MCT baseball openers: Spartans stun PDS; Houghton sets Stars record; township resident burns Hamilton

Flanked by parents Mary Jane and Gary, Nottingham senior Nick Houghton displays the ball he used to get his 74th strikeout of the season, which set a new school record today. Houghton fanned a total of nine in hurling the Northstars to a 5-1 Mercer County Tournament win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South (Photo by Frank Ragazzo).

By Rich Fisher

May 7: It was a winning day for two of the three Hamilton Township teams in the Mercer County Baseball Tournament, and also for a township player who sent the third school down to defeat.

Here’s how it all shook out in day one of the MCT.

Down to final out, Steinert pulls off miracle rally to beat Princeton Day School

In what can only be described as unbelievable, 4th-seeded Steinert trailed 13th-seeded Princeton Day School by three runs with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the seventh at DeMeo Field.

Brady Plunkett MCT

Brady Plunkett came up big with a two-run single to pull the Spartans within 4-3. File Photo by Michael A. Sabo

And then it happened.

With the score 4-1, Jack Hardiman delivered what looked to be a meaningless pinch single, and Ryan Schwager singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Joey Sacco walked and suddenly that pinch hit started to have meaning. Brady Plunkett followed with a two-run single to pull the Spartans within 4-3.

That brought up resurgent C.J Pittaro, who singled to tie the game and send Plunkett to third.

“He’s starting to see the ball well,” coach Mike “Stinger” Hastings said. “He was getting too anxious early in the year. He just smoked a ball to left-center to tie it.”

Up stepped Jake Muller, who hammered a walk-off double against Allentown on Friday. The senior started this week the way he ended last one, sending a ground ball down the third base line to chase Plunkett home and give Steinert an unfathomable 5-4 victory.

“Muller’s the veteran that’s why he’s in the four hole,” Hastings said. “He’s the guy who’s been there. He never panics. He looks to get a good pitch. He’s an experienced batter, he got a good pitch and he knew what to do with it.”

After going winless in three straight, the surging Spartans (12-5-1) carry a four-game winning streak into Wednesday’s home quarterfinal game against 5th-seeded Hun. The Raiders beat Pennington, 8-5.

Kmiec haunts would-be teammates with decisive triple as ND edges Hamilton

Jacob Kmiec missed the first month of the season and finally became eligible to play for Notre Dame on May 1.

Since then the Irish have gone 3-0-1, with none bigger today when 9th-seeded ND topped 8th-seeded Hamilton West, 3-1, on the Hornets field.

Kmiec, a Hamilton resident who would have attended West had he opted for public school, delivered a two-out, two-run triple in the first inning that winning pitcher Bill Trimble made stand up for seven innings.

It was a big situation for Kmiec, who came up with runners on second and third and two outs after Trimble struck out.  But did he feel pressure?

“Not really,” he said. “I just do what I have to do. I don’t really think about it. If a pitch comes and I know I can I can hit it I just swing, if I can’t hit it I try and foul it off.”

Kmiec was hitting .500 entering the game and his blast gave Notre Dame (9-5-1) a 6-0-1 record in its last seven contests. Coach Joe Drulis feels Jake has made a big impact since returning.

“He’s Steady Eddie in centerfield,” the coach said. “He’s a tremendous defensive outfielder, a great high school baseball player. Not having him in April hurt us. He’s not trying to do too much and he’s just letting it all come to him.”

“It feels great to be back, I missed it,” Kmiec said. “I’m actually very surprised (at how I’m hitting). I hadn’t faced live pitching that whole time, seeing it and performing against it is a little different.”

Hamilton (11-9) could have done with Kmiec out of the lineup for at least one more week, as it wasted an outstanding pitching effort by Ryan “The Mini-Dweller” Beczo.

The junior, who pitched four strong innings against the Irish his first time out, threw 6.2 innings of five-hit ball, allowing two runs and one walk while striking out six. After Kmiec’s triple, Beczo was masterful. Unfortunately for Hamilton, Trimble was a tad better.

“Ryan went pitch for pitch with him and pitched an awesome game,” coach Mike “Mo” Moceri said. “He pitched good enough to win.”

Ryan Beczo MCT Baseball

Hamilton’s Ryan Beczo delivers to the plate against Notre Dame in the opening game of the MCT Baseball Tournament. Photo by Michael A. Sabo

Beczo is becoming the tough-luck kid, as he also pitched an outstanding game against Hopewell Valley only to take the loss when the bullpen allowed a walk-off, two-run hit.

“He’s kept everybody off balance; doing what’s asked of him, throwing strikes, getting his breaking ball over,” Moceri said. “He’s been effective all year, we just gotta get him some runs.”

Runs have been tough for anyone to get against Trimble this year. When Hamilton scored in the sixth on Danilo Perdomo’s pinch-triple and Tyler Springett’s single, it was just the second run in 26 innings against the ND ace.

Trimble admitted he was getting his pitches up, but Hamilton did not take advantage.

“We knew coming in he didn’t walk people,” Moceri said. “He kept us off balance, threw everything over for a strike and we didn’t make adjustments.”

The Hornets gave their run back in the top of the seventh on two errors, which changed the complexion of the game.

“You still gotta find ways to bounce back,” Moceri said. “That’s the game of baseball. We gotta use it as another learning experience for us. You gotta find ways. When they punch you in the mouth, you gotta find ways to punch them back.

“I’m proud of our guys and the effort we gave. We’re right there. You gotta learn. We’ve got a few games here to get ready for the state tournament and hopefully this sinks in, they don’t like this feeling and we bounce back and make a good run in the states.”

Houghton sets Nottingham’s single-season strikeout record in win over WW-P South

Nick Houghton improved his record to 4-1, made a little history and got his Nottingham team into the quarterfinals all in two hours.

Houghton fired a four-hitter with two walks and nine strikeouts in hurling the 3rd-seeded Northstars to a 5-1 win over 14th-seeded West Windsor-Plainsboro South. Nottingham (17-3) will host 6th-seeded Trenton Catholic on Wednesday.

Included in Houghton’s strikeouts was his 74th of the season, which set a new Nottingham record.

“Nick was really good again today,” coach Jim Maher said. “He will go down as the best pitcher at Nottingham, and we still have a lot to go.”

Tommy McParland led the offense with a double, single and RBI, while Wyatt Baker had an RBI single and David Scott and Brett Hoffman also drove in runs.

About The Author

Rich Fisher has been around the Hamilton Township sports scene for so long that he actually got Rich Giallella’s autograph when Giallella was still a player! Proud product of Hamilton YMCA and Lou Gehrig baseball leagues and former teammate of Jim Maher on a very average Barton & Cooney rec basketball team, Fish graduated from Nottingham Junior High and Steinert High school and has covered township sports since 1980. His goal in life is to convince Maria Prato that Jersey tomatoes are at least 100 times better than California tomatoes.