BRISTOL - Yady Mateoâ€™s favorite athlete is Chicago Cubs star Javier Baez, and Derek Escobarâ€™s favorite food is filet mignon.Â
Perhaps Mateo is trying to do his best Baez impression, and maybe Escobarâ€™s strength is garnered from the protein-packed steak. Whatever the case, the pair of big, powerful corner infielders have been an imposing one-two punch, and they have been a force all week during New Jerseyâ€™s run in the Mid-Atlantic Regional.Â
Both were hitting above .400 headed into Friday nightâ€™s elimination game against Washington D.C., and those numbers improved after standout performances led New Jersey to a 5-0 victory that was also bolstered by starter Jayden Capindicaâ€™s one-hit gem.Â
Mateo (3-for-4, two doubles, two RBI) and Escobar (2-for-3, double) have now combined to hit .517 with eight doubles and 11 RBI in a five-game stretch for New Jersey (4-1), and Capindica eliminated Washington D.C. (1-2) with five strikeouts on 85 pitches in 5â…“ innings.
â€śMateo is just a presence,â€ť New Jersey manager Jairo Labrador said. â€śHeâ€™s a confident young man. Heâ€™s a teddy bear, but between the lines, heâ€™s a grizzly bear. And Escobar, heâ€™s coming out and performing. Itâ€™s just a great group of boys.â€ť
Capindicaâ€™s strong outing came just four days after he allowed Washington D.C. to rally from three runs down in the bottom of the sixth for a walk-off 8-7 victory Monday, but Labrador wasnâ€™t afraid to hand his southpaw the ball again.
â€śHe wore that tough loss against this great group of boys,â€ť Labrador said. â€śI donâ€™t know if the world knew, but we knew right away we were gonna go with him again. He had a bullpen session with pitching coach [Louis] Aponte, and he did a phenomenal job working on his secondary pitch. He was so clutch.â€ť
Escobarâ€™s leadoff double smoked to the right-center gap helped give New Jersey a 1-0 lead in the second inning, as pinch runner Jaime Tamayo scored shortly after on Yamil Sotoâ€™s groundout. Mateo then ripped a laser line-drive double down the left-field line in the third frame to score J.R. Rosado, who doubled to center to lead off the inning.Â
After Mateo scored on an error, Soto gave New Jersey a 4-0 lead by pushing a line-drive single to right field, and Mateo tacked onto the cushion with an RBI double in the sixth. That was more than enough breathing room for Capindica, a left-hander who allowed two walks to start the game before settling in to retire 16 of the next 18 batters he faced.Â
New Jersey is now one win away from reaching the Little League World Series. Awaiting is a showdown with New York (3-0), the highest-scoring team in the tournament at 11 runs per game, in the regional championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
â€śWeâ€™ve gotta fight a tough New York team, but Iâ€™ll take my group of boys over anybody,â€ť Labrador said. â€śWe hope to ride the wave and not wake up. ... This is baseball. Weâ€™re not [running on fumes]. There are no fumes. You donâ€™t get tired doing what you love. These kids love to be out there competing.â€ť
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org