Troopers refocus and deal Labor Day Blast shutout

By DN WRITING STAFF | September 4, 2023

Braelyn Grady of International Baseball Academy dives back into first base on pick off attempt.

By Joe Hofmann

Two Saturday losses brought about subtle changes for the Union County Troopers on Sunday.

All of the adjustments were underneath the batting helmet – mental, not physical.

Problem solved.

The result: an 8-0 victory over the International Baseball Academy in the 14U Labor Day Blast at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

The Troopers didn’t revamp their lineup or alter their batting stances.

What they did do was adjust their minds.

“We played with a lot more energy than (Saturday),” catcher Dallas Nunez said. “We had a better mindset and a better approach to hitting. In our two losses, we were not as focused.”

The Troopers took control early and never looked back. They had four runs in the first inning and added single runs in the second and third innings.

That was more than enough for starter and winner William Herrera, who pitched into the fifth inning before Deivis Almonte finished up.

It was a far cry from Saturday, when the team absorbed shutout losses to the Bucks County Generals (6-0) and RCBC Ghost National (14-0).

What a difference a day – and some mental adjustments – can make.

“We played with a lot of cohesiveness,” coach Reinaldo Cruz said. “We learned from what we needed to work on. We did the small things, like paying attention to what the other team was doing. We stole some outs. We were aggressive. The kids listened to our advice. When it was a certain pitch count, we knew where to stand at the plate. We were supportive of each other.

“We really bonded together today and had fun.”

Herrera helped key the first inning uprising. Almonte walked to lead off and stole second before Herrara reached on a single and Tony Olacio was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

One out later, Jadiel Figueroa reached on a fielder’s choice to bring in the first run after IBA failed to cover first base.

Nunez stroked an RBI single to center for another run and Angel Alfaro and Jayden Peguero drew bases-loaded walks for the third and fourth runs.

In the second, Almonte and Herrera singled before Olacio walked, setting up Derek Guzman’s RBI on an infield grounder.

Figueroa reached on an error to lead off the third, Nunez got aboard on an infield single and Tyler Rentas reached on an infield error for another run.

Union County ended the game by the mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth when Figueroa walked, Nunez reached on an infield hit, Rentas singled to load the bases, and Alfaro delivered a two-run single.

Herrera, meanwhile, pitched effectively until tiring in the fifth, allowing three hits, striking out four and walking two.

“I didn’t get too excited,” Herrera said. “I threw strikes and did my job one batter at a time.”

“Will Herrera was phenomenal,” Cruz added. “Dallas threw out three baserunners. He was very aggressive.”

Perhaps most importantly, Union County players, playing in their first tournament together, began to pick up on the nuances of the game.

“The guys knew where to be, where they should back up when we’re in the field,” Cruz said. “Everyone was where they were supposed to be.”

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