By Rich Bevensee
This summer a U.S. baseball team played 45 games in 43 days, visited eight cities and traveled more than 4,500 miles in that span. And no, that team didn’t belong to Major League Baseball.
The New York City Rising Stars 15U squad – a teenage group formed mostly by the five city boroughs – swears it has the country’s best chemistry in club baseball, and based on the results that claim is hard to dispute. They won 75 percent of their games, reached the playoffs in all but one tournament and claimed one championship.
“We’re very close knit,” Rising Stars coach Adrian Castano said. “The boys on and off the field are the same. That kind of team chemistry is needed in the game today, and I hope that continues across the country.”
“I love this team,” said team captain Connor Tam. “We were on the road for 45 days and there was a lot of bonding. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Because the Rising Stars had such a busy summer travel schedule, this past weekend was their first visit to Diamond Nation in Flemington, one of their favorite places to play. The NYC ball club continued to show its affection for The Nation – and its overall team chemistry – in its final performance of the season.
Eliahs Delgado and Jade Van Ooyen combined for a four-inning no-hitter while their offensive mates exploded for an early 11-run rally to defeat Fairless Hills Steel 11-1 in the Summer Finale 15U championship game on Sunday evening.
“The last three years have been a blessing,” Stars coach Adrian Castano said. “It’s the third straight summer the Stars have ended their season at Diamond Nation and won a championship. We’re a humble group, and coaching them is like a family, a brotherhood, and I couldn’t ask for anything more from these boys.”
Tam, a rising junior at Beacon High in Manhattan, earned Most Valuable Player honors. The versatile 6-foot, 155-pound infielder batted .667 with four doubles and a triple, and he did not commit an error in the field while playing first base, second base, third base and shortstop in five games. He played third in the final.
“Winning a championship and the MVP is great, especially to end the summer on such a high note,” Tam said. “I’ve been seeing the ball really well all summer, especially this weekend.”
Tam humbly tried to explain why Castano and Delgado shared high praise for his leadership.
“I think the guys respect me as a captain for the way I carry myself,” Tam said. “It’s always the same, winning or losing, trying to get everyone on the same page.”
“No matter what’s going on in the game – winning by 10, losing by 10 – he doesn’t change,” Castano said. “He’s always the same face. He’s the one who keeps the kids loose. For a 15-year old young man, he’s well above his age and the future is extremely bright for him.”
Tam shared a secret as to why he’s able to play all the infield positions behind the pitcher.
“I play a lot of ‘MLB The Show,’ “ Tam said. “It helps with baseball IQ.”
Delgado, a 5-7, 160-pound righty who’s entering his junior year at Msgr. McClancy, in the East Elmhurst section of Queens, threw 58 pitches in three innings and allowed one run on no hits and three walks with three strikeouts while utilizing his two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup.
Van Ooyen, Delgado’s relief for the fourth inning, struck out the final two batters in a perfect frame. Van Ooyen is a rising sophomore at Xaverian High in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.
“It’s very exciting to throw a no-hitter,” Delgado said. “We went out there in the field and made it happen. We all worked really hard this summer. It’s been a great summer – a lot of wins, a lot of development, and we all get along really well.”
Castano praised Delgado for being able to maintain his level of concentration after the Stars just finished winning a nail-biter against EEP Bandits Select in the semifinals. The Stars used a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning to knock off the Bandits 6-4.
“Eli came in very calm and collected, and that was tough because there was a lot of pressure on him,” Castano said. “After the game we just had with the Bandits, and for him knowing it’s the last game of the year, he was carrying that on his shoulders and he stayed rock steady for us.”
In the championship game, Fairless Hills – which is based Langhorne, Pa. (home of Sesame Place for all you parents of toddlers) – struck first when the first batter of the game, Mike Roccograndi, walked, reached second on a passed ball, advanced to third on a ground out and stole home on a wild pitch.
Fairless Hills would strand runners on second and third that inning, and only once after that would one of its base runners reach second. Delgado and Van Ooyen faced just two batters over the minimum over the final three innings.
In the Stars’ massive second-inning rally which lasted 50 minutes, they sent 14 batters to the plate and scored 11 runs on four hits, five walks and two errors while facing three Fairless Hills pitchers.
Aiden Anderson began the splurge with an RBI single. Leo Vitarelli scored on Elijah Clardy’s bases-loaded infield grounder. Leadoff man Ryan Morel forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk and Clardy scored on a wild pitch for a 4-1 lead.
Cleanup hitter Andrew Quiles slapped a two-run single to left, and Lucas Silva ripped a two-run double down the left field line for an 8-1 Stars lead.
Matt Dickens added an RBI groundout, and Vitarelli scored again, this time on an infield error. Anderson capped the rally by crossing on a wild pitch.
The NYC Rising Stars completed an undefeated march to their second summer title by allowing just seven runs in five games. In pool play they defeated Hudson Valley Renegades 15U Grande, 6-1, Beast PA 2025, 10-0, and Long Island Baseball Strong Academy, 14-1.
They reached the final by squeaking past the Bandits, 6-4. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Ayden Roman sparked a five-run rally with an RBI single. The Stars escaped with a win only after the Bandits sent the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh.
Castano has headed the Stars program for the last four years. After working under program founder Nelson Santiago, Sr., Castano revamped the team by calling it the NYC Rising Stars and he currently works with Santiago, Jr.
Coming into the Summer Finale, the Rising Stars made tournament trips to Atlanta, Ga.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; the Prep Baseball Report at Lakepoint Sports complex in Cartersville, Ga.; Memphis and then Nashville, Tennessee; and finally Baltimore, Md. They captured a title in a tournament hosted by Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Fairless Hills Steel enjoyed a 4-1 record over the weekend, outscoring opponents 34-25 along the way. They defeated the New York Grays, 10-3, RCBC Marucci 14U Americans, 5-3, ASBA Warminster 15U Blue, 9-0, and RCBC Marucci 15U Nationals, 9-8, in the semifinals.