By perfectly executing a squeeze bunt with the bases loaded in the second inning, the Blackwood Kiwanis Little League 10-11 all-star team demonstrated the type of smart, fundamental baseball that had taken the team all the way to the Region 4 finals.
Later in the inning, all thoughts of small-ball were put aside as one big swing changed everything.
Jared Colbert blasted a grand slam as part of a six-run second inning, propelling Blackwood to a 6-1 win over Millville and a birth in next week’s state tournament.
“It just felt real good to hit it because I hadn’t hit one in awhile,” said Colbert, who added that he knew it was gone on contact. “It got the team up and that’s when we started rolling.”
Once the ball cleared the fence, the Blackwood players raced out of the dugout toward home plate, while coaches and fans jumped for joy as if they could sense the game had shifted for good.
“It was huge,” Blackwood manager Ben Zanghi said. “In the first inning I think everybody was a little tight and once we got that lead our pitching even calmed down.”
Colbert couldn’t help but smile as he circled the bases.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this feel great,’” Colbert said.
The grand slam was more than enough run support for Dylan Maria, who pitched 4 2/3 strong innings, allowing just a single run in the first. Marc-Anthony Rodriguez entered in the fifth when Maria reach his pitch count maximum and proceeded to strike out all five batters he faced.
“Marc-Anthony is unbelievable,” Zanghi said. “He is something special. We know that if we are ahead and he is coming out to close it, 99 percent of the time we are going to win it.”
Macen Collins got the second-inning rally started with a leadoff double and moved to third on a groundout by Alex Zanghi. Mark Cotton was hit by a pitch and Bobby Mullan walked to load the bases for Josh Rosa. On the first pitch he saw, Rosa laid down a perfect bunt that scored Collins to tie the game at 1-1. Jake McDonnell followed with an RBI single, then Colbert broke the game open with his long home run.
“I was just telling everybody he was due,” said Collins. “It was awesome.”
“It’s amazing,” Ben Zanghi said. “They are a great group of boys. Everybody contributes and you never know who is going to be the star of the game. It seems like each night it’s a different guy. … From our smallest guy to our biggest guy, they all make an impact. We had a suicide bunt and then a towering grand slam, so they touch on every facet of the game. They play solid defense and we have great pitching so it all comes together.”
Thanks to Maria and Rodriguez, Millville never got a runner in scoring position the rest of the way. All that was left for Blackwood was to celebrate a section title.
“It feels great that we are champs,” said Maria.
Blackwood will begin its run for a state title Monday in Red Bank.
Said Colbert: “I can’t wait!”