Steinert’s Brady Plunkett had 3 RBI’s in the opening round of the CJ III Tournament. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
May 21: The Central Jersey Group III tournament has not been kind to Steinert’s baseball team in recent years. Since reaching the 2014 finals, the Spartans have lost in the first or second round each of the past three years.
For a while today it seemed as if that streak would continue as Hamilton’s Ryan “Mini-Dweller” Beczo carried a no-hitter and 2-1 lead into the fifth inning. But the 8th-seeded Spartans rose off the mat to tie it in the fifth and get three in the sixth for a 5-3 win over the 9th-seeded Hornets in a first-round CJ III game at Rich Giallella Field.
The game’s offensive heroes said they are not even worried about past misfortunes.
“You just gotta put that in the rearview mirror,” said Brady Plunkett, who had three RBI. “You take it one game at a time and continue your season as you go.”
“We’ve just been ignoring (the past) and working to try and win the states and get a ring,” added Tommy Gater, who drove in the go-ahead run.
Steinert’s next test will be Thursday at top-seeded Wall in the Battle of Route 195. The Crimson Knights are 18-4 after today’s 1-0 nail-biter against Lawrence, while the Spartans are 16-6-1 with an 8-1 record after adopting the war cry “Nunc Coepi” that coach Rick Freeman borrowed from former Notre Dame Athletic Moderator Msgr. Walter Nolan.
“It means now I begin in Latin,” the internationally savvy Freeman noted.
He might want to find the Latin term for gutsy performance as Steinert truly grinded one out against the stubborn Hornets.
Hamilton (12-10), which had an extremely long post-game outfield conference with coach Mike “Mo” Moceri after their season ended, took a 1-0 lead on Justin Wiltsey’s solo home run to left field in the third.
With Beczo owning a sharp curveball, the Hornets were feeling good until a walk, two errors and Plunkett’s groundout produced an unearned run to tie it in the bottom of the third.
Hamilton reclaimed the edge in the fourth when Steven Meckel hit a sacrifice fly. Beczo walked two with one out in the fourth and escaped, but was hurt when he hit winning pitcher Joey Sacco with a pitch with one out in the fifth. Two batters later CJ Pittaro dropped his bat on a pitch that plunked into centerfield to score Sacco. It was Steinert’s first of just three hits, as the story of Beczo’s season was undeserved losses.
In the seventh, Drayven Kowalski drew a leadoff walk and went to second on Gabe Santin’s sacrifice. Tommy Gater then stroked a run-scoring double into the left-centerfield gap.
“That was my first RBI of the season,” Gater said. “I just told myself ‘Think fastball and drive the baseball.’ (Coach Mike) Hastings has been telling me to keep my hands up so I work down and hit the ball hard.”
Sacco drew a two-out walk and Plunkett pulled one down the rightfield line to score both runners.
“I wasn’t swinging the bat badly this year, I just didn’t have anything to show for it,” Plunkett said. “I hadn’t got a hit all day, I just needed to try to stay to the middle and get the guy in. I got a curveball and stayed on it and fortunately, I got a couple runs in.”
“That was a big pull-away hit for us,” Gater said.
Plunkett was not bothered by facing a new arm in Tim Sharpley after seeing Beczo three previous times.
“It wasn’t terrible,” he said. “I hadn’t seen Beczo all year but we faced Sharpley in the game at Veterans Park, so that was good.”
What was really good for Steinert is that it suddenly had a lead for the first time with just three outs to go.
“That was a big hit for Tommy, we were waiting for him all year to burst out like that,” Freeman said. “And Brady’s hit was huge. Brady has been doing that in spots all year. He finally stayed back and drove the ball.”
The extra runs proved especially big in the seventh when David Zamora hit a one-out double (his second hit) and scored on Meckel’s single. Dom Maglione was brought on in relief and allowed a bloop single to Bobby Tamasi before getting two pop-outs to secure it.
Sacco, making his first start since May 7 against PDS, was on a pitch count of 80 and left after 79. He allowed five hits and one walk in 6.1 innings with six strikeouts.
“He’s been basically our best pitcher since we had a few injuries and he’s come up big,” Gater said.
“Joey battled his tail off,” Plunkett said. “He was rested a little bit and came up today and gave us his all. He left the tank out there, and he knew if he wasn’t gonna get the job done this was gonna be his last game. He said to us before the game he wasn’t going to let that happen and he wanted to get the job done and did a helluva job for us.”
Steinert will now try and upset a talented Wall team and reach the sectional semifinals for the first time in four years. Although its seed is not as high as previous years, the Spartans are playing their best ball of the season.
“I think they felt pretty confident in themselves all year long,” Freeman said. “As the season goes on they gain confidence and they’ve earned that right.”
Nottingham edges Ocean Township to earn a pre-MCT final date with Hopewell Valley
Only in a sport as weather-afflicted as high school baseball can this scenario take place – play for survival then play for a title all in three days against the same team.
Behind the pitching of Nick Houghton and hitting of David Scott and Wyatt Baker, 4th-seeded Nottingham took a 3-2 win over 13th-seeded Freehold Boro in CJ III play. That sets up a second-round game on Thursday at 4th-seeded Hopewell Valley, which got a complete-game shutout from Andy Blake in a 1-0 lead over Ocean Township.
Of course, two days later, the same two teams will meet for the Mercer County Tournament championship after it was rained out three different times last week.
Both teams will just focus on the game at hand, as today’s proved to be a handful for the Northstars (20-4) against the 12-9 Patriots. Scott and Baker each had two hits and scored twice, while Scott and Houghton each had RBI hits.
Houghton allowed four hits, three walks and one earned run while striking out nine in 6.1 innings. After throwing the limit of 114 pitches, he exited in favor of Phil Rojek, who got two outs to end it. Houghton is now ineligible to pitch until the MCT final so Rojek will take the mound in Thursday’s state game.