Van’s strong five innings steer Maine Guides 13U

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 16, 2024

Keegan Dap singled and scored to ignite the Guides’ four-run, third inning rally.

By Rich Bevensee

Pitching by committee was how Maine Guides 13U coach Marcus Crowell approached the first game of the 2024 baseball season. 

And then he handed the ball to Jayden Van.

“We were thinking we might use four or five guys to get us through game one, especially since we don’t have many guys who were ready to throw more than 40 or 50 pitches,” Crowell said. “It was about feeling it out, inning by inning. And every inning, it felt like Jayden was going to give us an opportunity to win the game.”

Van didn’t overpower with incredible velocity or filthy breaking stuff. Very quietly, he mowed his way through the New Jersey Elite 13U batting order by executing the pitches he needed when he needed them.

Simply put, Van just kept getting outs.

The young righty threw five no-hit innings and permitted only a walk and a hit batsman while striking out five over 70 pitches to lead the Guides to a 9-1 victory in Spring Invitational pool play at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

The Maine Guides, whose facility is located in Biddeford, on the southern tip of the state, were to face Chatham Cougars 13U later Saturday, and Bergen Crush 13U on Sunday to complete pool play. The top two seeds from the pool vie for the title at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday. 

The soft-spoken Van said he was somewhat surprised at how well his season debut turned out, especially in light of how little he’s been able to sharpen his arsenal. 

Van employed a fastball, curve, changeup and knuckleball to keep Elite batters guessing. He allowed one unearned run in the top of the third inning after his team had built a 3-0 lead.

Dylan Heath was one of eight Maine Guides players with a base hit.

“I haven’t really practiced a lot outside the facility,” Van said. “I came in here expecting to do all right. Not too good but not too bad. I was surprised I was 

throwing as hard as I did today.”

Crowell was especially impressed with how Van made pitches to get outs when behind in the count. 

“He had a number of those times where he pitched to contact or he got us off the field with a strikeout,” Crowell said. “He wasn’t beating himself and that’s a great position to be in.”

The Guides scored early in support of Van and reliever Andrew Stryker, who pitched a scoreless sixth inning. 

Dom Dumais and Charlie Gill, batting back-to-back in the middle of the order, rapped a pair of RBI singles apiece, including consecutive run-scoring hits in the first inning to spot the Guides a 3-0 lead.  

Dumais and Gill struck again in the third in the exact same fashion, as the Guides pushed their lead to 6-1. 

“We wanted to come in here and play and see what happened,” Gill said. “We’re excited. It’s awesome we can win our first game. We’re all at the same hotel and we’re having fun there and we can’t wait to have fun playing other teams.”

The Guides capped their offensive attack with a pair of runs in the sixth which sealed the mercy rule ending with two minutes to spare on the 1-hour, 50-minute game clock. The pinch-hitting Van roped an RBI single and Holden Lapaulone laid down a perfect bunt to score Will Tripp from third base. 

The offensive display pleased Crowell because the team was playing its first ballgame of the season in a tournament setting on the road. And because of that, Crowell said, the focus wasn’t necessarily about fine-tuned execution.

“For kids to come out and have fun and enjoy competing is a big deal, and we push that on our guys. Baseball is supposed to be fun,” Crowell said. “At the same time you want them to have that ‘me vs. you’ mentality where they’re willing to leave it on the field.”

NJ Elite, operating out of Monmouth County, scored its lone run in the top of the third inning when John Defino’s infield grounder leaked through on an error and Chris Bussaco raced home from third. Defino broke up Maine’s no-hit bid with a single in the sixth inning. 

Chris Scocco (one inning), Rishi Cherian (two), Luca Rescigno (2.1 IP) and Dominic Ingui handled the pitching for NJ Elite. 

Earlier Saturday, NJ Elite fell to the Keystone State Bombers, 13-0. One pool play game remains for New Jersey Elite 13U, against Renegades 13U Red on Sunday.

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