Zangari brings the heat, Lopez the thunder for Body Armor Titans 15U

By DN WRITING STAFF | June 25, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

For three innings, Body Armor Titans right-hander Stellan Zangari made life miserable for Wladyka Continental batters. His fastball and slider didn’t give them much choice but to trudge back to the dugout.

But Zangari’s teammates were struggling to score against Wladyka’s Sean Fealey. They scraped out a couple of runs in the fourth inning until Mateo Lopez came to bat with the bases loaded. And that’s when a closely contested championship ballgame turned into a one-sided celebration.

The lefty-hitting Lopez turned on a 1-0 fastball and sent it rocketing into the right-field netting for a 350-foot, grand slam home run, tilting the game permanently in the Titans’ favor en route to a 10-1, five-inning triumph in the School’s Out 15U Yellow bracket final on Sunday night at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“This ballpark looked big, I thought it was gonna drop so I ran out of the box,” said Mateo, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, after hitting his first homer of the season. “ When I saw it hit the net it was a great feeling to be able to perform and help my team out. I want to give credit to my teammates, always contributing, being on base.”

Lopez, a rising 5-9, 175-pound sophomore at The Stony Brook School, went 3-for-4 against Wladyka, including a pair of opposite-field singles. 

Titans assistant coach Vito Friscia played collegiately at Hofstra and played for five years in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, including two years at the Triple-A level. It is Friscia’s opinion that Lopez is way ahead of his age level in terms of development.

“Mateo Lopez is one of the best hitters we have seen in this region at this age,” Weiner said. “He is a professional hitter. Our assistant coach has played high level baseball and has said watching Mateo swing is something beyond special. Be ready to watch him as he gets bigger and better.”

Mateo Lopez of the Body Armor Titans slugged a grand slam and was named the School’s Out 15U Yellow bracket Most Valuable Player.

Zangari, the tournament MVP at a Perfect Game event two weeks ago, struck out 11 in four innings while allowing one unearned run on two hits and a walk against Wladyka. His fastball topped out at 83 and was still zipping at 81 in the fourth inning, but his slider was what really confounded Wladyka hitters. 

Zangari is a 6-foot, 170-pound rising sophomore at South Side High in Rockville Centre, N.Y. 

“They had no idea what was coming,” Weiner said. “He literally would throw a 0-0 slider, a 3-2 slider, any count, any time, fastball, slider. The only out that wasn’t a strikeout was the ground ball back to him. That’s a dominant performance.”

Titans reliever Jackson Torres, who reached 83 on the radar, wasn’t any easier on Wladyka in the fifth, getting a weak grounder and two strikeouts to end the mercy-rule affair.

“Both guys had high velocity with three-pitch command,” said Wladyka coach Mike Chiaravalloti, a First Team All-State selection at Bloomfield High in 2008 and a star at Iona University. “At 15U you really don’t really see that and when you do it’s tough. The first kid had 11 strikeouts and when you’re not seeing that in your other games and then all the sudden you see that, it’s challenging, for sure.”

Zangari and Fealey were near equals through three innings. While Zangari faced just one batter over the minimum while striking out nine, Fealey allowed just one run on three hits over the same span. The Titans forged a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Nick Maresca battled back from an 0-2 count to earn a walk, stole second and scored on No. 10 hitter Gabe Rogers’ two-out single to left. 

The fourth inning was when Body Armor, the formidable program from Long Island, began to wear down Wladyka pitching. After the Titans loaded the bases against Fealey with two walks and a base hit against, Shea Corona drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. 

Rogers walked to reload the bases, Henry English entered to relieve Fealey, and leadoff hitter Andrew Noe dropped down a perfectly placed squeeze bunt to score J.T. Bonventre. 

The Titans now had a 3-0 lead, but the game still seemed up for grabs for either team. That was until the next batter, Lopez, cranked a game-changing homer.

“Sean had his command early on and then he lost it,” Chiaravalloti said. “When you become one pitch, it’s challenging to get a really tough lineup out. Credit to them, a really good group, and I’m sure they’re going to win some more tournaments.”

Wladyka scored in the bottom of the fourth when Enrique Martinez walked and scored on Gabe Carter’s two-out fly ball to right which was misplayed, allowing Martinez to circle the bases. 

The Titans added three more runs in the fifth. Bonventre slugged an RBI triple to center and scored on a sac fly, and Corona added an RBI single. 

The teams entered the championship game with near identical credentials, as both went 3-0 in pool play and both allowed only six runs in their three games. The next tiebreaker is runs scored in pool play, and Wladyka earned the nod as home team for scoring 25 runs while Body Armor scored 23.

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