Lawrence Thunder’s Deacon Moore rounds third and scores the game’s first run.
By Rich Bevensee
It was already halfway through the game and both Aiden Crowley and Ryan Conlon refused to let the other team’s lineup get a whiff of an offensive rally. A hit here, a walk there, but that was it.
Then the Lawrence Thunder 14U managed to achieve what coach Ken Dobkin has been hoping for since they popped open the baseball buckets months ago – sustaining rallies with hits in key situations.
First it was Drew Dobkin with a double, then it was Aiden Poot with a sacrifice fly RBI, and the rally was on.
You could see coach Dobkin’s big grin all the way across the field, as the Thunder kept feeding the hit machine and struck for two runs in the fourth inning and another in the fifth. It was all the offense Lawrence would need to support Crowley in a 3-0 victory over Diamond Jacks 14U Gold in the opening pool play game for both teams at the Independence Weekend Firecracker on Friday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“It’s been a struggle for us since we started, getting those big hits when we need them,” Dobkin said. “We’ve been preaching to them to be confident in what you’re doing and put the ball in play. Today they bought into it. They’re starting to believe in themselves in those situations.”
It was a great start to the holiday weekend for the Thunder, who will continue tournament action with a Saturday doubleheader, as they face the Jersey Cadets at 12:15 p.m. and the Teel Ravens Americans at 6:30 p.m. Lawrence wraps up pool play at 2:15 p.m. Sunday with a game against the Fairport Canal Dogs.
Crowley was as stubborn as they come on the hill, pitching six shutout innings while yielding three hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 94 pitches.
“I was throwing mostly my fastball and curveball,” said Crowley, who is a rising freshman at Lawrence High. “If I’m ahead in the count I’ll rely on the curveball, or I’ll throw it for the first pitch when I’m trying to get a strike. I was struggling with my command in the middle innings and got it back in the later innings.”
Crowley allowed just three baserunners to advance into scoring position, with the biggest threat coming in his last frame of work. In the sixth, Diamond Jack Josh Figueriedo earned a leadoff walk and reached third on two groundouts, but his trip around the bases ended there when Crowley induced a third straight groundout.
“When he’s on, he’s a tough pitcher, man,” Dobkin said. “He can beat any team on any given day. As long as he stays in the zone he’s tough to hit.”
And while the Diamond Jacks were struggling against Crowley, the Thunder carved out just two hits and a walk in the first three innings against DJacks starter Conlon.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth the Thunder got aggressive in the pitch counts. Drew Dobkin doubled to left center on the first pitch he saw. Poot followed with a deep drive to center on an 0-1 count to score pinch-runner Deacon Moore from third for the game’s first run.
Thunder first baseman Connor Willever ripped a double of his own into left, and after Crowley was hit by a pitch, Willever scored on a first-pitch RBI single up the middle by Matt Smith.
“I feel like we hunted fastballs and tried to drive the ball. We were really disciplined today,” said Poot, also a rising Lawrence High freshman. “Once you get one big hit like a double and once the energy gets flowing, you just keep going at it. Once someone gets a hit, you get more energy from that and everyone starts to feel it.”
In the bottom of the fifth, the Thunder added another insurance run as David Holland singled to right center and A.J. Cimino and Joe Lech walked to load the bases. Leadoff man Deacon Moore then earned another base on balls to force in Holland.
“I don’t know if it’s confidence that I get when we score, because that’s always there,” Crowley said. “I guess I feel a little more comfortable about what I’m doing, because I can make a little mistake and feel fine. I know I have the runs.”
For the Thunder, Poot went 2-for-2 with a triple and an RBI, Smith was also 2-for-2 with an RBI. Poot relieved Crowley for the seventh inning and pitched a clean frame with two strikeouts.
Conlon pitched the first four innings for the Diamond Jacks and surrendered two runs on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Keller Peyton pitched the final two innings and yielded a run on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts.
Chase Shollenberger, Colin Newcomb and Colin Ricciardi were the only Diamond Jacks to record a hit against Crowley.
The Diamond Jacks rebounded in their second game Friday, defeating the Jersey Cadets 12-0. The DJacks continue their Firecracker weekend with a 12:15 p.m. game on Saturday against the Fairport Canal Dogs, and close pool play with a 10 a.m. game on Sunday against the Teel Ravens Americans.