By Sean Reilly
No matter the outcome, the entourage from Stars Baseball Huller faced a long ride home from Diamond Nation on Sunday evening.
The team came from Virginia to compete during the weekend in Flemington, N.J. at the 12U Fall Classic.
A sweep through its four-team pool, compounded by having the best run differential among the three pool winners in the 12-team field, earned Stars Baseball a bye into the championship game, against the local Diamond Jacks Super 12U.
The return trip home for the Stars was going to be roughly anywhere from four to five hours depending on individual hometowns. But it was on the verge of seeming a lot longer after the Diamond Jacks scored five times in the top of the sixth and final inning to suddenly take a one-run lead.
But instead, Stars Baseball scored two quick runs in the bottom of the frame to claim a 10-9 victory and make that long ride a happy one.
“The last inning was exciting,” said tournament MVP Ryan Tran, who went 4-for-4 in the final, and had the infield hit in the bottom of sixth which scored Preston Willis with the winning run. “This makes the ride a lot better. It would have been tough to have lost this game, because we’ve had some games where we’ve lost to a comeback, too.”
The Stars took an 8-4 lead into the top of the sixth during the drizzly late afternoon at “The Nation.”
The Diamond Jacks began that inning with a double to left field by Dylan Brito. Jordan Vesey was hit by a pitch and Nico Comiskey drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Logan Koziupa then singled to right field to score Brito, and then the ball went past the outfielder for an error that brought in two more runs and sent Koziupa to third. He then scored on a wild pitch for an 8-8 tie.
After a strikeout, Matias Pelaez walked on a 3-1 pitch and stole second. A ground out moved Pelaez to third, and he scored the go-ahead run when Cameron Glovas ripped a first-pitch double to left center.
The inning ended when the next batter struck out looking on a full count.
That set the stage for the bottom of the inning, with the top of the order coming up for Stars Baseball.
Landon Whitney, who singled in his two previous at-bats, drew a four-pitch walk. He stole second and third, and scored the tying run as Willis grounded a single that deflected off the pitcher.
With Tran at the plate, Willis stole second. Tran then singled to shortstop, and Willis scored the game-ending run when the throw to first base couldn’t be handled.
“They came back, but we finished and battled through at the end,” Tran said. “We knew the game wasn’t over. Sometimes we have bad innings but we can always fight back. When I came up, I was a little nervous. The tying run already scoring relieved my nerves a little bit, but otherwise it was really fun. I hit the ball and made sure to hustle. This was a nice weekend. Our hotel was good and I like the turf fields here.”
Stars coach Mike Huller loved the character displayed by his team.
“It’s hard with the conditions, but they battled,” he said. “We’ve come up here a lot and we always know the Diamond Jacks are a tough group that always plays hard. These kids have been swinging the bat really well. We’re trying to get them ready for 13U and the big field, and I’m proud of the way they played.”
Even though the weather on Sunday afternoon wasn’t the greatest, Huller was grateful that his team was able to play a full tournament in Flemington. There was one 15 minute rain delay at the conclusion of the first inning, but it continued without any other interruptions.
“I have to say that I’m really happy with the way they don’t just shut things down here and find gaps and try to get us to get the games through,” Huller said. “We really appreciate that. Driving all the way up here and getting to finish and play five games instead of three is just great.”
The Stars were also powered in the game by Jack Faessen, who hit a two-run home run for a 3-1 first-inning lead, had a RBI double to extend the margin to 5-1 in the third, and singled and scored for the 8-4 advantage in the fifth.
The Diamond Jacks Super 12U reached the final with a 4-3 comeback playoff victory over the Diamond Jacks Gold 12U.
The Gold 12U took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, before the Super 12U tied it after scoring once in the first and twice in the third.
The Gold 12U had a runner on second with two out in the sixth when Koziupa made a leaping catch of a liner at second base to end the inning.
Brito then led off the bottom of the inning with a single, stole second and scored the game-winner on a single by Finarelli, who also earned the win by pitching the final three scoreless innings.