Allentown, PA – The eight-hour drive from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Stratford Northwestern Secondary School seemed twice as long for the driver, after iCASE Baseball Academy field manager/GM Tom Valcke wasn’t aware that, in ECTB tournaments, an intentional walk can be granted without the pitcher throwing the customary four pitches, and it cost his team a semi-final berth.
Tied 4-4 in the bottom of the final inning of the Sunday morning quarter-final, the New Jersey Edge lead-off hitter stroked a single to right field, and Huskies closer Ricardo Suarez walked the second hitter on pitch that many questioned. The Edge’s seventh hitter in the batting order then dropped a textbook sacrifice bunt that Suarez had no choice but to field it and throw out the batter-runner.
Now, with the winning run on third base, first base open and the eight and nine hitters coming up to the plate with one out, Valcke thought it best to give an intentional pass to the next batter, creating both a force out opportunity at the plate (versus a tag play), as well as a double play opportunity. An additional motivator to this strategy was that the on-deck batter had grounded out twice previously. Valcke instructed catcher Nick Feren to have Suarez throw four consecutive balls to set the stage, however, the first pitch sailed to the backstop and the runner on third trotted home to end the game on a tough note for the Huskies, who had played arguably their base game of the Fall.
“Note to self, read the tournament rules before we come to our next tourney in Penn,” quipped Valcke afterwards.
“Contrary to most people believing that baseball rules are baseball rules, any given tournament can have its unique ground rules or speed-up rules, and it important that coaches review them ahead of time. As it turned out in this case, all I had to do was to indicate to the plate umpire that I wanted the batter intentionally walked, and he would have sent him to first base without having to throw the traditional four pitches that coincide with normal baseball rules.”
“I felt bad for Ricardo, because we were all confident that he would step up in that clutch situation and induce that ground ball double play that could have sent us to extra innings. And with the way the boys played, they deserved that chance. I don’t take one-run losses well, and was actually kind of proud that we had won all three of our one-run decisions this Fall leading up to the Penn tourney.”
In Valcke’s defense, the ECTB tourney in Allentown was a last-minute rebound when the Michigan USSSA tournament chair called Valcke just a few days before iCASE’s originally-scheduled trip to Ann Ann Arbor to tell him that two teams had folded and the event was cancelled. Valcke spent a couple of days looking into possible options, and due to roster approval, insurance validation, accommodation and travel alterations, and iCASE players and coaches now needing to plan to miss school on the Friday due to the eight-hour trip to Allentown, the new alternative was only finalized the day before departure. With the other administrative matters that required looking after, it was understandable that scanning the fine print of ECTB rules fell to the back burner.
“Well, I suppose that could be seen as the reason, but it is not an excuse,” stated Valcke.
“But like I tell the players, it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. Making mistakes disappear versus repeat themselves is the name of this game.”
Down 1-0 heading into the top of the third inning, iCASE plated all four of its runs in a rally that began with a one-out base on balls to Yanik Leroux, followed by a sharp Suarez single that moved Leroux to second. Brady Schnarr, Colton Gill, and Chris Iltshishin hammered consecutive run-scoring singles, and Brody Higgs cashed in the fourth run with a double over the left fielder’s head. Nick Lannutti, Leroux, Jacob Babstock and Jules Herrell held the power-hitting, previously undefeated New Jersey squad to just four runs and four hits over the first five and one-third innings, before Suarez entered the game and got iCASE out of a sixth inning jam.
Schnarr, Feren, and Evan Lindsay chalked up the only hits for iCASE in its final qualifying game on Saturday night, as a crafty left-hander from the Central New Jersey Stampede shut down the Huskie offense in an 8-1 win. Iltshishin started the game on the mound, and dealt the Stampede all it could handle for the first four innings.
The New Jersy D1 Renegades defeated iCASE 8-3 in earlier action. After Higgs singled to lead off the second and then executed a perfect delayed steal, Suarez hit an opposite field single to open the Huskie scoring. Two batters later, Babstock drove home Suarez. iCASE threatened each inning but were thwarted in four rallies. In the seventh, Herrell lined to left to lead things off, swiped second, and came home on Gill’s second base hit of the game.
iCASE completed its Fall schedule with a 9-12 record, and given the quality of the competition south of the border, and that they also took on a handful of college teams, Valcke was pleased with the results.
“Of course we play every game to win, but the keys to this program are development, exposure to high-end competition in order to exploit our weaknesses, and exposure to college coaches and scouts so that our student-athletes get the recognition they deserve,” added Valcke.
“We travelled and played in five different states this Fall, saw some beautiful ballparks, received some outstanding campus tours, witnessed first-hand how first class ballplayers and programs conduct themselves, got to know each other both on and off the field, and improved dramatically from our first week in September through our closing week in early November. It was an A+ Fall as far as I am concerned.”