Well-rounded performance guides Barnstormers 14U

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 3, 2024

Barnstormers pitcher Ethan McTighe tags out Cody Rible of Zoned Redhawks at the plate.

By Rich Bevensee

There wasn’t a single momentous play that the Hayner Academy 14U Barnstormers could point to as the reason they won another ballgame, but rather a series of plays which made the difference.

It was Ethan McTighe and Payton Williams pitching out of jams with the tying runs on base. It was Liam Hemsworth running like his hair was on fire, turning a bloop single into a double and a steal and eventually scoring an insurance run. It was catcher Owen Fear gunning down a pair of baserunners to keep them out of scoring position. 

On and on it went for the Barnstormers, who made the little plays feel like very important ones when the game was over and they had sidestepped Zoned RedHawks 14U Elite, 5-2, in the 14U Diamond Nation World Series on Tuesday evening in Flemington. 

The Barnstormers improved to 2-1 and will conclude pool play by facing Show New England Elite on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Zoned (1-2) will close pool play against the Northeast Dodgers 2028s on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

The RedHawks biggest threat came in the top of the sixth inning with the 1 hour, 50 minute game clock winding down, meaning it would probably be their final chance to overtake the Barnstormers, who led 5-1. 

Owen O’Connor singled, stole second and scored on a Sam Schinestuhl single to bring the RedHawks within three. Williams came in to relieve and surrendered a walk to Jacob Treonze, bringing the tying run to the plate.

With Schinestuhl on third, Treonze on second and no outs, Williams stiffened, getting a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to effectively end the game with 90 seconds left.

“It was awesome having Payton come into a close game in such a tough spot with two guys on,” Barnstormers coach Carson Dunkel said. “We’re up by three where one pitch changes everything. Hat’s off to Payton for controlling himself and the game.”

“Payton clearly showed his guts in that inning,” McTighe said. 

McTighe created and escaped his own danger in the previous inning. In the top of the fifth, with Hayner leading 4-1, Justin Gregov, Cody Rible and Ryan McCann stroked back-to-back-to-back singles with two outs. With the Zoned dugout roaring, McTighe got a strikeout looking on a high fastball to end the threat, and he roared back at the Zoned dugout on the way back to his own bench.

“I usually get excited when those times come because when you succeed you really show who you are,” McTighe said. “Our coach always says you should have the mindset that you’re the best on the field. That last pitch, I didn’t really think it was going to be a strike three call, but when it was I got pretty excited. I was fired up after that.”

McTighe allowed two runs on six hits over five innings with two walks and four strikeouts. He retired the first six batters in order, then surfed in and out of trouble over his next three innings. 

“Ethan threw a heck of a game,” Dunkel said. “He’s been nails the whole year. He fills up the strike zone and keeps guys off balance. He’s one of those guys who gets stronger as the game goes on.”

McTighe received some major defensive assistance from Fear, his receiver. 

In the third with Hayner leading 3-1, McTighe uncorked a wild pitch but Fear scrambled to the backstop and flipped to McTighe in time to nail Rible at the plate. In the fourth, Fear threw out Treonze at third to end the inning. 

On the offensive side for Hayner, the play of the game was Hemsworth blooping a single into shallow center field which drew the middle infielders and center fielder after the ball. Seeing no one was covering second and without breaking stride, Hemsworth bolted for second. And when the toss back to Schinestuhl was errant, Hemsworth kept going and reached third. 

He scored one batter later, when Joey Lindner scratched an infield single to the right side to give the Barnstormers a 4-1 lead. 

“We needed to be aggressive on the bases and we needed runs,” Hemsworth said. “I saw the bag open and went for two, and when I saw it go past the pitcher I went for three. It’s fun to be on the bases like that.”

“That’s the kind of player Liam is – hard-nosed,” Dunkel said. “He’s one of those guys who even when he’s not going 3-for-3 he plays with his head up. 4-1 is a lot different than 5-1. It’s an extra run of cushion especially in a game of baseball at this age. It’s a testament to who he is as a player.”

Jacob Treonze of Zoned Redhawks slides into third while Hayner’s Joey Lindner takes the throw.

Zoned was never out of the picture and kept the game in doubt until the final out. RedHawks coach Brandon Williams said that’s been the story of the season. His team is 11-11 and could be six wins richer with a few plays going their way, Williams said. 

“We play just like our record,” Williams said. “We’ve had close games all year and we’ve had innings when we say, here we go again. There have been signs we’re getting better, but there’s always one inning which can change the whole game.”

On Tuesday Zoned surrendered six runs in the first inning to the New Jersey Marlins and lost 8-2.

“We clean up that one inning and it’s a different game. It’s 2-2,” Williams said. “The biggest thing is we keep battling. The biggest thing for us is realizing selfless at bats, knowing you can’t get a hit every time, but you can always do a job to get a guy over. They’re 14-year olds and we’re trying to prepare them for high school.”

The Barnstormers took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Cody Mills punched an RBI single inside the bag at third, and Tucker Sunkes added a sacrifice fly.

The lead grew to 3-0 when No. 10 hitter Carson Cook used another sac fly to drive in a run.

Zoned tried clawing back into the game in the top of the third when Gregov led off with a walk and stole second, third and home. Rible tried unsuccessfully to score on a wild pitch.

Hemsworth’s wild dash around the bases in the fourth resulted in a 4-1 Hayner lead. The lead grew to 5-1 when Mills tagged up from third on a 

Sunkes fly ball to right and scored after the throw was dropped at the plate.

Zoned produced the defensive play of the game in the bottom of the fourth with Hayner runners on first and second and two out. Gregov, the RedHawks shortstop, dove to rob Fear of a ground ball base hit up the middle. Without rising to his feet, Gregov stayed on his belly and leaped to touch second with his glove to get the inning-ending force out.

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