By Rich Bevensee
If Wladyka Baseball Continental 14U was going to send anyone to the plate for a high-pressure, extra-inning at bat, it had to be Mike Rooney.
Wladyka had just scored the tying run in the bottom of the eighth inning on a bases-loaded walk by Ryan Auten, and moments before Rooney stepped into the batter’s box, Wladyka and Hustle Baseball were getting worked up because of a disagreement on a non call on what they believed to be a balk.
None of it affected Rooney.
“We were discussing the balk, and I kept hearing him behind me saying, ‘Don’t worry coach, I got this. Don’t worry,’ ” Wladyka coach Jim Wladyka said. “If there’s one person who needs to feel confident, it’s the guy with the bat in his hands. It’s the guy standing in at that moment. And Mike wants to be on the big stage.”
Rooney redirected a two-out, full-count pitch with a rocket to deep left field, scoring Aiden Alvino from third and sending Wladyka to an 8-7 victory over Hustle Baseball and the Spring Fever 14U championship on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“At first I was a little nervous but I knew we could do it,” said Rooney, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player who went 2 for 3 in the final with a walk and two runs scored.
“I heard coach arguing about the (balk) call but I believed in myself and I knew I’d be the man tonight.”
Extra inning (California) rule was in place for the final. Both teams began the eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out.
In the top of the eighth, Nico Companion led off with a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Hudson Ferrando for a 7-6 Hustle lead. After giving up a walk, Wladyka reliever Rob Cruz got a strikeout to prevent any further damage.
In the bottom half, Auten led off with a bases-loaded walk against Hustle reliever Cole Fiore, forcing home Dylan O’Hare with the tying run and setting the stage for Rooney.
Hustle nearly escaped the eighth with a tie when Wladyka’s Jace Loeb flew out to right for the second out. Right fielder Ollie Ellis threw home and Hustle catcher Eric Pinales caught Alvino wandering too far off third base. Alvino scrambled back safely, allowing Rooney a chance to perform his heroics.
“It was a great baseball game and our kids battled,” Hustle coach Lou Fernandez said. “We’re trying to manufacture runs as an offense, which we did. Our hitters were told to get a ball deep and get a guy in, and that’s what Nico did. We just fell a little short on defense. We had a little miscommunication – it happens in baseball, especially at the younger levels with a rundown – and those are things we have to learn and evolve.”
What began as a game pairing two fireballing pitchers – Hustle’s Jason Amalbert vs. Wladyka’s Alvino – turned into a run-scoring derby.
Wlaydka jumped on the board first with three runs in the bottom of the first inning as Amalbert struggled to find his control. Wladyka scored on two wild pitches and a passed ball.
Hustle immediately responded with three runs in the top of the second, tying the game at 3-3 when Pinales scored on a wild pitch, Companion earned a bases-loaded walk and Fiore had an RBI groundout.
Hustle tacked on three more runs in the top of the third and Companion and Fiore were in the middle of the rally once more. Companion had a fielder’s choice RBI. Fiore looped a two-out RBI single into shallow left, and the ensuing throw back to the infield was errant, allowing another run to score for a 6-3 Hustle lead.
Companion finished 1 for 4 with a triple and three RBI. Pinales and C.J. Tedesco both went 1 for 3 with a grounds rule double and a walk, and Jordan Burwell tripled.
In the bottom of the third it was Wladyka’s turn for a three-spot, as the eventual champions caught up to Amalbert’s blazing low-80s fastball. Rooney and Charlie Pepe led off with singles. Brody Flugger, the No. 3 hitter, ripped a low line drive which eluded the outstretched glove of second baseman Ferrando and skipped to the fence in right-center, allowing Flugger to chug all the way around for an inside-the-park, three-run home run.
That tied the score at 6-6, and it would remain that way until the high-stakes eighth inning.
Pepe had two of Wladyka’s six hits, going 2 for 3 with two runs scored.
Alvino allowed six runs on five hits and four walks with five strikeouts in the first four innings for Wladyka. Cruz was nearly perfect in his four innings of relief work, allowing one run on two hits and one walk with three strikeouts.
Amalbert mixed a fastball and curve to strike out nine in a seven-inning, 116-pitch effort for Hustle while allowing six runs on five hits, four walks and a hit batsman.
“Jason had a bulldog performance,” Fernandez said. “He came out, fought the elements, he didn’t want me to take the ball out of his hands, even for the eighth inning, and that’s what we want in an athlete. I don’t want our pitchers to back down from competition.”
The entire Wladyka 14U level enjoyed a sensational weekend with its three squads going a combined 10-2.
Wladyka Continental finished the weekend 5-0 after beating the Morris County Cubs (3-1), Cage Academy (7-2) and the North Jersey Cardinals Red (11-4) in pool play, and Wladyka American (13-9) in the 14U semifinals.
Wladyka American went unbeaten in pool play, knocking off the Lower Bucks Minutemen (5-3), the Complete Game Colonials (4-0) and North Shore Freedom Blue (14-2).
Wladyka National defeated Complete Performance Baseball (10-2) and Baseball U Philly (6-4), but bowed to the Heavy Hitters (5-4) in pool play.
“Whether we won or lost, it was a great weekend for our guys, all three of our teams, two 3-0 teams and one 2-1 (in pool play),” Wladyka said. “Just in general, it was a great 14U weekend for us. And we tell these guys, as long as you keep getting better each week, the game will be fulfilling for you.”
The championship game was the second in three weeks for Hustle, which defeated the Bergen Crush for the Mother’s Day Classic 14U title on May 9.
Hustle earned a berth in the Spring Fever final by beating Baseball U Philly (7-5), the Heavy Hitters (7-1) and Complete Performance (13-2) in pool play. It then knocked off Full Count Baseball (13-6) in the semis. In that semifinal, Amalbert fueled the Hustle offense with a prodigious three-run home run.
“I told our guys the goal as a program is we want to get to the semifinals or finals every weekend to face better baseball,” Fernandez said. “That’s why we practice, that’s why we train. And we have the talent. This is our fourth or fifth tournament, we have six more on the season, and we’re looking forward to more baseball.
SPRING FEVER RECAPS
FLOOD CITY ELITE
Flood City Elite defeated NJ Renegades, 10-2, in the 10U Spring Fever championship game. Flood City (4-0) outscored its opponents 50-18. NJ Renegades (2-1-1) held a 34-16 runs advantage on their opponents.
DELMARVA ACES 13U EAST
The Delmarva Aces 13U East defeated the Morris County Cubs Navy, 9-2, in the 13U Spring Fever championship game. Hunter Strauss of the Delmarva Aces was named the 13U tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Delmarva Aces (4-0-1) outscored their opponents 41-10. Morris County Cubs (3-1-1) matched their opponents in runs, 25-25.