By Don Leypoldt
Stick “good pitching beats good hitting” into Google and you get 128,000 hits.
128,000 people can’t be wrong. On a beautiful night at North Shore’s historic Fraser Field, the East All-Stars beat the West 3-1 on a night dominated by pitching and defense.
Both starters- East’s Justin Wiley and West’s Jeff Thompson pitched like…they deserved to start the All-Star Game.
“I wasn’t expected to start,” said Wiley (Iona/Laconia) who replaced an injured Hunter Rivers (Jacksonville State/North Shore). “I pitched against Newport quite a few times this year. The Newport coach showed a lot of positive interest in me. He called my coach and asked me to start the All Star Game. He was looking out for me and helping me out.”
“It means, I got lucky I guess.” said the 6’6” Thompson humbly. “I had a couple of good outings. Some of the coaches recognized that and they put me in this role.” Thompson’s 49 strikeouts were second best in the NECBL.
“I’m definitely figuring out a lot about my mechanics and my cutter has been my big pitch this year,” observed Wiley, who brought a 3-1 record and a 2.43 ERA into the game. “That’s what I’ve been successful with so far. Pounding the strike zone, and especially with the defense I have behind me. That helps a lot.”
Offered Thompson, “I’m just commanding my fastball and working on that. I’m using my slider too, to try to get strikeouts. I’m working on spotting up and using all my pitches.
Wiley threw a very efficient inning, inducing three routine ground balls. Thompson was also perfect, recording a strikeout and two ground ball outs. He used that slider effectively.
West had runners at the corners with two outs in the top of the second. 3B Brett Doran (Stanford/Laconia) hit a Baltimore Chop; third sacker Tom Richards (Washington State/Newport) made a nice play to charge the ball and fire across the diamond. His Gull teammate first baseman Mike Kiene (Maryland) made the scoop to quash the scoring chance.
East’s A.J. Bazdanes (Maine/Sanford) continued the excellent pitching by fanning the first two batters he faced; however, West CF Tanner Krietemeier (Nebraska/Danbury) reached first on an error. Bazdanes forced a ground ball to his shortstop Jack Reinheimer (East Carolina/Newport), who stepped on second for the force and fired to first for his fourth assist in three innings.
“We get here really early to take a lot of ground balls and I try to take every rep like it’s a game situation,” Reinheimer, the game’s MVP, stated. “That way, you’re as prepared as you can be so when it comes time for the game, it comes easy.”
Reinheimer, who called winning the MVP award “very humbling”, proved to be no slouch at the plate either. He followed catcher Tim Quinn’s (Assumption/Old Orchard) single with a one-out double in the bottom of the third.
“You try to see the ball the best you can,” Reinheimer explained. “It was a fastball and I got my hands through it. It happened.”
“I think here, since its an All-Star Game, you’re not trying to take too many pitches. If you see a pitch you can drive, you try to hit it since you’re only getting one or two at bats. You’re not going to swing at any off-speed stuff,” Quinn noted.
Quinn continued, “The tough part was catching, since you don’t know any of the pitchers. You’re running out to the mound and meeting the guy right before he has to start throwing.”
Quinn scored on a fielding error off the bat of CF Kyle Johnson (Washington State/Newport), who ran a blistering 6.50 60-yard dash earlier in the afternoon. 2B Brett Mollenhauer’s (Radford/Sanford) single plated Reinheimer and gave the East a 2-0 lead.
The NECBL’s strikeout leader, Chris Costantino (Walters State/Laconia) came into the top of the fourth for the East and fittingly fanned two of the three batters he faced in his 1-2-3 frame.
The West struck in the top of the fifth. 1B Trey Mancini (Notre Dame/Holyoke) reached on an error and went to second on Doran’s opposite field single. 2B Paul McConkey (Kentucky/Holyoke) drilled a double to right center. Mancini scored but a cannon-like relay from Johnson to Mollenhauer to catcher Andy Lalli (Central Connecticut State/New Bedford) nipped Moran at the plate and drew the largest share of “oohs” from the crowd to that point.
Johnson led off the bottom of the fifth with a double down the left field line, moved to third on Mollenhauer’s ground out and scored on Eric Jagielo’s (Notre Dame/North Shore) RBI grounder.
The East’s Michael Dimock (Wake Forest/Newport) pitched a 1-2-3 top of the seventh, making it the first perfect half frame since the top of the fourth. He was aided by 2B Mike Connolly’s (Maine/New Bedford) snazzy defense when Connolly charged towards the pitcher’s mound, fielded a grounder and fired across his body to nail batter Rob Griffith (Sacred Heart/Vermont).
But the West would counter with their own pitching and defense. West LHP Matt Whitehouse (UC Irvine/Vermont) also threw a perfect inning, fanning one. LF Jacob Daniel (Eastern Kentucky/ North Adams) made a diving catch at the warning track off of slugger Mike Montville’s (Maryland/Sanford) drive to preserve the 1-2-3 frame.
Tyler Mizenko (UConn/Sanford), the Giants’ 28th round selection in this past June’s draft, continued the arms’ build-up by firing a perfect top of the eighth.
Not all of the gaudy arms belonged to pitchers. West catcher Joe Hudson (Notre Dame/Mystic) ended the bottom of the eighth but gunning down a would be base stealer at second. His teammate and fellow backstop Tom Murphy (Buffalo/Holyoke) ended the bottom of the sixth in the same fashion.
Sam Dodge (Harvard/New Bedford) picked up the save with a scoreless ninth. Bazdanes was the pitcher of record when the East scored the go-ahead runs. The whole contest took just 2:20.
The game was a far cry from last year’s slugfest, which the East won 10-0. Over a dozen Major League scouts witnessed the two team’s pitchers combining for 19 strikeouts and yielding just four runs.
Also in attendance among the large crowd were Wiley’s father and grandfather, who made the several hour trip from his Northern New York hometown, despite the short notice.
The meaning of the game was not lost on the players. “Oh man…It means a whole lot,” responded Quinn on participating. “I’ve been in the League for three years and this is my first All-Star game. It means a lot considering how many great players come through this League. It’s real special.”
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