By Kyle Koso
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – When a pitching staff can tackle championship day with its best stuff, it’s a stiff challenge for the opposition.
The NINES Baseball Academy 13u squad (CA) kept it simple Sunday in the D1 Platinum title game at the 2023 SlumpBuster, letting pitchers Sebastian Joseph and Ramon Hinojosa control the action against the 5 Star 2028 Scout Team (FL) as the NINES secured a 7-5 victory at the Council Bluffs Rec Complex. Amazingly, Joseph and Hinojosa combined to ring up 20 strikeouts in the contest, a number boosted by a couple dropped third strikes that extended some innings for 5 Star but also a number that showed how hard it was to make progress.
And to the Florida team’s credit, it used every productive at-bat to its maximum, coming back to tie the game at 3-all in the second inning and trailing just 6-5 after the fourth inning. But Hinojosa proved to be an overwhelming force in his four innings of relief, allowing three hits and three walks but just one run, to go with 12 strikeouts.
On the way to the Sunday championship game, the No. 4-seeded NINES beat No. 1 Golden Spikes Shockers in the semis, and the pitching staff had all options open thanks to complete-game efforts from Nico Adames, Preston Hillis and Robert Jurado.
“This is just the way we like it. Great for the kids and a great experience,” said NINES coach Duke Zielinski.
Joseph and Brody Abbott scored in the top of the first for NINES; three unearned run in the next two innings allowed the California squad to boost the lead, but a double from Justin Waite and a single from Tony Familia kept 5 Star in the fight.
Offensively, NINES rode the hot bat of Roco Gonzalez, who doubled twice while hitting ninth in the order to bring in critical runs in the third and sixth innings.
“I was looking to hit a fastball, just drive it and take it the other way,” Gonzalez said. “It was team (from Florida), but it’s just another team – we want to play and win. We knew we had Ramon ready to come out of the bullpen, and we’d be able to hit whoever they threw. Our goal coming here was to win this tournament.”
“Roco saw a lot of fastballs, that’s why we put him in that place,” Zielinski said. “He’s a great fastball hitter, and he had a lot of success.”
But the lingering memory from this 13u D1 title showdown will be Hinojosa’s work out of the bullpen. Able to spot his searing fastball and change speeds when necessary, he tore through the 5 State batting order.
“When I go in there, I just pitch. Some days I’m on, some days I’m not,” Hinojosa said. “When I’m on, I stay locked in and try not to think too much. We stayed at the same hotel as (5 Star), hanging out with them, and we both knew we’d make it to the finals. I’m sure both sides were hoping to win it. Sebastian pitched really good today, and also yesterday.”
“Ramon is Ramon – he’s electric in everything he does,” Zielinski added. “He’s the nicest, quietest kid, but he is electric when you get him on the baseball field.”
For the NINES, Andres Roberts had three hits, a run and an RBI, and Cole Bargagliotti added a hit and an RBI.