Frank Velez delivered a clutch and decisive two-run single for the Frozen Ropes Rockies.
By Luis Torres
Frank Velez admitted he hasn’t had the greatest time at the plate in recent weeks.
Velez, Frozen Ropes Rockies’ catcher, had been mired in a slump, not delivering when he wanted to when the opportunities presented themselves.
He just needed a hit to build some confidence, and he did so on Friday. Velez hit a go-ahead two-run single in the top of the fourth inning as Frozen Ropes Rockies defeated Upstate Athletics 7-1 in 17/18U August Showdown Wood Bat play at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Velez’s hit gave Frozen Ropes Rockies a 3-1 lead, and he wound up on third base after an error in right field enabled him to take two extra bases.
“I haven’t necessarily been doing the best at the plate, but I was just thinking, stay calm and poke it to the right side, and that’s what I did,” Velez said. “The guys getting on base made it a two-run, go-ahead hit. It’s our last tournament of the season, and I’m just proud of the way that the guys have played through the entire season, whether I’m 3-for-3 or 0-for-3, they always have my back.”
Velez said his approach at the plate has been to drive the ball to up the middle and to the opposite field while trying to find his way back into the hit column consistently. He’s also been unselfish, heaping praise on his teammates whenever they get the job done.
It’s something coach Denis McLaughlin loves about his catcher.
“I’ve been coaching Frank for about five years, and we’re going to be lifelong friends, and I’m proud of him for finishing strong,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a strong, powerful kid, and his heart is in the game every time. I’m glad he had the game-winning hit.”
Velez’s hit was in support of starting pitcher Tyler Slaughter, who tossed five innings, recording seven strikeouts and allowing no earned runs.
The lefty Slaughter allowed just three hits and just an unearned run in the bottom of the third inning after giving up a one-out triple to Finn McRae, who later came around to score on an error that tied the game at 1.
Other than that, Slaughter tossed a gem.
“He was great,” Velez said. “All of his pitches were working for him. If I wanted a low and away fastball or a high and in (fastball), he hit the spot, no questions asked. He was good.”
Frozen Ropes Rockies kept the pressure on after Velez’s go-ahead hit, adding five runs combined in the fourth and fifth innings alone.
McLaughlin’s son, Ryan McLaughlin, closed the game out by throwing the final two innings in relief, showcasing an electric fastball that topped out at 87 mph, according to the scoreboard at Diamond Nation. But it was a filthy breaking ball that made some Upstate Athletics hitters look silly. The younger McLaughlin had three strikeouts and ended the game with back-to-back strikeouts looking.
“I’m happy he’s coming along,” Denis McLaughlin said. “He’s a work in progress. He constantly has to work on his mechanics. I was proud of him, and he’s starting to open some eyes, too.”