No holes in New Jersey’s lineup

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette New Jersey’s Chris Cartnick is congratulated by his third base coach after hitting a two-run home run in the sixth inning during a game against Connecticut on Thursday. (MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette)

Chris Cartnick became a Little League World Series household name last Saturday when he smashed two home runs in one inning. That gave the Jackson, New Jersey slugger three home runs in his last five at-bats.

It was not surprising then that California gave Cartnick few pitches to hit Monday. But this time R.J. Vashey homered twice. Eleven Holbrook Little Leaguers delivered hits and New Jersey ran its two-game run total to 27. Welcome to the dilemma that is pitching against New Jersey.

There are no holes in this fearsome lineup. Everyone can hit and has hit. Mother Nature intervened Tuesday night and pushed its game to Wednesday but little else outside divine intervention has slowed the Mid-Atlantic champions all summer.

“They didn’t stop. They put a lot of pressure on our pitching and a lot of pressure on our defense,” Michigan manager Jason Hill said after New Jersey pounded out 14 hits and defeated his team, 15-5. “I knew they were capable of doing that. I saw several regional games where there were some good pitchers on the opposing mound and they really made it tough on them and that’s what they did for our kids. There was no stopping them.”

New Jersey steamrolled its way through regionals, scoring 43 runs and hitting 10 home runs in four wins. Connecticut pitcher Ethan Righter, who likely will start Wednesday’s game, was one of the few all season that has contained the offense when Connecticut beat New Jersey, 7-6 in last Thursday’s Series opener.

But even then, New Jersey’s two-strike hitting, its ability to work counts and Tai Mann’s home run had Righter reaching his pitch limit in the fourth inning. New Jersey then scored four sixth-inning runs and nearly erased a 7-2 deficit.

That furious rally carried over to Saturday and New Jersey has not stopped hitting since. The Mid-Atlantic champions collected 16 hits against California and upped their Series home run total to six. They produced nine-run innings in both wins and built a 12-1 lead in the third inning against California.

“We have contagious hitting. We seem to get rolling once we get a couple hits,” New Jersey manager Rob Grano said. “It’s been that way since I can remember. I wish I could tell you why it happens or how it happens.”

“It just keeps going on,” Vashey said after homering twice against California.

Indeed it does. Seven different players had hits during the nine-run, third-inning barrage Monday. There was nowhere in the lineup the opposing pitcher could feel safe. New Jersey essentially has 13 starters, mixing its lineups often and ensuring everyone bats and plays in the field each game.

Combine that involvement with talent and hard work and one has quite a dynamic offense. Hold down Cartnick as California did Monday and players like Vashey, J.R. Osmond and Charlie Meglio, to name a few, are ready to inflict damage.

“Everybody can hit on our team. Sometimes when teams put us in pinch-hitters other teams says here comes the second guys, here comes the second hitters which we hope they do because we have kids who can make them pay and it’s good,” Grano said. “Everyone plays the field, everybody bats, everybody contributes. When I look at the boxscore and I’ll see all 13 kids contributed, all 13 kids had hits it’s fantastic. That’s when you know you don’t have any holes.”

New Jersey has its share of boppers but it also has many thinkers. This team communicates well and when it comes to hitting they are all like scientists exchanging pitcher information, different pitching looks and any other useful information. When they put those words into action, look out.

“New Jersey can hit the snot out of the ball,” Connecticut manager Mike Randazzo said. “They are a great team.”

They also are a competitive team. That includes when they are competing against each other. This is not a selfish team, but a team that pushes each other. If one person is hitting well, the next ones to hop on board. They are 12 and 13-year-olds so yes, some may want bragging rights but they know the competition is what makes them better.

“They do talk about it. They feed off each other,” Grano said. “They are genuinely happy. You should see when somebody hits a bomb or somebody hits a line drive. The next guy wants to keep it going. It’s you got one, now I want to do that.”

They keep doing it, too. That competition, that drive brings out the best in those hitters. And that is a big reason why this team is now one of the world’s best.