Aidan Scannon of HTRBA roars as he rounds first base with the crowd celebrating behind him after hitting a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the 7th inning. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
July 4, 2018 – After being rained out on Tuesday, which forced HTRBA to play on Independence day, they would use their bats to put on a fireworks show for the fans in the bottom of the 7th inning with two outs to come from behind, topping Lawrence 6 to 3.
Coach Mike Septak explained it best, “I said it from it from the beginning we are 6 inning team, today it took 7, our kids never got down despite giving up that 2 run homer in the bottom of the sixth.”
The Mercerville Maulers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the 3rd inning when Aidan Scannon drove in 2 runs with a 2 out single up the middle scoring Chris Babkowski and Tyler Stefanowski who both reached on walks and advanced to second and third on a wild pitch.
From that point on it would looked as if that would be all the runs HTRC would need as starting pitcher Cole Pukla would hurl a gem behind his solid defense.
Pukala threw 5 and 1/3 inning of no-hit baseball keeping Lawrence off balance with a solid mix of speed and placement.
“The fastball was working well for me today and I was able to hit some corners for strikes,” explained Pukala.
He would get some help defensively in the 5th when shortstop Noali Ortiz flashed some serious leather, robbing a hit on a lighting rod one-hopper that he backhanded and gunned out the runner at first. It was the type of play that would have handcuffed a lot of major league shortstops and Ortiz made it look routine and preserved Pukala’s no-hit effort.
“I didn’t know that Cole had a no-hitter, when I saw the ball coming I just tried to move my glove in a position to knock it down, when I came up with it in my glove, I knew it was hit so hard that I could take my time and make a good throw, I really even didn’t get a chance to think about, said Ortiz.
Pukala would go into the 6th inning and retire the first batter at a pitch count of 82. Little League rules allow a maximum of 85 pitches per game, but let you finish the batter at the plate if you are under that number when he steps into the box.
The next hitter, however, would poke a seeing-eye single just out of the reach of the second basemen Tim Griegel ending the no-hitter for Cole Pukala and forcing HTRBA to bring in a new pitcher.
With one out the Mauler’s would turn to Babowski in an attempt to pick up the save.
But Lawrence had other ideas. They would tie the game in the sixth on a two runner homer and then ad a run in the top of the seventh to give them a 1 run lead, needing just three outs to claim victory.
HTRC still would have a game to spare if they suffered the loss, having come into the game with no loses in tournament play.
Then with two outs in the bottom of the 7th refusing to go down without fighting, Noali Ortiz singled to left field.
“At that point I was thinking, just swing to contact, I knew I needed to just get on base, however, I can, whether it was being hit by a pitch or a walk, but I knew if he threw a strike I had to put the ball in play” stated Ortiz.
The next batter Chris Babkowski showed he had nerves of steel and a keen sense for the umpires strike zone, when he took a 3-2 pitch that just missed the corner of the plate for a walk, putting runners on first and second.
In a move that pretty much-shocked everyone watching, Lawrence elected to intentionally walk Dan Leon to load up the bases hoping for a force in any direction, but it would leave their pitcher with no wiggle room as a walk could tie the game and a single could possibly lead to a loss.
That brought up the cleanup hitter Aidan Scannon, who already drove in both of HTRBA’s runs in the game.
Scannon worked a 3-1 count and on the next pitch got the fireworks in Hamilton Township started early in the day when he drove a belt-high fastball over the left field fence for a walk-off grand slam and keeping the Maulers hope alive for a second Distrcit 12 Title in 2 years.
“I knew he had to throw a strike so I just tried to make a good swing and let the bat do the work. I didn’t think it was going to go out but when I heard everyone screaming I knew it was gone”, said an ecstatic Scannon after the game.
Scannon would finish with 6 RBI’s which accounted for every Hamilton run scored in the game.
Lawrence now will have to get through Robbinsville, who knocked off Nottingham early in the day.
HTRBA will meet the winner of that game on Saturday, July 7th at noon.