By Greg Gulas
The defending NABF Junior (16-U) World Series champion Astro Falcons and Little B league runner-up Baird Brothers won their Saturday games to advance to today’s semifinals.
Action resumes today at 9 a.m. at Bob Cene Park.
Those wins guarantee that one local team will vie for this year’s crown. Baird Brothers (3-1) is the No. 2 seed and Astro Falcons (3-1), the No. 3 seed. They’ll play in one semifinal while the Toledo Hawks (4-0) will take on No. 4 seed Brooklyn Bonnie Rockets in the other.
The two winners will play a championship game at 11:30 a.m.
Baird and Falcons received strong pitching performances to advance.
The Falcons’ Chase Franken allowed just four hits and struck out four in six innings of work in a 12-2, six-inning win over Ohio Longhorns.
Baird’s Austin Vogt tossed a one-hitter, striking out 11 over six innings, for a 5-0 shutout of West New York Tigers.
Another local team, Prospects, dropped a 5-3 decision to Toledo Hawks to finish 0-4.
Astros manager Jason Triveri says his team is clicking on all cylinders right now. He’s pleased with his players’ pitching and offense, but elated about the defense.
Franken went six strong innings, scattering four hits, while Colin Balas, Vince Armeni, Connor Miller, Seth Velker and Mike Kushner each had two hits to pace the 13-hit attack.
Balas and Armeni play for the Ursuline High School and have been playing on the same team since they were 8 years old. They are formidable middle-infield combination that turned two key double plays.
A shortstop, Armeni had two hits including a double, drove in two runs and scored a run while Balas also had two hits including a double, and scored twice.
“I think we would rather turn a double play than hit and while it’s always fun to get on base and score, there’s just something about turning a double play,” Armeni said. “We told Chase to do his job and we’ll do ours.
“He’s an excellent pitcher and we always expect a ground ball to come our way,” Armeni said. “Double plays are huge because it’s two outs with just one pitch.”
Balas scored the initial run on Armeni’s groundout in the opening frame, with the Longhorns knotting the game an inning later on Franken’s wild pitch.
It was one of the few times he lost command of his pitch.
“I used a couple pitches today, my two-seam and cutter, that I hadn’t used in a while and was pleased with the results,” Franken said. “My mindset was to limit their runs because runs allowed is part of the equation for seeding.
“A pitcher’s best friend is the double play and both Vince and Colin are vacuums when a ball is hit their way. They are two of the very best middle infielders around.”
Astros sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth inning, scoring four times to forge a 5-1 lead.
A two-run double by Kushner and run-scoring single by Velker highlighted the frame.
Balas led off the sixth inning with a double, raced home when Armeni followed with a two-bagger. In all, the Falcons sent 12 batters to the dish, scoring seven more times for a 12-2 advantage.
Connor Miller plated a run with a triple and Ricky Harvill’s double sent another across the plate.
“When Chase is on the hill, you can expect to see your share of groundballs,” Balas said. “It’s fun to turn a double play with Vince and as a team we really played well today.”
Triveri said his team needed to play a complete game.
“Today we saw a lot of what we’ve seen all year and the past three years from this team. Everything from pitching, to offense to our defense, all areas performed well,” Triveri said. “This team seems to be at its best when their backs are against the wall.”
Vogt did not allow a hit until Jesus Santos led off the sixth inning with a single, helping Baird run their consecutive scoreless streak to 14 frames.
Andrew Vance led the team offensively with two hits, three runs batted in and a run scored, accounting for four of his team’s five tallies.
“I felt comfortable throwing my fast ball in any given situation,” Vogt said. “I had good control, just wanted to throw strikes and let them put it in play to let our defense work. We’re a confident group with a deep pitching staff, our defense is phenomenal and offensively we seem to come up big when we need a big hit.”
Vance is most impressed with his team’s scoreless streak.
“We came out ready to play and it showed,” he said. “It took us a while to get started, but this is an excellent pitching staff and our defense has done a great job as well.”
Assistant coach Randy Dominguez lauded the play of Jake Gehring, who had two hits and Sean Helpy’s aggressiveness on the bases in the sixth inning.
“Everyone on this team has worked really hard to get to this point,” Dominguez said. “We have just one, 16 year-old on the team so the 15 year-olds have plenty of experience against older players.
“This is a loose group that works hard every day and Baird Brothers is very important to them. This team definitely has a very bright future.”
The Hawks improved to 4-0 in the tournament, copping the top seed with their second win over a local team (they defeated Astro Falcons, 5-3 on Friday).
“We hit the ball much better today and I was pleased with that,” manager Brit Taylor said. “This team shut out the Astros so to put five runs on the board against them is a pretty good effort.”
Prospects pitcher Vincent Marimpietri went five innings and struck out five while Konnor Learn paced Prospects offensively with two hits, including a double and two runs batted in.