By Bob Behre
Through four innings, the Richmond County Nationals and the Grizzlies Baseball Club of Montvale, N.J. were locked in a typical championship game grinder that kept their respective fans on the edge of their seats.
That was before the Richmond County bats erupted behind Ronnie Patterson and Patrick Burns and the Staten Island club struck for seven runs in its final two at bats to score a 10-2 victory in the 14U Diamond Nation World Series final.
Patterson was named the tournament Most Valuable Player after finishing a torrid 10-for-15 (.667) in Richmond County’s six games.
“I had a breakout tournament,” said Patterson, who admitted, “I really haven’t been hitting that great this summer.” Patterson looked like the diamond was his oyster as he was very difficult to deal with at the plate and on the bases. He went 2-for-3 in the championship game with a pair of singles, scored twice and stole three bases.
“Sometimes I give him a sign to go and other times I trust him to make a good decision,” said Richmond County coach John Giakas. “He’s an aggressive hitter and he keeps getting better.”
Patterson had plenty of help against the impressive Grizzlies and throughout the tournament. Burns delivered a backbreaking two-run triple to center field in a three-run bottom of the fifth inning that extended a 3-2 Richmond County lead to 6-2.
Burns also had an RBI single in Richmond’s four-run sixth that enabled the Nationals to secure the victory via the eight-run mercy rule. Nick Salmonese and A.J. Vigliotti also had RBI singles and in the sixth and Jack Tucker drove home a run with a sac fly.
Patterson led off the second inning with a single to right field, stole second and third base and scored on Salmonese’s two-out double to left-center field to give Richmond County a 2-1 lead. The Grizzlies tied the game in the top of the fourth when Ben Chiara drew a walk, stole second, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on a wild pitch.
But Patterson’s bat and legs went to work again in the bottom of the fourth to put the Nationals back in front, and this time for good. He singled to left field with one out, took second on a groundout, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.
A little under the radar in the final was the performance of starting pitcher Chris Field and reliever Burns. The two righthanders combined to limit the Grizzlies to two runs on two hits, struck out four and walked four. The Grizzlies had been averaging seven runs a game to that point.
Giakas had a difficult time determining who deserved the MVP trophy for his team, considering the performances of two other players.
Chris Fidanza won three games on the mound for Richmond County. He earned the win in relief in two pool play games then started and won the Nationals’ 11-1 victory in the semifinals over the Bucks County Generals.
“Chris did a great job for us,” said Giakas.
Cleanup hitter A.J. Vigliotti had a monster tournament at the plate as well. Vigliotti, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI in the championship game, went 7-for-12 (.583) in the tournament and drew seven walks. That gave him a gaudy .737 on-base percentage in the 14U Diamond Nation World Series.
“We’re peaking right now,” said Giakas. “We went to Florida and played teams from Georgia, Jacksonville and Miami and held our own. We’ve stepped up our play since we got back.”
The Nationals roster features all rising high school sophomores except Collin Kratzer, a rising freshman who pitched a gem against GBG Northeast 14U in the quarterfinals. Kratzer pitched a complete game against GBG in which he struck out eight.
Richmond County mashed for 11 hits in the championship game.
Jake Leonard singled in the first inning and Malik Little beat out an infield single in the third for the Grizzlies only hits. The Grizzlies scored both of their runs without the benefit of a hit. Jared Cafasso drew a leadoff walk in the second, reached second on a passed ball and scored on a wild pickoff attempt at first base.
Richmond County (6-0) outscored its tournament opponents 45-9. The Grizzlies (5-1) held a 36-24 runs advantage on their opponents.
Richmond County Baseball Club and Grizzlies Baseball Club are two well-coached programs from talent rich areas that frequent Diamond Nation. The Grizzlies have been known to feed the Pascack Hills High School (Montvale) program, which won the NJSIAA Group 2 championship this past June and finished No. 1 in the NJ.com Baseball Top 20.