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Tournaments | Story | 7/1/2019

Diamond Jacks shine bright

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Ryan Jaros (Perfect Game)

HOOVER, Ala. – The Diamond Jacks Super 14s have made the trip down from bucolic Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to the steamy fields of Hoover, Alabama. Their opponents probably wish the boys had stayed home. The Diamond Jacks have eviscerated everything in their path, and have marched out to a 5-0 record at the WWBA 14u National Championship.

On Monday, the morning dew had barely evaporated from field 1 at the Hoover Met before the Diamond Jacks defeated their next victim. Propelled by 12 hits, the NJ-based team beat Elite Squad American 14u Ponce, 13-1, to continue their pool play schedule.

A triple is generally the most difficult hit to get. On this day, it was not. The Diamond Jacks simply imposed their will on Elite Squad American. Leadoff hitter Griffin Mills got things started by tagging a ball in the right center gap for a triple. And then teammate Ryan Jaros followed that up with a triple of his own. The next batter, Mark Gialluisi, joined the party with yet another three-bagger. It was 4-0 before Elite Squad even got their chance to bat.

But the Diamond Jacks weren’t done. In the third, Jaros hit another triple and would be scored moments later on a Gialluisi double. In the fourth, the kids from New Jersey added six more runs, highlighted by a thrilling inside the park home run from Mills.

When the carnage was complete, Jaros finished the day 3-for-3 with three triples. Mills was 2-for-4 with a triple and a home run. And Gialluisi was 2-for-3 with a triple and a double.

That’s a pretty good day at the yard.

Jaros could hardly contain his smile, but the star of the game was humble in describing the rousing success the Diamond Jacks have enjoyed this week in Hoover.

“We’ve been playing hard all year,” said Jaros. “It’s so awesome to get a chance to come down here and play the best kids in the country.”

At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Jaros is as big a many college players. He’s an imposing presence out there, especially for a 14 year old. But he’s not just a physical specimen. He plays a fluid third base, and has a sweet swing that has taken him years of intense training to truly hone.

“The Diamond Jacks are amazing,” said Jaros. “Practices are insane. They’re always helping you and guiding you to where you want to go. And we get so much exposure because of all the tournaments we play.”

So what brings them down to Alabama? It’s the opportunity to prove themselves against the very best 14u competition in land. And so far, so good.

“I’ve gotten to see a lot of different players and new teams from across the country,” said Mills. “I think its more fun to hit against better pitchers and compete against all these high level teams.”

“The goal this week is to compete against national competition,” said coach Walter Cleary. “Hopefully we can advance out of pool play and make some noise in the playoffs. We had our eyes set high coming into this.”

The entire Diamond Jacks roster is composed of players from North Jersey and Northeast Pennsylvania. It’s a tight knit group that has been together since they were still in Little League. The program is focused on development, and the model is strikingly successful.

“A lot of these boys have been with us since they were 10 years old,” said Cleary. “We run a big operation back home, and we have a facility with seven turf fields. We’re able to play all the time, and then we have an indoor facility that enables us to keep playing in the winter. So that helps.”

There is a lot of talent in New Jersey, and the Diamond Jacks have been able to tap into that market and elevate their players to the college and pro ranks.  They send kids to top baseball and academic schools like Vanderbilt, Virginia, Duke, and Boston College. Even the MLB’s top player, Mike Trout, once dawned a Diamond Jacks uniform.

The program has a proud, rich history. The current group of 14u players recognize that, and they are grateful for the opportunity to learn from the best.

“I love everything about Diamond Jacks,” said Mills. “First, the facilities are incredible. But the coaches are all about helping us, and the priority is all about helping the team get to the next level.”

“Most of our coaches are former college and professional players,” said Cleary. “We have a lot of knowledge of the game. We also have coordinators for hitting, pitching, and fielding. We pass on a lot of the information that we’ve learned through the years.”

Sitting at 5-0, the Diamond Jacks have outscores their opponents 54-10. Usually, 14 year olds hitting with a wood bat does not scream offense. But the likes of Mills, Jaros, and Gialluisi have made major strides these last few weeks and coach Cleary has enjoyed watching every second of their growth.

“We actually played up in a 15u wood bat tournament last week and did pretty well,” said Cleary. “I’ve loved watching our kids handle hitting with wood. It has been fun to watch guys like Griffin, Ryan, and Mark Gialluisi go up there are tear the cover off the ball. We’re definitely up there in terms of extra base hits. It’s nice to see them run around the field.”

While the boys are getting the chance to introduce themselves on a national scale this week, coach Cleary says this is just simply what they do. These are big time players, and big time players perform on the grandest stages.

“Mills and Jaros have been doing damage all summer,” said Clearly. “They’re been fantastic all year. I think Griffin just hit his seventh home run so far. And Jaros has been so consistent in barreling baseballs. He makes adjustments, too. Day one he hit three doubles pull side, and today he hit three triples back side.”

While the two infielders set the tone at the top of the order, the catcher, Gialluisi, is doing the dirty work behind the dish. He showed off his athleticism in legging out a triple and a double, but he also displayed his cannon for an arm in back picking a runner on second base.

“Mark controls the game really well,” said Cleary. “As a catcher, he’s vocally the leader out there. He throws out runners all the time. He’s just a great athlete.”

The Diamond Jacks are leaving their mark on the 2019 WWBA 14u National Championship. As they continue to achieve success on the national level, coach Cleary says that the program will always stay true to its roots and maintain their identity, an identity that he says makes them unique amongst other travel organizations in the Northeast.

“I think what sets us apart from other programs is the coaching staff and getting the kids that we do,” said Cleary. “The facilities definitely help, but we specifically select a lot of kids and we don’t take any guest players. We use what we have from day one until the end of the year.”

“We always stick with our guys, no matter what.”



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