers’ fielder’s choice ground ball.
J.R. Holly tied the game in the third with his bases-loaded RBI single and Brandon Babkowski scored to make it a 4-3 game on a Pelzer fielder’s choice grounder.
The Diamond Jacks retook the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Griswold scored the tying run after an infield error on Jason Sporer’s grounder, and Fenton Morrissey earned a bases-loaded walk for a 5-4 lead.
The DJacks victimized Makos starter J.R. Holly for three runs on one hit and five walks in the first inning. Alex Gladwin came on in relief and yielded two runs (one earned) on one hit and two walks with three strikeouts in three innings of work.
Makos reliever Shane Sammons entered in the bottom of the fourth and escaped a bases-loaded jam, then repeated the feat in the fifth. He pitched 1⅓ innings and yielded two runs (both unearned) on one hit and three walks with two strikeouts. Rogers’ line in the sixth was one hit batsman and two strikeouts.
At the plate Holly finished 2-for-3 and Charlie Solovay was 2-for-2 with a double for the Makos.
For the Diamond Jacks, Matias Pelaez handled the first 4⅔ innings and surrendered seven runs on 10 hits. He walked three and struck out seven. Griswold pitched the final 1⅓ innings and gave up a run on three hits, struck out two and walked one.