Nik Malachowski had a tough time sleeping Sunday night, knowing that he was going to be the starting pitcher in Monday’s Cal Ripken 12-year-old Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game.
As it turned out, Malachowski shouldn’t have worried so much. He was a huge success both on the mound and with the bat.
Malachowski not only went the maximum five innings on the mound, allowing only seven hits and three runs, but he also drilled a three-run homer to lift the Clifton Park Knights to a 5-3 victory over the Beekman Heat at Clifton Common. The Knights are now headed to Aberdeen, Md., for the Cal Ripken 12-year-old World Series, beginning Aug. 12.
“I was nervous,” admitted Malachowski. “I felt both pressure and the excitement of the big game. In the first inning, I was definitely a little nervous because I wanted to throw strikes.”
“I told Nik that he had to be a pitcher today and not just try to overpower everyone,” said Clifton Park Knights manager Tom Huerter, a former Siena College basketball standout who played on the Saints’ first NCAA tournament team. “I told him to hit the corners and change speeds. He did a great job of doing both.”
Beekman struck first in the opening inning. With two outs, James Varian walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. C.J. Rodriguez, the team’s top player and starting pitcher, then ripped a single to left to score Varian. Although Malachowski hit Justin Leigh with a pitch, he got Max LaBarbera to fly out to center.
The Knights then took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning. Kevin Huerter, the manager’s son, ripped a single up the middle, and Michael Spulnick followed with a single to left. That’s when Malachowski bashed a homer over the left-center field fence.
“I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it,” said Malachowski. “I started slowing down after I crossed first base.”
The Knights weren’t through, however. They loaded the bases on infield hits by Michael Jeffers and Payton Johnson and a hit by pitch from Matt Straney before Kurt Forsell plated Jeffers with a single to left.
Beekman cut the lead to 4-2 in the third inning when A.J. Ramputi singled and scored on another RBI single to left by Rodriguez.
Clifton Park tacked on an insurance run in the fourth inning when catcher Ben Anderson, batting for starting catcher Marty McCrudden, blasted a home run to left.
Beekman scored its final run in the fifth on back-to-back singles by Rodriguez and Leigh and a grounder to second by LaBarbera.
Since Malachowski pitched one inning in Sunday’s semifinal, he could only pitch five innings Monday. Kevin Huerter, who started at short, came on in relief and set the Heat down 1-2-3 with a pair of strikeouts and a flyout to center.
“The first two batters I knew couldn’t hit the ball out of the park, so I wasn’t that nervous with them, but I knew their leadoff hitter could hit it out, so I had to be careful. I just wanted to throw strikes,” Huerter said.
“This has been a big goal for us. We came close to making it last year, and we really wanted it badly this year.”
“When we play to our ability, this is the type of defense we have,” said Tom Huerter. “I’m so happy for these 12 kids. Our goal was to get to Aberdeen, and that’s where we’re going.”
Beekman 101 010 — 3 7 0
Clifton Park 400 10x — 5 9 0
Rodriguez, Ramputi (4) and Varian; Malachowski, Huerter (6) and McCrudden. B. Anderson (4).