PPH Mafia’s Lukas Meyer dives back to first on pickoff attempt in 17/18 Halloween Mash.
By Rich Bevensee
If you’re asking Eshen Shah, pitching out of trouble depends on a state of mind just as much as talent and execution.
Determination. Fortitude. Whatever it’s called, Shah went to the mental well again and again in order to keep crooked numbers off the board and propel his PPH Mafia 18U ballclub to a Friday night victory in Diamond Nation’s final tournament of the year.
Shah stranded nine baserunners in five innings while scattering five hits and four walks and PPH Mafia defeated Piscataway Triple Play Elite, 6-1, in Diamond Nation’s 17/18U Halloween Mash in Flemington.
“I love getting out of situations because the tension’s all gone when it’s over,” said Shah, who existed mostly on fastballs and curveballs. “It feels good to come in the dugout and everyone is dabbing you up.”
Shah said he was nervous on the inside but has learned not to show it.
“I know a lot of people have these emotions, but I try not to act on them,” Shah said. “I know I get frustrated sometimes but I try to stay composed. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed but you just have to take a step back. I always think in my head when I can adjust – what I did wrong on the last pitch – and it helps me adjust my focus, from what’s going wrong to what I’m going to do next.”
“He does a really great job of not getting overwhelmed,” Mafia catcher Jason Agrait said. “He pitches the same with nobody on base as he does with bases loaded and two out. He just does a great job of keeping composed.”
Shah, a 5-9, 140-pound junior right-hander at East Brunswick, used his sweeping curve to strike out nine – five looking – while escaping jams in the final three innings.
Piscataway had runners on first and third with no out in the third inning. Bases loaded and no out in the fourth inning. And bases loaded with two out in the fifth.
And the most Triple Play could squeeze out of all those opportunities was one run on one hit.
“He just competes in the strike zone,” Mafia coach Dan Intili said. “He’s not afraid to throw the fastball for a strike. He’s not afraid to throw the breaking ball, even though it does get away from time to time. He’s always willing to attack hitters and trust his defense.”
The defense of Agrait, a senior at East Brunswick, was a major reason why Shah was able to slip out of trouble in the third inning. With runners on first and third and no out, Agrait gunned down a base runner at second while another runner stood paralyzed at third. Agrait then took a fielder’s choice throw from third and withstood a blow by a Piscataway baserunner who chose not to slide into home and barreled into Agrait. (That player was ejected.)
“My job behind the plate is to help my pitchers do their jobs,” Agrait said. “I know when guys are in trouble, and I know what to call to work out of trouble. So it’s really knowing my guys and knowing what needs to happen in certain situations.”
Shortly after the Mafia handed Shah a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning by sending 10 batters to the plate and rallying for six runs on four hits and three errors, Shah found himself in hot water again.
Piscataway loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the top of the fourth and one away. Shah responded with a pair of strikeouts, the second one after working to a full count.
In the fifth, Piscataway loaded the bases once more, this time with two out on a walk, a fielder’s choice and a hit batsman. Shah relied on that big curve once more to strike out the final batter of the game.
“It’s easier when you play a lot and you learn how to adjust,” Shah said. “I’ve been playing since 10 or 11. When I was younger I got heated all the time. I’ve had coaches who tell you to try not to get emotional, try to hit your spots and adjust.
“You always overthink it when you’re emotional, and you end up trying harder than you need to. The key is to stay composed, and that applies at work, school, academics, everything.”
With Piscataway’s Josh Thiero on the mound, the pivotal PPH Mafia rally in the third inning began with a single by Nick Akey and Nick Enge’s outfield fly which was flubbed, an error which allowed Akey to score. Lorenz Matanguihan delivered a single to center for a 2-0 lead.
The Mafia scored its next three runs on Piscataway infield errors after grounders by Lukas Meyer and Agrait. With relief pitcher Justin Douglas taking over for Thiero, Mafia pinch-runner Christian Cavanaugh scored from third on a passed ball for a 6-0 lead.
Thiero pitched 3⅓ innings and allowed six runs (five unearned) on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts. Douglas got two strikeouts for the final two outs of the fourth inning.