By Rich Bevensee
Christian White is learning very early in his baseball career that the game can knock you down and lift your spirits in the blink of an eye.
White, a pitcher and first baseman with the Philadelphia Area Baseball Renegades, experienced the roller coaster of emotions during the final innings of the Spring Classic 9U final on Sunday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Minutes after surrendering two runs in relief and allowing the RedBlacks of Staten Island to tie the game and send the final into extra innings, White made a sensational defensive play at first base to end the game and propel the Renegades to an 8-5 victory and the tournament championship.
“In this game you can make mistakes and on the next play you can make the play of your life,” White said. “I just want to thank my coaches for cheering me up. I was pretty mad about how I pitched but my teammates picked me up.”
It was the second Diamond Nation title in four weeks for the 9U Renegades, who won the King of the Diamond crown April 14-16.
The Renegades finished the weekend 4-0 and outscored their opponents 44-26. They beat the Hamilton A’s, 13-5, and squeaked by the Morris County Cubs, 14-13, in pool play, then came back to beat the Cubs again, 9-3, in the semifinals.
In the bottom of the sixth inning of the championship game, White came on in relief for Spencer Lehr to protect a 5-3 lead, but he gave up two runs on two hits and a walk before he was replaced by Paul Goldin. White was visibly shaken by his inability to shut the door on the RedBlacks but he would soon have a chance to redeem himself.
White wasn’t the only Renegade who overcame a mental mistake with a subsequent impactful play.
The Renegades were protecting a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth with one out and RedBlack runners on first and third. Goldin’s first batter was Charlie Fernandez, who hit a hard grounder right at second baseman John Walsh. Walsh elected to throw to first on a ground ball instead of trying to turn a potential inning-ending double play, and the Red Blacks tied the game.
Any perceived gaffe by Walsh was erased moments later. The top of the seventh inning began with the bases loaded and one out, per the California tiebreaker, and Walsh drilled a single into center to score two runners. Ryan Phillips added an RBI groundout for some insurance.
“In the sixth inning I think the runner was already on the bag so I didn’t throw to second,” Walsh said. “When I was hitting I was excited and nervous and I ended up doing something great. I’m happy for Christian. He never let down on himself.”
In the bottom of the seventh – again, starting with the bases loaded and one out – it took White one pitch to earn hero status. The RedBlacks’ Joey Rainero drilled the first pitch he saw right at White at first base. White snagged the line drive and stepped on first for a game-ending, title-clinching double play.
“We’ve been preaching that you take the next pitch, that’s the most important and block out what happened,” Renegades coach Christian Jordan said. “The play at second where we could have had a double play on a ball hit to Walsh. Instead he gets one, but he comes up in the extra innings and drives home two.
“Christian White on the mound, we had to take him out, it wasn’t his day, and he ends the game with a double play. It’s a team win and we’ve been preaching all season, just keep grinding.”
Goldin was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after going 9-for-11 at the plate and pitching effectively in the semifinal and final. Goldin got a strikeout in the sixth after the RedBlacks tied the game, and he needed to throw just one pitch in the seventh. Goldin went 1-for-3 in the final with an RBI.
“I was very nervous in the sixth inning but I know to stay calm and keep it going, and just think about throwing strikes,” Goldin said. “Pitching is my favorite thing to do besides hitting. Throwing strikes and getting them out is the most fun.”
Also for the Renegades in the final, Callum Mespiec tripled and scored, and Noah Jordan doubled.
The Renegades also had a handful of web gems.
In the third inning, Luke Tierney made a terrific catch in right field, and left fielder Grady Townsend caught Mason Garland’s fly ball for the second out and threw a perfect strike home to catch Midolo trying to tag up.
In the fourth, Goldin, who started the game behind the plate, fired a bullet to second base to nail a base runner trying to steal, and White made a nice pick of a throw at first base to cement the third out.
The RedBlacks finished the weekend 3-1 and outscored their opponents 40-14. They began with pool play wins over the Morris County Cubs, 11-0, and Hamilton A’s, 12-4, and continued with a 12-2 verdict over the A’s in the semifinals.
In the championship game the RedBlacks were led by Rocco Midolo who tripled and drove in two runs.
The RedBlacks trailed, 5-1, in the second inning before chipping away at the Renegades’ lead. Midolo had an RBI triple in the third. In the fourth, Ben Goldberg scored from third when the Renegades threw out Michael Barone at second.
The RedBlacks scored twice in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game. Kane Sherlock led off with a single, took second and third on wild pitches and scored on a Midolo groundout. Garland reached on a Baltimore chop in front of the mound, Goldberg walked and Fernandez drove in Garland with the tying run on a grounder to second.