Lakewood Township, NJ (July 21st, 2014) – On a beautiful Monday evening in Southern New Jersey, the best players from the ABCCL took the field for the League’s annual All-Star game named in the honor of Captain Ryan K. Iannelli. Iannelli was a former ABCCL player described by others as selfless, passionate, and optimistic. It was no surprise that he decided to join the United States Marines after graduating from Oral Roberts University, where he showed the same kind of dedication he exhibited in his everyday life in the service of his country. While on duty in Afghanistan, Ryan was killed in action when the helicopter he was piloting crashed during a mission.
The group of players who took the field on Monday share many of the same characteristics – strength of character, dedication, sportsmanship – in addition to superior baseball skills, that made Ryan loved and respected by everyone he came into contact with as well as those who have simply heard his story.
Once they took the field, both the Larry Doby and Yogi Berra All-Star teams became locked in a pitching duel through the first eight innings, with neither side able to push across a single run.
The defenses also sparkled in the contest, beginning in the fifth inning when a heads-up play by the Berra infield prevented a run from scoring.
On the play, Rob DeAngelis (Staten Island, NY/ Ramapo College) stood at 3rd base as his Larry Doby teammate, Chris Nicastro (Kenilworth, NJ/ Southern Vermont College) grounded a ball to shortstop. DeAngelis initially held at the bag, then broke for home once the shortstop released the ball to first. Nicastro beat out the throw to first, but the first basemen immediately caught the ball and threw home, nailing the sliding DeAngelis at the plate.
The Larry Doby All-Stars made an impressive play of their own in the following inning. With two out, the batter lifted a high infield pop-up down the first base line. When none of the infielders claimed the ball, Doby catcher, Hunter Courson (Garland, Texas/ Sam Houston State University) sprinted far up the line and made a diving attempt at a catch. The ball popped out of his glove as Courson hit the ground, but remained airborne just long enough for the on-rushing first baseman to snare the horsehide before it hit the grass..
From the 6th inning on, five different pitchers on the Yogi Berra staff did not allow a hit. Liam Conboy (Old Tappan, NJ/ Susquehanna University) retired the three batters he faced and struck out one in the 7th. Other pitchers who saw game action for the Yogi Berra squad in the last two innings were Jared Neiheiser (Wyomissing, PA/ Albright University), Kevin Buell (Ocean Township, NJ/ Richard Stockton College), and Jon Torregozza (Bound Brook, NJ/ Montclair State University).
On the other side of the diamond, the Larry Doby All-Stars were just as effective on the mound for the first eight innings, not allowing a batter to reach base for five of those frames. Among the standouts were Colin Bohnert (Caldwell, NJ/ Rutgers University- New Brunswick), Jordan Del Sol (Elizabeth, NJ/ University of Massachusetts-Lowell), and Vincent Zanfordino (Edison, NJ/ Kean University).
In the top of the 9th inning, the Yogi Berra squad finally broke through with Tyler Dean (Dagsboro, DE/ University of Delaware) starting off the inning with a single to left center field. A hard-earned walk by Mike Rytelewski (Brick, NJ/ Widener University) and a single to left field off the bat of Vincent Cosenzo (North Caldwell, NJ/ University of Tampa) loaded the bases.
With the bags packed and one out, Nick Gonchar (Staten Island, NY/ Molloy College) lined a hard single to right field that gave the Yogi Berra All-Stars a 2-0 lead.
A single by John Savarise (Chicago, IL/ Northern Illinois University) added another run and a matching single by Eric Spires (Medford, NJ/ Seton Hall University) made it 4-0. When the inning was complete, the scoreboard read 5-0 in favor of the Berra All-Stars, which would prove to be the final score.
At the conclusion of the game the MLB scouts in attendance voted for the game’s Most Valuable Position Player and Pitcher. Using professional evaluation criteria and factoring in performances during the game as well as the pre-game player workout, Larry Doby catcher, Hunter Courson was awarded position player honors. Courson went 1 for 2 at the plate and had two stolen bases. He also showed impressive receiving skills and a strong throwing arm. Speaking after the game, Courson talked about his experience, “It was very cool coming from Texas, being able to play with some of the best players from New Jersey. It was a real honor and really fun to see everyone from around the League and something I won’t forget.”
Courson’s teammate on the Doby All-Stars, Brian Stepniak (Dallas, PA/ University of Hartford) received the scouts’ nod as the night’s top pitcher. During his stint on the mound the big righthander used his 90+ mph fastball and diving slider to strike out two of the three batters he faced. Asked how he stood out from the other pitchers in the game, Brian said modestly, “Judging by the performances out there tonight I don’t think there was very much difference between the pitchers. Anyone of us could have received the award and I’m sure we all would have been satisfied. From what the coaches told me, I guess I was throwing pretty hard, so perhaps that influenced the scouts a little bit.” He added, “It was an honor to take part in the All-Star Game.”
After the game, Dave Angebranndt, one of the coaches of the winning Yogi Berra team commented on the overall experience, saying “It’s a nice atmosphere to get all of the best guys in the League the opportunity to display their talents.” Asked if there was any difference coaching this game versus a regular season game, he said “It’s not much different. In both situations I’m there as a facilitator. I try to make constructive suggestions and pass along some knowledge I’ve gained over the years, but ultimately it’s up to the players to work hard and do the best they can do. It’s all about them.”
Eric Duncan, head coach of the Larry Doby All-Stars delivered a similar message, stating “Playing to win is secondary to providing the opportunity for these players to perform in front of pro scouts and coaches. It’s not something that’s just been handed to them, it’s something they’ve earned and that’s what’s important.” In response to how his team felt with pro-scouts looking on, he said “A lot of them have already played in front of scouts and in high pressure situations. So you hope that they don’t let that kind of attention negatively impact the way they play.”
Overall, it was a great night of baseball with the final score just a sidebar for each player who had the opportunity to play in a beautiful park, on a perfect night, and compete with the kind of passion that would undoubtedly have made Captain Ryan Iannelli proud.