BRISTOL - A day after suffering a brutal loss to Washington D.C. in the Little League Mid-Atlantic Regional, New Jersey needed to bounce back quickly before Tuesday’s game against Maryland.
Fighting elimination, New Jersey head coach Jairo Labrador told his team to stay loose and forget about the three-run walk-off homer on Monday that sent their team to the elimination bracket.
“That’s just baseball,” Labrador said. “I told them that we’re here for a reason. They’re battlers, they’re city boys. I knew they would be fine. It’s baseball, and they’re here to have fun.”
New Jersey’s players certainly enjoyed themselves on Tuesday, scoring four runs in the third inning to back up a dominant Yady Mateo for a 4-1 win, securing a date with Pennsylvania on Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Mateo went the distance, allowing just two hits, striking out eight and needing just 64 pitches to keep New Jersey alive. Fifty-one of those pitches found the strike zone.
“That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen when the team needed him the most,” Labrador said of Mateo’s outing.
New Jersey gave Mateo all the run support he would need in the top of the third, putting runners on second and third with one out to set up a decisive rally.
Josiah Sharpe started the frame with a walk and advanced to third on a lazer single up the middle by Sal Garcia and a fielder’s choice by J.R. Rosado. Mateo followed and helped his own cause by dunking a single into right center to put New Jersey ahead 2-0.
Mateo immediately advanced to third on a double down the left field line by Jayden Capinidica, putting runners at second and third again and putting an end to Maryland starter Chase Shepherd’s day.
“It felt good,” Capindica said of his two-bagger to knock Shepherd out of the game. “(Monday) was rough after the game, just thinking about what happened. We just tried to come back with a vengeance, and we did that.”
Shepherd was relieved by Cannan Napp, who was greeted with a two-run double deep to right field by Derek Escobar, putting a cap on a four-run outburst that saw eight Jersey batters come to the plate.
Once a pitcher’s duel early on, New Jersey’s 4-0 lead suddenly felt like an insurmountable deficit, mainly because of the pitching of Mateo.
The big righty breezed through three hitless innings, striking out six batters during that stretch, including four straight looking.
Maryland finally broke through when Caden McKinney led off with a single in the bottom of the fourth, but New Jersey’s defense ensured that Mateo’s shutout would remain intact.
Second baseman Yamil Soto laid out for a diving catch on a line drive off the bat of David Harkins, and after Mateo’s seventh strikeout of the game, a wild pitch bounced off the backstop and right back to the catcher Rosado, who fired a strike to second base to catch McKinney and end the inning.
Mateo’s wild pitch came in his first two-ball count of the game.
“I felt great,” Mateo said. “I haven’t had a performance like that since our last state game. It was great to go out there and perform and throw strikes.”
Maryland couldn’t find any offensive momentum against Mateo, but it did have a sparkling defensive play by Shepherd at third base.
Just days after his teammate McKinney was featured on SportsCenter for his full extension diving stop at the hot corner earlier in the tournament, Shepherd snagged a heat-seeking short hop off the bat of Mateo on his glove side, knocking him to the ground before recovering to throw out Mateo by inches, in a web gem that was confirmed after video review.
With a tiring Mateo on the mound in the bottom of the sixth, Fruitland pushed across its first run thanks to a leadoff triple by Aidan Davis and an RBI groundout by Chase Hurley. But Mateo immediately returned to his dominant form, forcing a pair of groundouts to finish the day and keep New Jersey alive in the tournament.
Mateo’s performance put him at 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball with 12 strikeouts and just one walk for the tournament thus far.
“We knew we had to come back, and that’s what I tried to do, just locate on the mound and get hits at the plate,” Mateo said. “I was glad to have their backs. They’re a great team to play with.”