Jake Muller of Steinert smacked a 2 out double to give the Spartans a walk-off win against top-ranked Allentown. File Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
May 4: After going through a week from hell, the Steinert baseball team got to experience a little slice of Heaven.
Going extra innings for the second time in three days, the Spartans got consecutive two-out doubles from Brady Plunkett and Jake Muller to take a grueling, 5-4, walk-off win over Allentown in nine innings today.
In a week that featured negative publicity, suspensions, tossed players, continued injuries and lots of baseball, Steinert was playing for the fourth time in five days. It was winless in three straight after a 3-3 tie in 15 innings at Notre Dame Wednesday, and broke the negative streak with a 4-0 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South Thursday.
But this one was special in a lot of ways.
First off, Allentown is the defending Mercer County Tournament champion and second-seeded when the MCT begins Monday. Secondly, the Redbirds entered with a 14-2 record and 8-game winning streak (although they were coming off a 23-20 marathon Thursday). Thirdly, the Spartans are still without catcher Drayven Kowalski, and second baseman CJ Pittaro sat out his second game after being ejected at Notre Dame.
And finally, the Redbirds wiped out a 3-0 deficit with four runs in the sixth, which could have devastated the Spartans (10-5-1).
But it didn’t.
Ryan Schwager fisted an RBI single into right field in the bottom of the sixth to tie it. Gehrig Rios pitched 2.1 innings of stellar relief and, making his first varsity appearance after being called up from JV, sophomore Anthony Wilk got two pressure outs to earn the victory.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Muller said. “We went 15 against Notre Dame in a tough game, to come out and play another extra inning game today, it’s been a long week. We had five games this week (counting Saturday). Coming into tournament season, it’s big to get a win like this.”
Steinert took a 1-0 lead in the first when Joey Sacco walked, went to third on Muller’s single and scored on Brendan James’ sacrifice fly. Two errors opened the door to two unearned runs in the fourth, as Gabe Santin and Nick Harkness delivered RBI singles to give coach Rick Freeman the production he wanted from the bottom of the order.
Casey Navarro threw five outstanding innings before running into trouble in the sixth. He left with a 3-2 lead and runners on first and second, and was charged with all four runs as they eventually scored.
But in the bottom of the inning. Thomas Gater singled, Santin was hit by a pitch and a fielder’s choice on a bunt left runners on first and second. Bu Schwager hit a dying quail into right to tie it.
Rios entered in the seventh and retired the first six he faced before allowing a leadoff double in the ninth. After getting a line drive out, he was told to walk Austin Ferrier and Wilk was called in. The 10th-grader got too lazy fly balls, to set up the late fireworks by Plunkett and Muller.
After two quick outs, Plunkett ripped a double down the rightfield line. Muller, who has been one of the Spartans most steady hitters this year, had a chat about his swing with third base coach Matt Wolski as he approached the plate.
“Wolski came up and said, ‘Choke up, you know you’ve been a little long today,’ which I was,” Muller said. “I was fouling balls off to the right side. And then I got something straight.”
Muller jumped on the first pitch and drove it deep over the centerfielder’s head to empty the Spartans dugout.
“I just wanted to try to get a hit,” Muller said. “With two outs you want to put something in play. It was a fastball right there, I just took a hack.”
And a heavenly hack it was.