Little League teammates compete at Sabres Field


Every game has its tipping point, and sometimes it comes earlier than others. When the Pioneers of Girard Academic Music Program, 2136 Ritner St., met the Lancers of Central High School for Friday afternoon’s blustery ballgame, that point came in the top of the first inning.

“I wanted it so bad, to get out of that first inning with no runs,” GAMP starting pitcher Tyler Criniti, normally a reliever who was making his first start of the year, said.

Instead, a costly error on a double play ball extended the frame, and seven consecutive two-out hits by the Lancers’ lineup created a 10-run first inning that would provide more than enough insurance for Central’s 18-2 win in a game called after four innings as a result of the mercy rule.

After surrendering two walks and a single to load the bases with one out, Criniti induced an easy, bouncing ground ball to the second baseman that should have resulted in a double play. Instead, as the senior inched toward the dugout, his fielder’s errant throw sailed into the outfield, allowing two runs to score.

“I thought I was dialed in at the beginning,” Criniti said after the game. “But that double play ball that went wrong, as soon as that happened I lost focus and it all went down south from there.”

The frustrated pitcher was forced to stroll back to the mound, and despite retiring the next batter on a fly ball to center field, the next seven batters he faced reached base safely. The Central players raced around the base paths at a speed that rivaled the cars zipping by on I-76 in the background of Sabres Field, Seventh Street and Packer Avenue, until one was finally caught in a pickle to end the inning.

Senior Mike Cavallaro took the mound for Central, adding a new chapter to a rivalry that has been brewing between him and Criniti for years.

“I’ve been playing with Mike forever. Me and him have been playing together since Little League,” Criniti said. “I wanted to battle him today.”

With each player pitching and batting leadoff for his respective squad, the two seniors were set to duel. That was where the similarities in their outings ended. While Criniti, a resident of the 1100 block of Mercy Street, surrendered 10 runs in the first, Cavallaro, a resident of the 2700 block of S. 18th Street, completely shut down GAMP’s offense.

The 2011 first-team All-Public selection recorded his first two outs of the game on just two pitches, then ended the inning two batters later by striking out GAMP senior outfielder Nick Carine, the Pioneers’ cleanup batter.

“I was really just trying to hit my spots and let my defense help me out,” Cavallaro said.

Cavallaro, who has committed to continuing his athletic career at the University of the Sciences, recorded another strikeout and cruised through the second inning just as easily as he did the first, by which time his team had built a 13-0 lead. In his three at bats, two of which came in the first inning, he tallied a walk and a single and scored twice.

Criniti, twice a second-team All-Public selection who will most likely play for the Community College of Philadelphia, was unable to find his own groove. Swinging at the first pitch he saw in his two at bats against Cavallaro, resulting in a ground out and a pop out, he admitted that his frustration on the mound carried over to his plate appearances.

“I was just trying to crush the ball at that point,” he said.

GAMP’s pitching duties, meanwhile, were taken over by senior Desmond Drummond starting in the second inning. Though he struggled with control at times, allowing eight runs on five hits and six walks, the hard-throwing righty retired the potent Lancer offense in order in the third inning.

“I just wanted to shut them down and throw as hard as I could,” he said of his three-inning relief effort. “This game isn’t over ’til it’s over, so I pitched my best.”

The Pioneers were never able to bring the score back within reach, however, despite notching a pair of runs against Cavallaro in his third and final inning of work. Carine avenged his first-inning strikeout with a two-out double that plated two, but that was GAMP’s only offense of the day.

With the game securely in hand, Central coach Rich Weiss elected to pull Cavallaro after the third inning.

“If I pitched him too long he wouldn’t be available Monday,” Weiss said. “We’re going to have all four of our top guys available Monday.”

“I think it was the right move,” Cavallaro said. “As many arms as we can have [on Monday] will be good.”

Good it was, as the Lancers took Monday’s close contest from division-rival Frankford, 6-4, boosting their record to 10-2.

Criniti and his GAMP teammates, meanwhile, lost no time in rebounding from Friday’s lopsided defeat. The following morning they defeated Lincoln by a score of 7-6 — halting a three-game losing streak — and then knocked off Franklin Towne Charter, 5-1, on Monday. The back-to-back victories evened their overall mark to 8-8, which includes a 5-6 league record.

“We have some young guys that we throw into the fire,” GAMP coach Art Kratchman said. “In the long run it helps us. [Criniti, a four-year player] was one of those guys once, and you can see what a quality player he is now.”

The Pioneers are back in action this afternoon against Esperanza followed by Saturday’s 2 p.m. non-league contest against Neumann-Goretti at McNichol Field, 25th and Moore streets.

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