Steinert’s Jack Hardiman drives 1 of his 3 hits in the opening round of the Patriot Games vs Hamilton West at DeMeo Field. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
Apr. 18: It was a banner day for Hamilton Township high school baseball, as Nottingham won a huge early-season battle in the afternoon; and the season’s first Patriot Game was played on a chilly night at DeMeo Field.
The fun started when the Northstars improved to 9-0 by taking a 3-0 victory over previously unbeaten Allentown. When the sun went down, the military veterans came out as Steinert defeated Hamilton, 11-6 in front off a sizable crowd who braved the cold weather.
Highlighting the evening was the introduction of Steinert coach Rick Freeman and long-time Hamilton youth coaches Frank Costantino and George Fields between innings, as the trio was recognized for their military service in Viet Nam. That was followed by Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America; and proceeds from the evening went to the township’s Patriot Committee.
There were no such festivities at Nottingham, but the Northstars were festive about the outcome for two reasons – it was their 31st consecutive home victory, and it gave them a leg up on Allentown in the race for the CVC Valley Division title. Nottingham has not lost at home since Hopewell won on opening day of 2016.
The story of the game was Nick Houghton, who allowed just one hit and three walks over 6.2 innings while striking out 12. Houghton was removed due to pitch-count limit and Pat Luckie came in for the save by recording the Stars 13th strikeout.
“Nick Houghton was really good,” coach Jim Maher said of his Monmouth-bound senior. “He had a great breaking ball.”
Houghton helped his cause offensively by drawing two walks and scoring twice. The Stars went ahead 1-0 in the third and David “The Scientist” Scott delivered a clutch, two-out RBI double in a two-run fifth. It was one of just three hits for Nottingham, which took advantage of six walks.
Scott has been on fire this year as he leads Nottingham with a .500 average and is second on the team to Houghton in RBI with 10.
“It was a good win over a quality team,” said Maher after Allentown dropped to 6-1-1. “We need to bring it again Friday (at Allentown). They will be ready to play us.”
Unlike Hamilton, which did not look ready to play the Spartans at the outset of their game. Steinert (6-3) scored two runs in the first inning on a dropped pop-up, and two more in the second on an error and a wild pitch.
By the time the nearly three-hour affair was over, Hamilton pitchers had walked 10 batters and the Hornets (5-4) committed three errors.
West actually appeared to be gaining momentum through three innings, as Steinert left eight runners on base during that time and Hamilton got a run back in the bottom of the frame on an RBI single by Kiefer Goss.
But Steinert responded with two in the fourth on a two-run single by surging sophomore Jack Hardiman. The Spartans maintained control for the remainder of the game as Casey Navarro notched his second win in three decisions.
Hardiman, the MVP of last year’s freshman team, finished 3-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI. After seeing little action in the first two weeks, he went 3-for-3 with three RBI in a win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South Saturday and may have found a home in right field if this keeps up.
CJ Pittaro, who has scuffled slightly through the early part of the season, showed signs of busting out with two hits and two RBI, while Joey Sacco, Drayven Kowalski and Jake Muller all had RBI hits.
Hamilton, which had won four of five entering the game, got two hits and two RBI each from Justin Wiltsey and Danilo Perdomo, while Goss went 2-for-3 to boost his team-leading average to .538 and make his uncle Breadman proud.