By Sean Reilly
The last time Nick Verdiglione visited Diamond Nation, he went home with a broken finger that sidelined him for three months.
This weekend, he returned to the scene of that misfortune, only the results were a whole lot better.
Verdiglione left with a championship medal and tournament Most Valuable Player award after going 2-for-3 with two triples and three RBI as his NJ Hammers team defeated the NJ Renegades, 11-3, in the final of the 10U Beat The Heat tournament on Sunday in Flemington.
The Hammers went 4-0 over the weekend, outscoring their opponents, 77-9. To earn the trophy, the Middletown-based Hammers had to defeat a Renegades team that was coming off a championship in the Mid-Summer Classic last weekend at Diamond Nation.
This championship was a matchup of two of the best 10U teams in the state. They had been slated to play twice earlier this season, but both games were rained out.
The first meeting was actually scheduled for the April Fools Classic at Diamond Nation on April 3, but it was wiped out by rain in the second inning. It was in the first inning of that game when Verdiglione swung at a pitch that hit his right index finger, causing a fracture and long stay on the injured list.
“We’ve been wanting to play them all year, and I broke my finger against that team and I was out for three months,” he said. “To come back here going undefeated means the world to me.”
This matchup may well have been decided in the first inning.
The Renegades began the game with singles by Sam Broder and Benji Silverstein and a walk to Eric Novak to load the bases with nobody out. The next batter hit a sharp grounder to Hammers first baseman Mike Faulk, who stepped on the base and then threw to catcher Brian Cabreja in time for a huge double play. The next batter then hit a grounder to second baseman Antonio Ciccone IV, who made a nice pickup and threw to Faulk at first for a momentum boosting third out.
“It wasn’t fun catching in this weather,” Cabreja, who was named a tournament co-MVP, said. “I drank a lot of water. Getting that double play was big. They had the bases loaded and they were all cheering, but then we got the double play.”
“That set the tone for the whole game,” Hammers coach Mike Annucci said. “Bases loaded and nobody out, and getting out with no runs, that’s a heartbreaker. These kids are very polished and they make all the plays. That’s what sets them apart from other teams.”
After keeping the Renegades off the board in the top of the first, the Hammers erupted for five runs in the bottom of the inning.
Ciccone IV led off with a single to second base, and Verdiglione followed with his first triple, which he sliced down the right field line. After a strikeout, Faulk hit an RBI single to center for a 2-0 lead. Following a fielder’s choice force out at second, Michael Annucci and Logan Bonici walked to load the bases. Jack Karpell then hit a two-run double to left center. Matt Heugel walked to load the bases, and Joey Lopresti walked to bring in the fifth run.
“Once we were able to get out of that in the top of the inning, which was very deflating, and then to come up and put up a five spot sets you up for a strong game,” coach Annucci said.
The Hammers got a one-out triple in the second inning from Cabreja, followed by a walk to Faulk. Both would later score on steals of home off of successfully-executed first-and-third base running plays.
The Renegades drew within 7-3 after scoring three times in the third. The first run scored on an error, and the other two crossed on a bases-loaded single to center by Vihaan Garg.
The Hammers opportunistic offense was on full display in the bottom of the third. Heugle led off by beating out a ball hit to second. Lopresti then dropped down a bunt single, with Heugle running non-stop to third.
After a fly out to center field, Verdiglione hit another triple to right field. He then scored when Cabreja hit a sacrifice fly to right field.
The Hammers ended the game via the mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth. Heugle led off with a walk, and Lopresti split the gap in right center for a RBI triple and the 11-3 final score.
Heugle ended 1-for-1 with two walks and two runs, while Lopresti was 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBI.
“This was a tough weekend in the heat, but our bats were alive,” Annucci said. “We also played solid defense.”
“It’s really cool to be the MVP,” Verdiglione said. “It’s good to have a better memory this time.”
The 10U Hammers are #1 in New Jersey, and ranked #28 in the nation. This season they have a record of 51-1. Their four year record stands at 162-9-1. Fantastic on any level of baseball. They work very hard in practice, and are a humble group of winners.