Tyler LaGanga drove in a run with this first-inning single for the Diamond Jacks Super 11U squad.
By Rich Bevensee
Plate discipline is a rare quality for a baseball player at any age, but it seems there are a few young Diamond Jacks who have been studying their craft despite their relative inexperience.
Nate McGann and Tim Donohue exhibited exceptional plate knowledge while batting at a crucial juncture for the Diamond Jacks Super 11U squad on Friday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Facing two-strike counts, both right-handed hitters protected the outer half of the plate and stroked the ball to the right side of the field to drive in runs. Those at bats proved to be the go-ahead runs in the Diamond Jacks’ 8-4 victory over Hustle Baseball Academy in pool play of the annual Home Run Classic powered by Victus.
“The outside corner is a very dangerous part where strike three is called all the time,” McGann said. “That’s why I focus on putting the ball in the gap or putting a ball in play. Getting a ball on the outside part of the plate is like getting a meatball down the middle. It’s just a little more outside. If I can take it to right, over the first baseman’s head or down the line it’s a double or triple.”
The score was tied 4-4 in the bottom of the second inning and Hustle had momentum on its side, having built a three-run rally to tie the game in the top half of the inning.
Diamond Jacks leadoff man Ian Peros walked with one out, stole second and third, and scored the go-ahead run when McGann reached over the plate with two strikes and looped a single into right field.
McGann was already on third when Donohue, the next hitter, had two strikes on him. He slapped his two-strike offering to the right side for a groundout, but it was enough to push across McGann for a 6-4 lead.
“They are young and not always locked in but they train and work hard,” Diamond Jacks coach Matt Markiewicz said. “In BP today I fed them on the outer half and made them work on that, because I see a lot of younger pitchers trying to throw away, away, away, and they’re scared to go in.
“So protecting the outer half is what I expect from them, and especially from Nate and Tim. They’re batting 2-3 for us, so they’re the ones we’re counting on to get it done.”
Another Diamond Jacks standout was pitcher Nini Sivio, who allowed four runs on two hits and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings.
“Nino was gutsy. He went out there and threw strikes,” Markiewicz said. “After 77 pitches, there’s not much more you can ask. He had some adversity early on but he worked through it.”
Sivio was staked to a 4-1 lead in the top half of the second and faltered a bit, allowing three straight two-out walks in the midst of Hustle’s three-run inning. Ryan Callaghan’s bases-loaded double tied the game.
But after the second inning, Sivio was solid. Over the final four innings he faced one batter over the minimum, didn’t allow a hit, and permitted just one walk and struck out four.
“I really had to regain my confidence so when I went back to the dugout I sat down and relearned my grip on the ball,” Sivio said. “I learned the grip on my four-seam fastball so I could control it, and then I did it with my changeup, and in the next innings I had more control of my pitches. I felt really good after that.”
Hustle drew first blood when its leadoff man Max Lipton singled and eventually scored on a Tommy Dreschel groundout in the top of the first inning.
The Diamond Jacks exploded for four runs in the bottom half for a 4-1 lead. Donohue began the rally with an RBI groundout to tie the game at 1-1.
Tyler LaGanga hit a bases-loaded chopper over Hustle shortstop Donovan McGovern’s head to drive in the go-ahead run, but McGovern responded by throwing out Logan Koziupa at the plate. Two more Diamond Jacks runs scored on an outfield error on a Joseph LoPresti fly ball which would have been the third out.
Hustle tied the game in the top half of the second, but the hitting of McGann and Donohue gave the lead right back to the Diamond Jacks, 6-4, in the bottom of the inning.
In the fifth, the Diamond Jacks created breathing room when Donohue drove in a run on a fielder’s choice – the throw went home instead of to first and McGann beat the throw. Alan Pena added one more run with a sacrifice fly.
The Diamond Jacks (1-0) played a doubleheader on Saturday, facing Sandlot Baseball Academy 11U Kwiatkowski at 6:30 p.m., and Essex County Select at 8:30 p.m.
Hustle (1-0) played the same two teams on Saturday – Essex County Select at 6:30 p.m. and Sandlot at 8:30 p.m.