NEWTON, NJ - Hitless in his first three at bats, Jon Bernotas had a golden opportunity to atone himself at the dish and be the hero of a state playoff game.
He did just that, extending the Braves season and deepening their playoff run in the process.
The sophomore shortstop delivered a walk-off RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, scoring pinch-runner Anthony Brown and lifting Newton to a 3-2 victory over Glen Rock in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA, North I, Group II State Baseball Tournament, Sunday afternoon at windy Memory Park. Newton (18-6) will host upstart, #15 seed Pascack Hills in the semifinals on Tuesday.
“To be honest, I was expecting a curveball. But I got a fastball right down the middle and hit out to left field,” said Bernotas after the game.
Ben Cramer started off the rally with an infield single, but was retired when Anthony Morro reached on a force. Two batters later, Nick Grant was able to work a walk off of Glen Rock pitcher Adam Lawsky, putting the newly-substituted Brown on second base for Bernotas’ game winner.
“That’s what these games are all about in the state playoffs,” explained Newton head coach John Selitto. “That was Jon’s first real at bat in a clutch situation like that, and he passed the test.”
In the fourth, the squad from the county seat put the first dent in the scoreboard. Joe Maker crushed a ball to the left-center field warning track, hustling out a triple with only one retired. He came around to score when a routine Bernotas ground ball resulted in disaster- a throwing error- for Glen Rock (18-10), giving the Newts a 1-0 lead.
Newton would add a second run in the next frame. Catcher Charlie Grotyohan (2 for 3) lead off with a single, after a Joe Selitto single two batters later, pinch-runner Casey Thomas came around to score when Cramer doubled into the right-center field gap. With second and third with one out, Lawsky recovered to induce a Morro pop up to short and a grounder to second from Grant, ending the threat.
Considering how Braves starter Chris Branham (W, 5-1) effortlessly coasted through the first six innings, it appeared two runs would more than plenty for the home team to secure the victory. Branham only surrendered four hits all afternoon, effectively changing speeds and baffling the Panthers’ lineup with his curveball. He impressively recorded 1-2-3 innings in the second, fourth, and six.
But the Bergen County school had one last rally lined up in the top of the seventh. Seven and eight hitters Matt Szawaluk and Jeff Kopyta each drew walks off of Branham to start the inning. Nine-hitter Christian Vila successfully sacrificed both runners up a base, leaving two runners in scoring position with one out.
Division I Fairfield-bound, catcher Tyler Blind hit a long sacrifice fly into right field for the second out, but not before scoring pinch runner Zach Hausko and cutting the Newton lead in half. Then, down to their final strike, the Panthers tied the score thanks to a clutch base hit up the middle from Tyler Roldan to tie the game. Two batters later, Branham struck out Mike O’Neill to get out of the jam.
Now just one game away from a sectional final, Newton is zeroed in on the surprising Pascack Hills squad that will travel to Sussex County Tuesday.
“Any team still playing baseball at this point is a dangerous one, “said Pelitto after the game. “They play in the same league as Glen Rock and we expecting another close game against a quality team.”
The box score:
Glen Rock (18-10): 0 0 0 0 0 0 2- 2 4 2
Newton (18-6): 0 0 0 1 1 0 1- 3 10 2
Runs: (GR) Zach Hausko. Jeff Kopyta. (N) Anthony Brown. Charlie Grotyohan. Joe Maker.
RBI: (GR) Tyler Blind. Tyler Roldan. (N) Jon Bernotas. Ben Cramer.
3B: (N) Joe Maker. 2B: (GR) Tyler Blind. (N) Ben Cramer.
WP: (N) Chris Branham (5-1) LP: (GR) Adam Lawsky
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