By Bob Behre
Applying pressure at every turn, the Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy Prospects rolled to the 17/18U Halloween Mash tournament championship at Diamond Nation on Sunday.
Utilizing consistently stingy pitching and an aggressive offensive attack, LVBA went 4-0 in tournament play, including a 14-4 victory over Wladyka Baseball Blue in the championship game.
Righthander Steven Hoyer contained the potent Wladyka (2-1) bats in the final, limiting the Bergen County program to four runs, two of which were earned, over four innings while striking out five and walking three. Connor Sikora closed out the 14-4, 5-inning victory by striking out the Wladyka side in order in the fifth.
Marcus Nales and Colin Houck boasted a live bat throughout the tournament and each delivered a two-run double in the championship game. “The icing on the cake was Andrew Lievendag’s triple,” said LVBA coach Rick Frankenfield. Lievendag ripped a three-run triple to turn a 9-4 lead into a 12-4 bulge for LVBA.
The championship victory showcased LVBA’s ability to steal bases at will, create havoc with small ball and deliver the big, timely hit. “Speed puts pressure on defenses and we have a lot of it,” said Frankenfield. “We set up so many of our runs with our feet.” In fact, LVBA drove its opponents nuts all weekend with its small-ball approach while stealing 22 bases.
Nales and Houck stepped up all tournament and each came through in timely fashion in a 6-4 nail biting tournament opener against the Complete Game Colonials. Houck, in fact, unloaded a solo home run in a game the Prospects rallied from a 2-1 deficit. “Houck really caught all of that one,” said Frankenfield. “He launched it.”
Nales added an RBI triple before relievers Sikora and Dom Mayorka each pitched a scoreless inning to close out the 6-4 victory over the Colonials.
It was Adam Schultz’s turn to take over a game as the righty stifled 9ers Baseball Club, 7-0, in a three-hit shutout. Schultz struck out eight and walked one in the tidy performance. While Noles chipped in with a double and Houck had an RBI single, LVBA took the basepaths by storm against the 9ers.
“I’ve never had a team that could run like this one in my 15 years of coaching travel baseball,” said Frankenfield. “We have seven guys running sub-7s. Our shortstop (Nales) runs a 6.65.” That aggressive play, combined with a very effective pitching staff is reflected in the team’s 42-8-4 record since the start of the summer season in June.
Frankenfield has been blessed to have such unique talent as Ben Piripavic and Antonio Vapala, who are the only players to play the past three seasons for LVBA’s 17/18U squad.
“We’ve played seven tournaments at Diamond Nation and only missed the medal round once,” said Frankenfield. “We played in two finals and made the semis three other times. We also won a big tournament in Maryland.”
LVBA Prospects, based in Allentown, Pa., outscored their Halloween Mash tournament opponents 34-8.