Kyle Harrington gets mobbed at the plate after hitting a walk-off grand slam to win the State Championship for Broad Street Park. Photo by John Blaine.
By Rich Fisher
July 27: Kyle Harrington channeled his inner Ryan Howard.
In the 2009 National League Divisional Series, Howard famously stated “Get me to the plate boys” and ended up driving in the game-winning runs in the ninth inning of a come-from-behind win over Colorado.
Tonight, with Broad Street Park trailing by two entering the bottom of the seventh, Harrington was slated to be the inning’s fifth batter.
“We were so focused on getting the first man on and bringing it to the next guy,” Brien Cardona said. “And Kyle said to get him up there. As soon as he said that, I had so much faith in him.”
The Mercer County Player of the Year and Triple Crown winner rewarded that faith with a walk-off grand slam to give Post 313 an unthinkable, incredible 6-4 win over Whitehouse in the New Jersey American Legion State Championship final at Moody Park. The win makes BSP 2-for-2 in state finals, as they also won it all in 1975.
Broad Street will now compete in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Leesburg Virginia, which run from Aug. 8-12.
“Disbelief, honestly,” Harrington said of his emotions. “Not disbelief but, like crazy. I can’t believe it just happened.”
“This feels just the same as sectionals,” said Cardona, a member of Nottingham High’s 2016 Central Jersey Group III champ. “I can’t put it into words. I’m so happy with this team. I love every single one of them.”
It’s a group whose nucleus is Hamilton West players past and present, with a few others like Cardona, Darius Land and Jose Rodriguez mixed in. They blended together to finish second in the regular season, win a do-or-die game in districts just to reach Moody, and then went 5-0 in the states.
Like it’s first meeting with Whitehouse, this one had a rain delay. It was only 45 minutes, as opposed to two hours on Monday.
But it was enough to affect Whitehouse starter Justin Kosenski, who escaped the first unscathed after Land reached third with no outs, then had a clean second inning and appeared to be settling into a rhythm. But when play resumed with Whitehouse winning 1-0, Kosenski walked Connor Luckie and, after a sacrifice, gave up a two-run homer to Land.
“He was due,” Petrowski said.
Mason Fitzpatrick carried the lead into the fifth before loading the bases with two outs on a hit batsmen and two walks. Enter Nick Diaz, the reliever Mike Petrowski had every intention of cutting in tryouts before Diaz had the tryout of his life to earn a spot on the team.
The Hamilton West rising junior got a strikeout to escape trouble and retired three straight after allowing the leadoff runner to reach second with no outs in the sixth. Then came the fateful seventh, when Whitehouse struck for three runs to take a 4-2 lead.
“I knew we were gonna come back, but that was the worst feeling in the world, just the worst feeling in the world,” Diaz said. “To be that far in the game, having just come in with the bases loaded and getting out of that, just to give up three runs. I thought I blew the game, but Kyle came in and saved me.”
It wasn’t just Kyle. He had some help.
Luckie, an unheralded, underrated contributor throughout the tournament both offensively and defensively, drew a leadoff walk. After Kiefer Goss was robbed of a hit by a remarkable play, Land was hit by a pitch. Cardona then worked a 1-2 count to 3-2 before getting hit by a pitch. He fouled off three straight full-count pitches before getting plunked.
“I’ll tell you what, Brien Cardona sets the table,” Petrowski said. “I think at the beginning of the year; the Hamilton guys are like ‘Who’s this Nottingham kid?’ But he showed what he can do. And that at-bat he had was one for the ages. Not only does he get on base, but that pitcher is like ‘Holy crap, I wasted everything I had on him and he still gets on.’ It’s a real letdown for a pitcher.”
That brought up Harrington, and Petrowski was thinking along the same lines as his slugger after being thrown out of the game in the top of the seventh.
“I’m sitting there with my dad in the car listening to the game,” Petrowski said. “And I’m saying ‘Just give Kyle a chance. He’s due.’”
Harrington quickly fell behind 1-2 and fouled off four straight pitches before taking ball two. He drove the next offering into the teeth of a fierce wind over the leftfield fence.
“Off the bat I knew I hit it good,” said Harrington, who rightfully leaped around the bases. “I thought maybe I hit it in the gap or something, then I saw the leftfielder keep going and I was like ‘Hey, I might have hit it out.’”
It started a wild celebration and, in a way, gave every section of Hamilton Township a high school-level state championship. Nottingham won boys basketball, Steinert won softball and Hamilton West; i.e. BSP, now wins legion states.
But none came harder than this one.
Kyle Harrington hits a grand slam BSP wins 6-4 to win the NJ state legion title over Whitehouse pic.twitter.com/En5UomNYs5
— Jt kroeger (@JkroegerJt) July 27, 2018
“We worked hard for that,” Harrington said. “I knew it would be tough. I knew it would be hard to get those runs back. Once they got that leadoff double and Petrowski got thrown out, I knew it would be tough.”
And it almost looked like Harrington would be rung up when he took the 1-2 pitch for ball two, but the ump’s strike zone shrunk a lot as the game went along. And good teams and good players take advantage of breaks.
“It’s huge for everyone to battle in the batter’s box and for me to work to get that pitch,” Harrington said. “We worked to get the bases loaded.”
While Harrington thought it would be tough to come back, he never doubted it could be done. And Cardona never even thought it would be tough.
“When Petrowski got kicked out that gave us more momentum going into that last inning and I had a feeling going into it,” Cardona said. “This team is something special, first of all. We’re a gritty team, we fight to the end.”
And no one was happier with the ending than Diaz, who went from losing pitcher to winning pitcher with one swing of the bat. Cardona wasn’t about to cast dispersions on his effort.
“He’s a stud,” the second baseman said. “He gives it all he has when he’s out there.”
“He did one helluva job,” Petrowski said. “I brought him in with the bases loaded to get a strikeout; you’re not gonna have a weak out in their lineup and he got it done. In the seventh, we had our guy playing on the (third base line) and somehow their guy still manages to squeeze one down there (for a leadoff double).”
Petrowski brought up the point, however, that with the score 3-2, and the bases loaded with one out, Diaz could have completely self-destructed, but only allowed one more run.
“He still battled,” the manager said. “He could have given up a big hit in the gap and let that ballgame completely get away from us, but he kept it to two runs and gave us a chance.”
A chance they took full advantage of by getting Ryan, er, Kyle to the plate.
Asked where this ranked in his baseball thrills, Harrington smiled.
“I think it’s all led up to this,” he said. “I think my 16 years of baseball all tops out at this.”
There are a few college coaches who hope that’s not the case since Harrington still has plenty of ball left to play.
But when it comes to the Summer of ’18, he truly does deserve to feel on top of the world.