Walk-off balk caps Baseball U Scranton’s Super 25 rally

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 17, 2022

Brayden McConnell (1) of Baseball U Scranton scores the winning run on a two-out bases loaded balk for 10-9 victory over Philly Bandits 15U. 

By Sean Reilly 

Brayden McConnell had never scored a winning run in this fashion before, and most likely never will again. 

The Baseball U Scranton 15U extra hitter, who had doubled in the tying run with two out and no time left on the play clock in the bottom of the fifth inning, soon found himself as the lead runner with the bases loaded against the Philly Bandits 15U in a Super 25 Showcase Series 15U matchup on Tuesday morning at Diamond Nation. 

Brandon Wozniak then stepped into the batters box for Baseball U Scranton. Given the score, the two-out, bases-full situation and the fact that the clock had reached zero, the game would either end in a tie or a Baseball U victory, pending the result of the at-bat. 

Then the unexpected happened. Just as the Bandits pitcher was releasing the ball, the home plate umpire called a balk, apparently for not coming to a stop in the stretch.

McConnell jogged toward home, touched the plate and was mobbed by his teammates as Baseball U Scranton celebrated a 10-9 victory in a game that was full of twists, turns and lead changes in Flemington.

“I didn’t see what he did,” said McConnell, who did take a larger than usual lead off of third. “It was an interesting game. It was fun, and there wasn’t really any pressure.”

The Bandits had scored twice in the top of fifth for a 9-8 lead, and barring a very quick bottom of the inning, the game was almost sure to end since only a couple of minutes remained on the 1:50 clock, and every half inning during the game had at least one base runner. 

Robby Grasso (2-for-3, 5 RBI) of Philly Bandits dives toward home plate as Baseball U Scranton catcher Jake Aftewicz awaits throw from first base.

The Baseball U Scranton leadoff batter in the fifth grounded out to third base. Max Forgione (3-for-3, solo home run, three runs) then singled and stole second before the next batter struck out. 

That brought McConnell, a rising sophomore at Valley View High School, to the plate, with the game on the line. Forgione took third on a wild pitch to add more drama to the situation.

“I just wanted to put the something in play,” McConnell said. “With a runner on third, anything hit would score a run and tie the game up.” 

McConnell was looking for a fastball, and got one. He sent the offering into left center for a double that scored Forgione for a 9-9 tie. He also finished 2-for-2 on the day with a walk. 

“I was really just looking for a fastball to drive it,” McConnell said. “And I did.”

Since pool play games at Diamond Nation don’t go to extra innings, the game was guaranteed to end with a tie with a third out or a Baseball U Scranton victory if McConnell could score.

The next batter was Max Urbas, who was hit by a pitch. He was followed by Connor McNally, who walked on a full count to load the bases. 

Up stepped Wozniak as the final batter of the game. But before he looked at a pitch, the balk call scored McConnell to decide the game in Baseball U Scranton’s favor. Baseball U had scored another run on a balk call in the second inning.

The Philly Bandits were paced by Gavin Ruta, who was 2-for-3, reached on error, and scored three runs, as well as Robby Grasso, who had an RBI double for a 1-0 lead in the first, three-run triple for a 6-5 lead in the third and was safe on an RBI fielder’s choice when Ruta beat a throw home on his infield-in grounder for an 8-8 tie in the top of the fifth. Grasso then moved to second on an errant pickoff throw, and scored the go-ahead run on a one-out double to right field by Toby Myers.

Notes: Baseball U Scranton ended 3-1 in pool play after a 9-3 loss to North Jersey Cardinals 15U Red later in the day. It qualified for the playoffs, and will face top-seeded Canes Tri-State in the semifinals on Wednesday at noon. Philly Bandits 15U rebounded with a 7-4 win over Atlantic Reign in the afternoon, but did not qualify for the playoffs, finishing 2-2.

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