I didn’t take long to discern that Alfonso Esposito was going to be one very difficult riddle to solve in the Diamond Nation Fall League championship game last night in Flemington.
Whitehouse Post 284’s righthander struck out the side in both the first and second innings before cruising to a five-inning two-hitter that helped secure an 8-0 victory over Hustle Baseball 17U and the Fall League championship.
Top-seeded Whitehouse concluded its fall reign at 15-1 but wasn’t minus some trepidation entering the final, considering its opponent had been the lone team in the Fall League to leave it on the short end of a game. Hustle 17U (12-5) defeated Post 284, 8-5, on Oct. 18.
But Whitehouse had won two other Fall season encounters with Hustle 17U, so words like revenge and avenge weren’t part of Post 284’s vernacular last night. The mood was more like, let’s just play baseball and let our big dog, Esposito, off the leash.
Esposito made frequent use of a devastating curveball that he both threw for strikes and used to get the Hustle Baseball batters to chase in his dominant effort. The Middlesex High senior struck out seven and walked four to keep Hustle at bay until the Post 284 bats iced the mercy rule victory with four runs in the bottom of the fifth.
“I’ve been throwing that pitch for three or four years,” said Esposito. He might add, “successfully.” I got a lot of first pitch strikes with it and used it to get ahead in the count. Then I’d throw my (low 80s) fastball in to jam them.” That certainly was an effective approach for Esposito, as it was during an 8-0 high school season last spring when he posted a paltry 0.53 ERA. Esposito was named the MVP of the Fall League championship game.
Second-seeded Hustle 17U’s starter Andrew Hladik (Seton Hall Prep), sported a nasty curveball of his own and did a good job containing Whitehouse before running out of gas in the fifth inning. He was charged with three of the four runs in the outburst that put the game away,
The game ended in a very Whitehouse way. Andrew Nguyen (Hunterdon Central) hit a bouncer between the Hustle first and second basemen and beat it out for an infield hit. Meanwhile, Logan Escamilia charged all the way home from second base on the play to deliver the 8-0 lead and mercy rule finish.
“That’s our play on that,” said Whitehouse mentor Steve Farsiou. “We send the runner from second on that play, no matter what.” It also helps to have a runner with Escamilia’s speed and innate aggression on the bases. Escamilia, hidden in the sixth spot in the order, singled, doubled, walked, scored three runs and drove in a run.
Escamilia and Ryan Barry, Whitehouse’s No. 3 hitter, would account for five of their team’s nine hits. Barry had two singles and a triple in his three at bats, scored a run and drove in a run. His leadoff triple triggered the rally in the fifth.
“My approach was to lay off his curveball and look to hit the fastball to right field,” said Barry, who also singled to right field in the third inning. He also had an RBI single to left in the first. Barry followed a strong season at Chatham High last spring with impressive summer and fall seasons.
The first three batters of the fifth, in fact, made a lot of noise for Whitehouse and quickly ended Hladik’s outing. Cleanup hitter Brad Kneller (North Hunterdon) followed Barry’s triple down the right field line with a triple of his own just inside the first base bag. Not to be outdone, Jared Cassella followed by lacing an RBI double down the left field line for a 6-0 lead.
Kaleb McGann brought home Cassella with his second sac fly of the game before Nguyen ended it with his two-out bleeder to the right side.
Hladik hit leadoff batter Nguyen with a pitch to start the bottom of the first and Nguyen took second on a passed ball. Barry brought him home with his one-out single. Escamilia started trouble for Hustle 17U in the second, leading off with a single to right. He stole second, reached third on a passed ball and scored on McGann’s sac fly.
Cassella led off the third with a single and raced home from first on Escamilia’s doubled inside first base. Jimmy Lundari dropped down a pretty bunt single to push Escamilia third and his Hunterdon Central teammate scored on a fielder’s choice grounder for a 4-0 Whitehouse advantage.
Hustle 17U’s Miles DePaul hit a long grounds rule double to left field with two out in the second, but was stranded. Kevin Wood had Hustle 17U’s other hit, another two-out double, this one in the fourth inning.
While both teams played well defensively — Hustle committed the lone error and it wasn’t costly — the gem of the game belonged to Whitehouse center fielder Aiden Kozak. Esposito’s Middlesex High teammate raced in after a line drive by Hustle’s Jacob Gonzalez and snared it on a dead run for the second out after Hustle had just gotten a man aboard.
Whitehouse had defeated the Bucks County General, 8-1, and Hustle Baseball edged Montgomery Superior, 4-2, in the semifinals earlier in the night.