The Diamond Jacks Super 16U struck for three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to support a strong pitching performance by Chris Maldonado en route to a 5-2 victory over Tri-State Arsenal 2022 in the Super 16 World Series championship game at Diamond Nation on Friday.
Two of New Jersey’s longest running and most successful travel baseball programs hooked up in a typical nailbiter that was not settled until Tri-State Arsenal loaded the bases in the top of the sixth, its last at bat, and reliever Jared Greenzang induced a bouncer to first baseman Carsten Sabathia for the final out.
Greenzang shared the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award with Michael Boyer, who delivered the go-ahead run in the fifth for the Diamond Jacks. The two teams were competing for the Blue Bracket championship, one of three titles awarded in the 65-team tournament.
Maldonado, the rising junior at Seton Hall Prep who is committed to Clemson, permitted two runs, one of which was earned, on five hits, struck out five and walked none.
“My fastball wasn’t as strong as usual,” said Maldonado, “so I had to rely on my curveball and changeup. Fortunately my off-speed stuff was good. I was throwing a lot of first-pitch curveballs.”
When Super 16U coach Steve DiTrolio pulled Maldonado after the top of the fifth with 75 pitches, his teammates went about setting him up for the win in the bottom of the inning.
Chris Ballargeon, the No. 8 hitter, started the rally with a one-out single through the middle. Catcher Andres Suarez drew a walk and Tyler Stone delivered big time with a single to center field to load the bases. Stone’s single was hit too hard for Ballargeon to score from second. But Tri-State Arsenal very nearly got out of the inning.
Boyer, who had barreled the ball up pretty well in his first at bat, a fly out to right field, hit a bouncer this time to second base. The Tri-State Arsenal middle infield very nearly pulled off an inning-ending and rally-killing double play, but Boyer barely beat the throw to first. That allowed Ballargeon to score the go-ahead run.
“I thought I beat it all the way,” said Boyer. “Coming into the at bat I just wanted to hit the first good pitch I saw hard. When I saw where it went I just busted it out of the box.”
The lineup flipped to Maldonado at the top and he helped himself further by reaching on an infield error that scored Suarez’s courtesy runner, Matt Wright, from third for a 4-2 lead. Jayden Hylton then drove home Boyer with a little sleight of hand. The rising Ridge High School junior hit a bouncer down the third base line that bounced off the bag and slipped, seeing-eye-like, past the third baseman and into left field.
Tri-State Arsenal starter Carter Martinez had held the Diamond Jacks to just two hits through the first four innings but the Super 16U squad managed two hits, drew a walk and benefitted from the infield error in the fifth.
“I think we were seeing the ball better at that point,” said Hylton. “He’s a good pitcher. He had a good changeup and curveball.”
Greenzang closed it out in the sixth but it was not without some drama. All appeared fine, though, when the rising junior at Hopewell Valley Central induced a pair of ground balls for two very quick outs. Joe Speccovento kept Arsenal alive, however, with a single to center field. Max Martin, Arsenal’s No. 3 hitter, followed with a bouncer off third baseman Connor Dreyer’s chest and both runners were safe. Martinez stepped in and singled to right field to load the bases.
Tri-State Arsenal suddenly had the tying run on base.
But Greenzang got Noah Rodriguez to bounce a 1-2 pitch to Sabathia, who raced to the bag with the final out.
“It was just a good baseball game, like old times,” said DiTrolio, “playing Arsenal in the final. Hey, Boyer busts it out of the box hard and that’s the difference in the game.”
Hylton helped prevent a big inning in the fifth when he chased down J.P. Kusick’s deep shot to right field with a runner on first base. Hylton raced toward the wall and snared the drive with an over-the-shoulder catch.
“I saw it good off the bat,” said Hylton. “I got a good jump, reached up and caught it. I know it’s a run for them if I don’t catch it.”
Tim Piercin (2-for-2, 2 runs), who had led off the inning with a single, had to retreat to first base. Piercin would steal second base and score on Alex Lehman’s two-out single to right-center that tied the game at 2-2.
Dreyer drew a leadoff walk to trigger a two-run rally in the second inning that put the Diamond Jacks in front, 2-1. Arsenal should have been out of the inning, though, if not for a couple misplays in the infield. Dreyer reached second on a wild pickoff attempt, stole third and scored when Nick Bergamotto’s fly ball fell safely between the pitcher’s mound and the right side of the infield.
Tri-State Arsenal scored an unearned run in the second and it was Piercin, again, who started things and raced home. Piercin singled to right field with one out, moved to second on a fielder’s choice grounder before breaking for third base in a steal attempt with Kusick at the plate. Maldonado’s pitch was in the dirt but Suarez blocked it nicely. It appeared he still had a shot at Piercin on his way to third. But Suarez, throwing from his knees, threw it left of the bag and into left field. Piercin easily scored the game’s first run.
The Diamond Jacks Super 16U, 5-0-1 in tournament play, outscored its opponents 51-9. Tri-State Arsenal (4-2) held a 27-9 runs advantage on its opponents.
Bluerocks Baseball (6-0, 38-9) defeated NY Storm (5-1, 45-22), 6-2, in the Super 16 World Series Red Bracket championship game.
Avengers 16U and Heavy Hitters 4 16U were set to square off in the Purple Bracket championship game on Friday afternoon.