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Finding its groove, Grand Street run-rules Madison, clinches division

When Grand Street Campus won the prestigious Monroe Tournament in mid-April, it left The Bronx on Good Friday with an unmistakable swagger, with a nobody-can-touch-us edge to them. The attitude wasn’t all positive – it led to overconfidence, and to some degree, the Wolves’ shocking loss to Midwood just last week.

“We got a little cocky,” shortstop Jose Cuas allowed.

It took a few games, but Grand Street had that swagger about itself again on Thursday, only it wasn’t in the form of hubris. It was focus, tenacity, aggression. The result was a stunning, 11-1 run-rule victory at Brooklyn A East powerhouse Madison that clinched the division title for the Wolves who moved from Queens A West this season.

“We needed a game like this,” Cuas said. “To come out on their turf and mercy them, it boosts everybody’s confidence.”

The Wolves executed and excelled in every possible way, from starter Luis Hiraldo dealing five shutout innings and striking out eight, to the lineup blistering Madison ace Mike Fitzpatrick for nine runs on 11 hits, and the defense turning a double play and top prospect Williams Jerez capping the mercy victory with a highlight-reel diving catch in right-center field.

Grand Street made Fitzpatrick, who entered the showdown 3-1 with a 1.46 ERA, look like a batting practice pitcher. They scratched out one run in the second, on Elijah Rodriguez’s RBI-single, three more in the third and five in the fourth. They violently drove the ball to the opposite field, stole bases, moves runners over and in.

“In the past they were just hitters,” Madison coach Vinny Caiazza said. “They can do a lot of things.”

Cuas, the impressive junior, had three hits, including a pair of booming doubles, and three RBIs, and first baseman Geraldo Gonzalez also drove in three runs. Jerez, roundly considered the top prospect in the city, was held largely in check, limited to a single and an RBI. Yet Grand Street’s lineup is so complete it doesn’t need Jerez to produce to pound the opposition.

“When we’re hitting, getting guys on base and our fast guys are stealing bases, it’s tough to slow us down,” said assistant coach Steve Martinez, who was filling in for his brother Melvin. “We got a lot of speed up and down the lineup.”

It was a difficult afternoon for the young Knights, who are coming off three straight final four-or-better performances but feature just two seniors on their inexperienced roster. After losing much of their core, Caiazza tempered expectations with this club, particularly since powerful Grand Street was moved into the division.

Though his team’s string of eight division titles ended last Thursday, he was happy with his club’s regular-season, though he felt it should be 13-1 and not 11-3 in league play. The most recent defeat, he said, was expected, not the ones to Telecommunications and Bushwick Campus.

“They’re better, but we should be 13-1,” Caiazza said. “I know where they should be ranked and I know where we should be ranked. With a young team like this, what are you gonna do? I told them, now you know what you got to work on for next year.”

Grand Street (14-1), meanwhile, is back on track heading to the postseason, looking for that elusive finals berth. The loss to Midwood, Martinez said, was a wakeup call, that the Wolves were in fact beatable.

Outscoring the opposition 39-1 in three wins since, it certainly seems to have been a bonus.

That the division-clinching victory came over Madison was particularly poignant for the Wolves. They lobbied the PSAL to move to Brooklyn A East, yearning to be tested against a program like the Knights.

“We deserved to be in a better division,” Martinez said. “This is what we wanted from the beginning.”

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