By Sean Reilly
When Matthew Santacross stepped into the batters box for the Locked In Baseball Expos 15U in the sixth inning on Friday night, it was a moment full of opportunity.
The one-out, bases-loaded at-bat represented a chance to snap out of a frustrating slump. And it also offered a shot at breaking open a one-run game against the Diamond Dreams Dirty Dozen.
Santacross made the most of it.
He ripped a ball to center field which he turned into an inside-the-park grand slam, a play that single-handedly shifted a tight game into a comfortable 9-3 win at the Diamond Nation 15U Fall Brawl.
Coupled with a win over Complete Performance Baseball, the Expos went 2-0 on the evening in Flemington.
“All I was trying to do was to get a nice single,” Santacross said. “I’ve been a little due at the plate, so getting that off felt really good. I’ve had a couple of games of not getting a hit, and not seeing the ball greatly, so that really helped.”
The Expos added three more runs in the inning for a 9-1 lead, and the 1:50 time expired as the Dirty Dozen loaded the bases and scored two runs on ground outs in the bottom of the inning.
It was a low-scoring game most of the way, even though each team had their leadoff runner reach and score in the first inning.
Logan Costello led off the top of first for the Expos with a single to right field. He eventually scored on a two-out wild pitch with Jack Webber at the plate.
Jace Ferst led off the bottom of the inning for the Dirty Dozen with a walk. He stole second, moved to third on a ground out and scored when Giulio Carbo hit a first-pitch single to right field.
The two starting pitchers, Drew Aromando for the Expos and Carbo for the Dirty Dozen, were in control for the next few innings.
The Expos took a 2-1 lead in the fourth, when John Tyler Jacobs hit a two-out triple to right-center field with two out, and Webber followed with a single to right field.
The Expos took advantage of a pitching change in the sixth inning, which began when Aidan Kerrigan got ahead in the count and doubled on a 3-1 pitch to left center. Drew Friday singled to right field, with Kerrigan holding at third.
After a foul out to first base, Friday stole second before Costello walked.
That loaded the bases for Santacross, and he was ready to deliver after his first two at-bats resulted in a strikeout and pop out to third base.
“I was not satisfied with those,” he said. “When I came up there, I was looking for something over the plate.”
Casey Kucerka scores on Jack Webber’s triple for the Locked In Baseball Expos.
After his hit found a gap, he even had to slow up a bit rounding second because he was catching up to his teammates on the bases.
“It was good to come through for the team like that,” he said. “Getting a confidence booster really helps.”
The Dirty Dozen made another pitching change after the home run, but Casey Kucerka and Jacobs (2-for-3) followed with singles. Webber, who also went 2-for-3, drove in both with a triple, and he scored as Luke Brendle singled to center.
The Dirty Dozen used a hit by Ryan Rovinsky, error and walk to load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the inning. The Expos were willing to trade runs for outs, and that’s what happened as Carbo and T.J. McGuigan each hit RBI groundouts for the Dirty Dozen.
The Expos, seeking a first tournament championship, will next face Tri-State Arsenal 15U Victus, also 2-0, with a first-place pool finish at stake.
“We want to win the tournament,” Santacross said. “Every tournament, we’re always just there, but can’t finish it off. So this was a good start for us.”