Friday, April 13th, 2018


The 66-team April Blast Tournament at Diamond Nation this weekend will very likely be remembered for two things, strong, competitive baseball and the first real blast of spring weather in New Jersey.

We’ll focus on our expertise here at Diamond Nation for now and that’s baseball. The April Blast gets underway during a busy Friday night that boasts doubleheaders in four age groups; 11U, 12U, 13U and 14U. Our 10U field will wait until Saturday morning for the first pitch in that tournament.

The 10U April Blast opens play at 8 a.m. on Saturday as the N.J. Renegades square off with RBI Lightning on Field 5A and NJ Baseball faces the Diamond Jacks 10U on Field 5B. The entire 10U tournament will be held on Fields 5A and 5B and the 10U championship game is set for 6:30 p.m. on Sunday on Field 5A.

The GoWags Generals and the NJ Axeman complement the strong 10U bracket.

The 11U April Blast opens play on Friday with a 6:30 p.m. and an 8:30 p.m. doubleheader on Field 6. The Diamond Jacks Gold 11U plays host to the Morris County Cubs in the first game of the night and ASBA Downingtown collides with the Brooklyn Bulldogs Orange in the nightcap. The 11U championship game will be held at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday on Field 2.

The Central New York Naturals, Legends Prospects, All-Out Pack Marcucci and the New Rochelle Knights are among the contenders in the 11U bracket.

The 12U April Blast opens play with a pair of 6:30 p.m. games on Friday. The Richmond County Baseball Club Nationals opposes Team X on Field 2 and the Diamond Jacks Super 12U play Frazier Sox on Field 5A. That 16-team field pares down to a championship game on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on Field 6.

The 12U field is deep and includes such frequent Diamond Nation playoff qualifiers as Legends Prospects, 9ers Baseball Club, South Jersey Elite Orange and the Lumberkings.

There will be some familiar faces in the 13U April Blast openers on Friday on Field 4. The Diamond Jacks Gold 13U and Morris County Cubs begin play in the 13U tournament at 6:30 p.m. Jersey Boyz Baseball and Hit And Run Outlaws take the field next at 8:30 p.m. The 16-team 13U bracket plays its championship game at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday on Field 1.

Other strong contenders in the 13U field to keep your eye on are the Bergen Thunder, Evoshield Canes North Atlantic and the Diamond Jacks Super 13U.

The 14U April Blast gets its tournament underway with a Friday night doubleheader on Field 1. The Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy Prospects take on the Diamond Jacks Super 14U at 6:30 p.m. Jersey Boyz Baseball and 9ers Baseball Club 2022 follow with an intriguing opener at 8:30 p.m. The 14U tournament championship game is set for 6:30 p.m. on Sunday on Field 4.

The 14U bracket brings together a strong group of teams that also features the PA Shockers, Keystone War Eagles, Falcons Baseball Showcase and All-Out Pack.


By Bob Behre

Hunterdon Central (2-0) struck for three runs in the top of the eighth inning to outlast Immaculata in a wild, wind-affected game at Diamond Nation on April 6th.

While the Morristown-Chatham game had heavy winds blowing in on the opposite side of the scout tower at the center of the complex, this Skyland Conference battle saw winds blowing out toward the outfield fences, subsequently six home runs were launched.

Matt Taylor drew a bases-loaded walk to put Hunterdon Central in front, 10-9 in the eighth and Dan Icaza followed with a two-run double into the left-center field gap to boost the lead to 12-9.

Immaculata first baseman Alex Antigua, a longtime Diamond Jack, unloaded three home runs in the game and drove in eight runs, including a game-tying grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Sophomore lefty reliever Ben Iervolino, who surrendered the grand slam to Antigua, closed out Immaculata in the eighth to pick up his first high school win.

Hunterdon Central had erupted for six runs in the top of the sixth inning to take what looked like a commanding 9-4 lead, but Antigua, who already had smacked a three-run bomb in a four-run Immaculata bottom of the first, went right back to work.

The lefty hitting Antigua ripped an opposite field solo blast to left-center field that drew Immaculata (1-1) within 9-5. Then Hunterdon Central reliever Ryan Fischer walked two batters as Immaculata loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh.

Antigua stepped in against Iervolino and latched onto a fastball on the outside half and sent it flying over the left field fence to tie the game at 9-9. It was his second opposite field home run of the game and the Spartans bench swarmed Antigua as he arrived to home plate.

“Alex has had major focus on the things he’s been working on at the plate,” said Immaculata coach Kevin Cust, “and it’s showing. He’s a great kid so it’s awesome to see him get results. If he had another at bat he might have hit another one.”

Hunterdon Central coach Kevin Cuozzi was still trying to piece together the wild win for his team the morning after. “I can’t do it without a scorebook,” said Cuozzi. “It was crazy.”

A game that shaped up as an attractive pitcher’s duel between Immaculata lefthander Nolan Leger and Hunterdon Central’s Kentucky bound righthander Alex Degen changed in one swing of the bat by the Spartans’ leadoff hitter Mike Golankiewicz. The lefty hitting Golankiewicz hooked a Degen fastball well over the right field fence for a quick 1-0 lead. Antigua followed later in the inning with a three-run bomb to right.

“They got to Degen right away,” said Cuozzi. “They’re a good fastball hitting team. We just tried to piece it together from there.”

Degen settled in while Hunterdon Central struck for three runs in the third to draw within a run then exploded in the sixth. Dan Rini led off the sixth with a game-tying solo home run to right, Tyler Cassella singled home the go-ahead run and Garrison LeGros singled home Cassella to boost the lead to 6-4.

Junior Pete Ciuffreda then stepped in and unleashed a three-run home run to right to cap the six-run rally.

So, a prospective pitcher’s duel turned into a 21-run, 23-hit affair where these two teams, perhaps, stamped themselves as the teams to beat in the rugged Skyland Conference. The best part of all is the prospect of the next meeting between these two talented squads.

“Sure, it’s a tough loss, but we showed we’re a team that’s going to be tough to beat,” said Cust of his Spartans. “I think we’ve got something going this year. We’re confident and we’re not scared of anyone.”


By Bob Behre

Myles Vasquez pitched four strong innings of relief as the Brooklyn Bonnie Paws held off a late Crossbridge Raiders rally on the way to an entertaining 4-3 victory in the 14U King of the Diamond championship game on Sunday night at Diamond Nation.

Righthander Jonathan Larrea came in with runners on second and third and two outs and induced a grounder to shortstop Antonio Pena, who made an outstanding play to barely get Ryan DiMaggio at first to end the game. Pena had to range into the hole, backhand the ball and fire to first to get DiMaggio on a bang-bang play.

Pena opened the game by pitching two scoreless innings as he struck out five with an electric fastball and walked two before giving way to Vasquez. While the Bonnie Paws were building a 4-1 lead through six innings, Vasquez limited Crossbridge to two runs on four hits, struck out two and walk three over four-plus innings of relief.

Vasquez was named the 14U King of the Diamond Most Valuable Player for his outstanding performance.

But Crossbridge, which boasts a talented team made up of players from both sides of the Delaware River, rallied in the top of the seventh inning to put Brooklyn’s championship bid at risk.

Colin Cross drew a leadoff walk against Vasquez, forcing Bonnie Paws coach Michael Joseph to immediately go to his bullpen. Dylan Hildabrands followed with an infield hit in the shortstop hole. Reliever Arjun Joseph then induced a groundout and struck out the next batter to get Brooklyn an out away from the championship. Joseph then walked leadoff batter Jack Kraemer to load the bases.

Joseph appeared to extricate himself from the rall unscathed when Charlie Chropuvka lifted a fly ball to shallow left field. The left fielder, charging in, got his glove on the ball but couldn’t hold on as Cross and Colin Myers scored to shave the deficit to 4-3. Coach Joseph then called on Larrea, who barely escaped, with help from his teammate Pena, to give his  team the championship.

“Our guys played well,” said coach Joseph. “It was a team effort. We had a lot of key hits in pool play when our bats really carried us. But it was defense and pitching that won it for us in the playoffs. We had six or seven guys who really did a good job.”

Brooklyn reached Crossbridge’s starter, the righty Kraemer, on Arjun Joseph’s RBI single to right-center field in the bottom of the first. But Kraemer got out of further trouble in the inning despite surrendering three walks and two hits. The Bonnie Paws extended the lead to 3-0 in the fourth after Kraemer allowed a single to Johnny Ortiz (2-for-3) and walked Daniel King to start the inning. Larrea drew a bases loaded walk to force home Ortiz and King scored when Vasquez hit into a double play.

Crossbridge got on the board in the top of the fifth on Kraemer’s sac fly. Hildebrands reached on an infield single, advanced to second on Colin Myers’ walk, moved to third on Elliott Puckett’s fielder’s choice grounder and scored on Kraemer’s fly to right field.

Pena extended the Brooklyn lead to 4-1 in the fifth almost single handedly. He drew a leadoff walk, stole second and third and scored on an infield error.

The Bonnie Paws went 5-0 in the tournament and outscored their opponents 58-16. It edged the Diamond Jacks Gold 14U, 9-8, in the semifinals. Crossbridge was 4-1 and held a 54-18 edge on its opponents.

The Diamond Jacks Super 13U rallied for three runs in the seventh to tie Valley Baseball, 4-4, and scored a run in the eighth to win, 5-4, in capturing the 13U King of the Diamond championship. Lefthander Nick Losada, who picked up the victory in the final with an outstanding effort in relief, was named the 13U tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The South Jersey Young Guns put forth a dominating performance on their way to 12U King of the Diamond title. The Young Guns went 5-0 and outscored their opponents 60-11. The Young Guns’ Miguel Herb was named the 12U tournament Most Valuable Player.

The Diamond Jacks Super 11U nailed down the 11U championship in an 11-3 victory over the Morris County Cubs in the final. The 4-0 Diamond Jacks held a 45-17 advantage in runs over its opponents. The Super 11U’s Yadi Mateo’s outstanding effort earned him the 11U tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.

South Jersey Elite Orange ran the table in the 10U field, posting a 5-0 record while outscoring its opponents 67-19. The South Jersey squad defeated Hit Brigade, 11-3, in the championship game. The South Jersey team’s Brett Jackson was named the 10U tournament Most Valuable Player.

The Next Level Riversox (2-2, 37-29) shut out South Jersey Elite Orange then nipped Sandlot Baseball Academy, 10-7, to secure the 9U King of the Diamond title. Jake Howe was named the 9U King of the Diamond Most Valuable Player.