By Sean Reilly
Anthony Whelan picked a great time to pitch his finest game of the year.
Whelan, a right-hander for the Diamond Jacks Super 13U, was given the challenging assignment of facing the powerful Richmond County Baseball Club Marucci Nationals in the final of the 13U Grand Slam Tournament on Sunday afternoon.
He responded by pitching six innings of shutout ball, allowing only three singles, in sparking his team to a 4-0 victory for the championship at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Whelan, who was named tournament MVP, struck out five and walked two, both in the first inning. He retired the last 10 batters he faced.
“They’re a good team and I wanted to beat them,” said Whelan, about the challenge of facing the bats from his Staten Island opponent, a regular and very successful visitor to ‘The Nation.’
“I was trying to attack fastball and throw off-speed if they were out in front,” Whelan said. “This was the best game I pitched all year.”
A key to his performance was working out of a bases loaded jam in the first inning. The RCBC Marucci Nationals used an infield single by Tyler Stern and the two walks to load the bases with two out. The next batter hit a grounder to third baseman Owen Rivenbark, who stepped on third for an inning-ending force out.
“That was a big out,” Whelan said. “Then after that, I started to feel it.”
The Diamond Jacks Super 13U, who ended the weekend with a 3-1 record and 23-5 run differential, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Kamau Taylor hit a two-out fly ball to center which was dropped, allowing Gavin Ross to score from second base. Ross had led off with a walk, and moved over to second on a balk.
The Diamond Jacks, who were being held in check by RCBC starter Gabe Lucca, got insurance and more in the top of the fifth.
After the leadoff batter was retired on a first-pitch grounder to third, Rivenbark walked on a full count. RCBC made a pitching change, and with the top of the order now up, Luca Catanzarite poked a single to shallow center field. The next batter fouled out to the first baseman for the second out. A walk to Jason Baker filled the bases for Matt Filiaci.
Filiaci was eager to atone for his first two at-bats, a strike out with two aboard in the first inning and a hard inning-ending double play ground out with two on base in third.
“Coming off two frustrating at-bats, I was pretty mad at myself,” Filiaci said.
Filiaci delivered by hitting a fly ball down the left field line beyond the reach of the outfielder. It went for a three-run double and 4-0 lead. And with the way Whelan was pitching, it was more than enough to carry the Diamond Jacks to the title.
“It was two strikes, so I had a two-strike approach, he gave me the outside fastball and I just took it the other way,” the lefty-hitting Filiaci explained. “It felt good to get that hit, especially with the way Anthony was pitching.”
Filiaci relieved Whelan in the seventh. After getting the first batter to hit a first-pitch grounder to second, Stern walked on a full count for RCBC. But Filiaci struck out the next batter looking, and secured the final out on a grounder to second to wrap up the championship.
“I had confidence coming off the double,” Filiaci said. “It helped me to go out there and pitch.”
Catanzarite was 3-for-4 out of the leadoff spot and No. 2 batter Gino Spigarelli was 1-for-2 with two walks for the Diamond Jacks.
Chris Paul and Lucca had the other two hits for RCBC, which ended 2-1-1 with a 31-15 run difference.