By Rich Bevensee
There’s a famous scene in the classic baseball movie “Bull Durham” where Bulls catcher Crash Davis admonishes rookie pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, “Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring, and besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls. It’s more democratic.”
If 13-year-old Adrian Sanchez continues to exemplify Davis’ advice and pitch the way he did Sunday evening, teammates will love being on the field every time he toes the rubber.
Sanchez, who by his own admission does not possess a high-velocity arm, got 19 of the required 21 outs by pitching to contact, and his teammates from New York-based Grit 13U Black thanked him for keeping them involved by playing flawless defense.
His pitching, along with a few key pieces of timely hitting, allowed Grit to exact a measure of revenge upon the previously undefeated Diamond Jacks Super 13U and emerge with a 3-0 victory and the Williams Harley Davidson Tournament championship at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Grit lost 9-1 to the Super 13Us in the Spring Invitational final on March 20, and the boys from New York couldn’t wait for the rematch. With the loss, the Diamond Jacks are 23-1-1 this spring.
“This feels great,” said Sanchez, named the tournament MVP for his four-hit, championship game shutout. “There was a little bit of a beef going on between us this weekend. We wanted them, they wanted to beat us twice in a row. We got who we wanted and we dominated tonight.”
Grit outscored three opponents in pool play 39-7 and knocked off the PA Shockers 13U Blue 4-3 in the semifinals before facing the Diamond Jacks.
“I think hard work got us to this point,” Sanchez said. “We came out here confident, dominated through pool play, we pushed through the harder games today, showed who we are and got the job done tonight. We’re definitely going into next week and the week after that with some confidence now. We’re gonna’ go mash the ball, play solid defense and keep executing.”
Sanchez logged just two strikeouts but pitched well enough to allow his defense to make a play on nearly every batted ball.
Sanchez was brutally honest in admitting he didn’t stop the Super 13U from hitting the ball, but they just couldn’t square up the ball for a timely hit. The hosts stranded runners in scoring position in every inning but the sixth. Sanchez induced two infield pop ups, five groundouts and nine fly balls for outs.
He also displayed a knack for escaping trouble. The Super 13U had a baserunner reach third base on four separate occasions, but unlike their previous games this weekend, came up empty. The hosts went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position against Sanchez.
To illustrate how well Sanchez pitched, the Diamond Jacks outscored their opponents 27-7 in pool play Saturday before edging Hustle Baseball Academy 5-3 in the semis on Sunday.
“Adrian threw a gem,” Grit coach Mike Haag said. “He threw strikes. He got the first strike and pounded the strike zone. That’s an aggressive team, so we got them swinging a little bit early.”
“I don’t have overpowering stuff and I throw mid 70s but it gets the job done,” said Sanchez, who allowed one walk and hit four batters. “I mixed the curve in and kept them off balance. I was just throwing strikes to be completely honest.”
Grit batters displayed tremendous patience in getting to Super 13U starter Nick Do (three earned runs, six hits, four strikeouts, three walks). And leadoff man Ty Ostrowski turned in one of the grittiest at bats of the tournament.
The game was still scoreless with two out in the bottom of the third inning when Ostrowski came to bat with runners on first and second. He quickly fell behind 0-2 before fouling off five straight pitches. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, he slammed an outside fastball into left field to drive home Robert Lawrence with the game’s first run.
“I was just trying to make contact with the ball in a tough count,” Ostrowski said. “Have supreme confidence is what my dad says. I was trying to hit the ball where it was pitched, and the pitch was there. I just saw fastballs. He kept on pumping me with fastballs, so I knew I had it. The one I hit was a
fastball middle out, and I was trying to foul it off but I ended up squaring it up.”
“Biggest at bat of the game,” Haag said. “I’ve had Ty for four years now and I told him that’s the best at bat you’ve had in four years. To do that in that spot, it’s pretty awesome.”
Sanchez helped his own cause by driving in an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth. Sean Concannon and Kevin Comblo opened the frame with singles and Justin Olivo walked to load the bases. Sanchez drove the first pitch he saw from Do into left to give Grit a 2-0 lead.
“I was going up there hunting fastball,” Sanchez said. “I knew he was going to throw it – I know they throw a lot of high fastballs – so I cheated one, got out in front of it when it was up and in, and poked it into left field.”
Grit tacked on a third run in the sixth when Ethan Viera reached on a walk, moved to second on a balk, and scored on Olivo’s two-out single to center.
“They beat us pretty good the last time so we’re pretty happy to get ‘em back,” Haag said. “That tournament was our first of the year and we were still trying to get adjusted to a new team. We’re rolling now, and that was their first loss of the year. Feels pretty good.”