By Sean Reilly
Logan Koziupa isn’t just a talented player for the Diamond Jacks Super 11U. He’s got a great sense of humor as well.
He was the starting pitcher and fifth batter when the Super 11U faced a very tough Marlton Chiefs 11U in the final of the Diamond Nation 11U Spring Fever Tournament on Sunday night in Flemington.
Koziupa scattered seven hits over the course of a six-inning complete game, while striking out eight in the process. He also went 2-for-2 at the plate, while accounting for two runs, as the Super 11U gained a 4-2 victory for the team’s first championship of the spring season.
So what did the right-hander say after his performance, which earned him tournament co-MVP honors with teammate Tim Donahue?
“That’s why I get paid the big bucks,” he said with a big laugh after the win.
While he was only kidding, his efforts did help the improving Super 11U to a breakthrough victory. The local boys went 4-0 over the weekend with a 34-9 run differential. The big hit was a two-run, go-ahead single by Tyler LaGanga in the bottom of the fourth.
To make it happen, they had to beat a Marlton team that entered with a 4-0 record and a 38-8 run difference. Not only that, Marlton featured an imposing starting pitcher in Drew Gable, who was clocked at 70 mph on the scoreboard, and had hit two home runs with seven RBI in a 12-1 semifinal win over the Nor’east Clippers.
The Chiefs, wearing the brown and orange colors of their hometown Cherokee High School Chiefs, also took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first against the Super 11U. Mike Appalucci was hit by a pitch with one out, Gable was safe on an infield hit and Danny Incollingo hit an RBI single to right field with two out.
The Super 11U tied it in the second inning. Koziupa led off with a single to center field, stole second and moved to third on a dropped third-strike throw to first base. Donahue then became his courtesy runner, and scored on a wild pitch.
The Chiefs, who won the 10U Ripken World Series National Championship last summer in Indiana, scored a run for a 2-1 lead in the fourth. The damage could have been worse, but Koziupa snared a liner that he turned into an inning-ending double play by catching a runner off second base.
The Super 13U then went ahead in the bottom of the inning. Koziupa singled with one out, and Joe Lopresti was hit by a pitch. The runners advanced on a double steal, and scored as LaGanga doubled to right-center.
“I was nervous,” he said. “I was just looking for something I could hit, and it was a fastball outside.”
Koziupa was getting stronger as the game moved along. He struck out the first two in the fifth inning, before Kellan Graham singled for the Chiefs. The next batter hit a foul pop to the catcher.
The Super 13U added a two-out RBI double from Nate McGann in the bottom of the fifth. Koziupa then struck out the side in the sixth for an emphatic close to the weekend.
“It was the energy,” he said. “I had my teammates behind me, and it was a championship game. We really had to work for it, and we couldn’t do it without Tyler’s hit. My fastball was working well, and my slider was finishing it off. There’s no better feeling than winning it, and I get to hold this (the MVP award).
“This was the second time we made it to the playoffs and we finished it off this time. I think we’ll have more,” he added. “This can set a tone. We’re playing 100 percent better and it’s a long season. We’ll also have higher expectations that we’ll get here more often.”
“We’re definitely getting better,” LaGanga said. “Our practices are getting better, and we’re using our bats better.”