Syracuse Sox center fielder Ryan Walker takes a cut in the 15U Boys of Summer tournament.
By Rich Bevensee
He pitched collegiately and professionally, so believe Matt Ramagli when he says he can recognize the game face of a pitcher ready for battle.
His most recent sighting of such a pitcher was on Friday afternoon when Ryan Balent was warming up in the bullpen for the Wladyka National 15U ballclub.
“When we came in here and I saw Ryan milling around with what he does, I got a sense that I’m not even going to talk to him. He’s locked in,” Ramagli said. “Ryan is very quiet anyway but he just had this look, a different look, that I haven’t seen all summer. I know that look – I was a pitcher once. As soon as he got on the mound it was boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s not like he was pitching a perfect game but he was locked in. Fastball was moving, breaking pitches were moving. It was awesome to watch.”
Balent, a rising sophomore at South Plainfield, enjoyed a performance to match his countenance, allowing one run while scattering seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts in a complete game effort.
While Balent was posting zeroes on the scoreboard, his Wladyka teammates finally found a way to get their ace a win in the top of the seventh inning. Leadoff man Ben Kronfeld singled, advanced to third on a two-base outfield error and scored on a wild pitch to lift Wladyka to a 2-1 victory over the Syracuse Sox in the Boys of Summer 15U Tournament at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“You don’t see a lot of younger pitchers go out there and dominate like him,” said Wladyka teammate Jason Waldman, who was responsible for three defensive gems. “He’s a great pitcher. It’s tough to pitch here, too, so it was great to see him get pumped up out there.”
Wladyka National continues round robin action this weekend with a 12:15 p.m. game Saturday against Baseball U Anthracite, and an 8 a.m. contest on Sunday against Diamond Studs Baseball 15U.
The Syracuse Sox will continue Boys of Summer action with a 2:15 p.m. Saturday game against Diamond Studs Baseball 15U, and an 8 a.m. Sunday game against Baseball U Anthracite.
There are no playoffs this weekend in the 15U field; however, the top five teams from Boys of Summer advance to the Aug. 15 Super 25 Showcase Series playoff.
Balent escaped every inning with runners on base, and he stranded runners in scoring position four times, including the bottom of the seventh when Keelan Marren led off with a triple to the right center gap. Balent sidestepped that jam with a short ground out, a strikeout and a fly out.
“It takes a lot more focus but I love those kinds of games, 1-1, 2-1, those nail-biters,” Balent said. “I love to be in there pitching them because it gives me more adrenaline. I just want to go out there and throw and have fun.”
Balent was pitching without the benefit of much offense, unusual for a Wladyka squad. Ramagli’s crew scratched out a run in the top of the second inning when Brett Ploetnetz reached on an infield error, advanced to second on an infield out and scored on another infield error.
“You just have to go out there and know you have to put up zeroes,” Balent said. “You fight as hard as you can to keep your guys in the game.”
“Ryan is different like that – he has mental fortitude,” said Ramagli, an Emerson High grad who pitched for Kean University and in the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals organizations. “No matter what – we go up, we go down, we’re not hitting, we are hitting – I know we’re going to get an ace effort every time. He’s solid like that.”
Balent’s teammates found it just as hard to score as Syracuse did. Wladyka stranded a runner in scoring position in the first, had a runner cut down at home in the third, and had another runner nailed at the plate when it left the bases loaded in the fourth.
To his credit, Syracuse right-hander Justin Coyne was just as stubborn as Balent when it came to allowing runs. He also pitched a complete game and allowed two unearned runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
After stranding runners in scoring position in the first two innings, the Sox broke through for a run in the third when Jeff Goldberg singled, moved to third on a Griffin Filaghera base hit, and scored on a Ryan Walker sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1.
After that blip, Balent allowed just two Sox base runners until the seventh when Marren slammed the triple but was left waiting there while Balent retired the side in order.
“I was trying to get ahead early with my breaking ball and once I was ahead I would try to get the fastball by them,” said Balent, who employed a slider, curve and change to supplement his fastball. “I get my breaking ball in there for a strike to get ahead early and then get them with a chase pitch.”
Right fielder Waldman, a rising sophomore at Don Bosco, was terrific on defense for Wladyka, recording inning-ending outs three times.
In the bottom of the first, he made a sliding catch toward the right field line for the third out. In the bottom of the third with Waldman catching, he picked off Kaden Kalfass at first for the final out of the inning. And in the bottom of the seventh with Marren looming at third base, Waldman, in right field again, made another feet-first, sliding catch, this time of a Batista Wood blooper in shallow right for the final out of the game.
“In the pressure situations I’m just looking to make a play and help out my team,” Waldman said. “I don’t really think about pressure too much, just to be myself. I love being out there and having fun.”
Like Balent, Coyne was the benefactor of a few Syracuse defensive superlatives.
In the top of the second, Wood stepped on second after fielding a grounder to begin a 6-3 double play. In the next inning, after a dropped third strike to John Hefter, catcher Kyle Kulikowski fired to first to retire Hefter, and first baseman Marren threw home to Kulikowski to cut down Justin Corcoran trying to score from third.
In the top of the fourth, Wladyka’s Frank Orrei hit a shot to left-center. Sox left fielder Kalfass bare-handed the ball off the fence and relayed to shortstop Wood, who threw a perfect strike to Kulikowski to nail Ben Kronfeld at the plate.