Santonastaso home run sends Double Major to Battle At The Turf 12U crown

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 26, 2024

By Sean Reilly

Sometimes a dramatic situation requires a simple solution. 

A case in point was illustrated on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation, in the championship of the 12U Battle At The Turf tournament. 

It was the top of the sixth and final inning. Double Major 12U Black of South Plainfield was trailing the Flores Baseball Braves 12U White by a run with two out and a runner on second base. 

Ethan Santonastaso was the last-chance batter. His mind could have been flooded with thoughts as he stepped into the box. But that wasn’t the case at all.

“I was just looking for a fastball,”  Santonastaso said. “And he gave me one.”

That fastball came on the first pitch and Santonastaso drilled it over the fence in left-center field for a two-run home run that gave Double Major its first lead of the game.

Pitcher Mason Vindman followed with a scoreless bottom of the inning to finish off a complete game to give Double Major a 5-4 victory for the championship hardware in Flemington. 

Santonastaso and Vindman were co-tournament MVP selections for Double Major, which finished with a 4-0 record. All of the team’s wins came on Sunday, due to the rained-out schedule on Saturday. 

The FB Braves (3-1 on the weekend) have a potent lineup, but Vindman pitched a four-hitter, with eight strikeouts and no walks. 

Two of those Braves hits were home runs by Jake Bader, who was the on-deck batter when the game ended on a fly out to center field and the tying run on first base.

“They’re a good team and we always play them,” Vindman said. “We were down in the sixth and Ethan came up with the big hit. My fastball outside was working good on their kids, my infield was backing me up the whole time and I think we played a really good game. We came out and wanted to win it all, and we did.” 

The Braves, who played their first two games on Friday night, took a 1-0 lead on Bader’s two-out home run to left field in the bottom of the first. 

The Fairfield-based Braves added another run in the second inning after Amare Garrett hit a leadoff double and then scored on an error. That came as the result of an error on a pickoff attempt after Garrett was initially caught between second and third base.

Double Major closed within 2-1 in the top of the third. Mason Santangelo singled to right field after the first two batters struck out. He stole second and went to third on a single to left field by Cole Gustafson before scoring on a wild pitch. 

The Braves began the bottom of the fourth with Tyler Aboyoun reaching on a two-base error. Bader followed with his second home run, this one to left center, for a 4-1 lead.

Mason Vindman and Ethan Santonastaso shared MVP honors in the 12U Battle At The Turf.

The Braves are tough to beat under any circumstance, never mind when they are ahead by three runs late in the game. 

But Double Major showed its tenacity by coming back, beginning with a two-run top of the fifth. 

Vindman led off that frame by drawing a four-pitch walk. Patrick Burns also walked, and they advanced to second and third via Trevor Kloby’s sacrifice bunt.

Mateo Matusz was the next batter, and a wild pitch during his at-bat scored the first run, before Matusz’ single to center field brought in the other run to draw Double Major within 4-3.

In the top of the sixth, Double Major’s leadoff batter struck out before Jake Zereconski walked. Zereconski was almost erased in a rundown between first and second following a pickoff throw, but was awarded second base on a clear-cut interference call after colliding with a Braves infielder during the rundown.

That sent up the top of the order, but a strikeout left Double Major down to its final out. That’s when Santonastaso, who had been 0-for-2 in the game, supplied his blast, a laser over the fence. It was his first home run of the season.

“That felt great,” he said. “The first one of the season always feels good. I was looking for a fastball, I saw one and I smashed it.” 

According to Vindman, the comeback is indicative of the character of the team.

“It showed that we’re a really good team,” he said. “And that we always fight.”

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