By Sean Reilly
Bronson Vitale was involved in a couple of oddities on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation.
Together, they helped send his Philadelphia Area Baseball Magpies to a 6-5 comeback win over the Toms River Titans for the 11U Fall Brawl tournament championship in Flemington.
The first situation came in the third inning, when Magpies coach Kenny Koplove made the decision to flip his starting battery of pitcher Carter Robinson and catcher Vitale in the midst of a Titans’ rally.
Vitale followed by getting two crucial ground outs, one of which scored a run, and allowed only one additional run on two hits the rest of the way.
“It was the first time we had done that,” Vitale said. “I didn’t warm up, but my arm felt good. I was a little nervous, but I knew I just had to go pitch and shut them down.”
The second situation occurred with one out in the top of the fifth. With a runner on second, and Toms River up 5-4, the Titans issued an intentional walk, choosing to pitch to Vitale, who was 2-for-2 with two one-run doubles.
He had never been placed in that hitting spot before, but he responded to the pressure by smacking another double, this time delivering two runs. It proved to be the game-winner, thanks to his own relief work on the mound.
“I had said to myself that I had to come up with a hit,” he said. “When I got it, it was the best feeling ever.”
For Vitale’s efforts, he was selected co-tournament MVP, along with teammate Brayden Baranich.
The victory completed a 3-0 weekend with a 30-16 run difference for the Magpies, who had one pool play game canceled due to rain on Saturday. The rainout gave the team more pitching options for the final, which presented Koplove the luxury of starting the talented Vitale behind the plate, and also having him available to pitch. Robinson, a lefty, is also strong in both pitching and catching roles, so the shift worked out well.
“Carter started the game and did a fantastic job,” Koplove said. “He gave us a chance to win. And then Bronson behind the plate, taking the gear off, and coming in, he threw lights out. He packed the zone and was tough as nails. That was the first time we had made that switch. Bronson is normally more of an early tournament pitcher, but he hadn’t had an opportunity to throw yet. We had only two games, and our other two pitchers did a fantastic job leading up to it, so Bronson’s number was called and he certainly answered.”
The Magpies showed their character in rallying for the win. The Philly team had scored single runs in the first three innings to build a 3-0 lead, before the Titans (who entered with a 3-0 record and 32-2 run difference) struck for four runs in the bottom of the third.
The Magpies first-inning run came after Baranich reached on a three-base error with one out, and then scored on Vitale’s two-out double to right-center field.
Justin Capra led off the second inning with a single to right field. He stole second, moved to third on an errant pickoff throw, and then scored on a straight steal of home.
Baranich hit a one-out single to center in the third, stole second, and then scored when Vitale doubled to center.
Brayden Baranich and Bronson Vitale were named co-MVPs of the 11U Fall Brawl.
The Titans – playing in their first tournament at ‘The Nation’ – went ahead in the bottom of the frame. After the first batter struck out, singles by Jordan Kadir and Tino Kocak put two aboard for leadoff man Cam Kish, who hit a one-run single to center. Jacob Booker added a single that scored two and Andrew DiNicola added an RBI groundout for a 4-3 lead.
The Magpies tied it in the top of the fourth, when a run scored on a wild pitch.
The Titans regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth, after Ty Robinson led off with a single, stole two bases and scored on an error.
The game turned for good in the top of the fifth.
Robinson (2-for-3) led off for the Magpies with a hit to right center. He later wound up on third after a wild pitch. Jack Gamble then received the intentional walk with one out. He stole second to put two runners in scoring position for Vitale, who followed with his third double, this one to right field, for his third and fourth RBI.
Vitale also pitched a smooth bottom of the inning, getting three quick ground outs.
He retired the first two batters in the sixth on a foul out to first base and groundout to shortstop.
The Titans were down to their final strike before DiNicola singled and stole second. But a pop out to Nick Howe at second base ended the game.
“The fact that the other team took the lead, and that we immediately responded, showed a lot of character and a lot of heart in these guys,” Koplove said. “It’s something we’ve been preaching and something we’ve been working on, and it’s good to see that it all culminated today.”
“We were down and we kept fighting back,” Baranich said. “And then when Bronson came in and shut them down, it was really cool. This was fun. I hit pretty good. We got second place when we came here last year, so to come back and win it feels cool.”
“This was a fun weekend,” Vitale said. “I like playing here, and it was great to win it.”