Last chance for kids in NYBC qualifier

Late-night games don't faze kids who want to win

Last chance for kids in NYBC qualifier

YAPHANK, N.Y. -- While the National Youth Baseball Championships Last Chance Qualifier continued it's round robin schedule Sunday, the Baseball Youth NYBC last qualifying challenge tournament determined who would be advancing to next week's national stage.

Four 12-U teams emerged from the 12 teams competing, escaping a pool play, single-elimination bracket that didn't end until past midnight. But the kids seemed unfazed by the condensed multiple-game regimen and produced two well-played semifinal contests Sunday afternoon.

To begin the day, the Eastern Massachusetts All-Stars defeated the Long Island Titans, 4-2, producing two strong pitching performances from starters Connor Bryan and Tom Carr, which set the tone for the qualifying tournament's finale.

Eastern Massachusetts received run support with a two-run homer from Jordan Kjonickson and the All-Stars, which are selected from the New England area, tacked on two more insurance runs with some hard-fought singles. That was all that was need for Bryan, who spun six innings and struck out nine for the victory.

Donald Willie opened the scoring for the Titans -- based out of Suffolk County, N.Y. -- with a two-run double off the wall, but then Bryan started to shut them down. Their best chance to tie the game came in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and nobody out. Bryan bore down, striking out the next two batters and inducing a ground ball for third out.

"Connor pitched an incredible game, got some key hits, the kids held it together in tight spots," said head coach Adam Wnukowski. "They came through especially in the end there with the bases loaded with no outs -- they held it together. It was a great team effort, a good team win, good memory for the kids."

The Titans, coached by Tom Carr, could hold their heads high for two reasons, though. Before facing their closest competition in the two run victory, Eastern Massachusetts -- which hadn't practiced as a full team before the tournament -- had outscored its three previous opponents, 39-8. Later, the Titans' moral victory turned into something more.

Because the All-Star team -- which is already committed to playing in a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., in two weeks -- is a non-profit organization, it won't have the financial ability to bring the kids back for next week's national Baseball Youth NYBC tournament. It was decided then that the Titans would take their spot and compete in their place.

"Win or lose, just the way the kids played, and what they learned from … understanding about failures, and attitude and mental stuff. It's great stuff," said Wnukowski.

"We preach, above all, the values of life," he said. "They're all these really good ballplayers but now they're just another baseball player on a team and it's really hard to make these kids understand it's about 'team' and not 'me.' I thought they did a pretty good job. This tournament is one we like to come to."

The second semifinal boasted another pitchers' duel as well as some late-inning dramatics when Team B.E.A.S.T defeated Team Diamond Jacks Super, 2-1, on a walk-off walk.

After throwing a complete game, allowing just three hits and a game-tying run in the sixth inning, Tim McHugh saw his offense bail him out to end the game victoriously. With a runner on third and two outs, Diamond Jacks head coach Kevin Cust -- the brother of former Oakland Atheltic Jack Cust -- decided to intentionally walk the next two B.E.A.S.T. hitters to load the bases. Reliever Tyler Joseph then walked Ethan Farino to let in the winning run.

"He's awesome," said head coach Peter Kritikos of McHugh. "He and [Jake Krzemienski], they're both our aces. They're pitcher 1A and 1B in no particular order. They just know how to command the game. It's made our job easy."

The walk-off was technically their second of the day, when Frankie Massa hit the game winner at about 1:30 a.m for Team B.E.A.S.T, which stands for Be Elite Advanced Sports Training, based out of Commack, N.Y. The players, unlike Eastern Massachusetts, have played together since they were all 7 years old, so the victory packed many memories.

"It's great that [we] get to coach them," said Kritikos. "Having their parents here, and they barbecue every night, they hang out together, it's great, it's one big family."

Both teams will now return to the Baseball Heaven complex next weekend to compete against some of the top travel teams in the country for the ultimate prize. The games will continue to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and stream online at MLB.com, including the Baseball Youth NYBC All-Star tournament, which concludes Monday night.

In its first six seasons, the NYBC Challenge tournament has seen winners hail from California, Texas, and Florida. Both New York teams know their work will be cut out for them but will take solace in their minimal travel back to the Long Island complex.

"I'm getting excited already," said Kritikos. "I'll let them enjoy this for a day and then we'll get back out on the field and figure out what we've got to do for next week."

That's regular life for travel ball families and their young players. Momentary enjoyment and relaxation before heading back to the field for more practice, more games, and more tournaments. All in a year's work.

Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.