MILLBURN, NJ – Ian Riddell pitched a complete game while giving up only one run on five hits and reached base three times on two walks and a single as the Millburn Millers played small ball in their 5-1 victory over Columbia High School on Friday afternoon in Millburn.
Millburn scored at least one run in three of their six innings at bat, but players reached home plate in a very unconventional way. Only one ball that was hit to the outfield, on a sacrifice fly, scored a Millburn run. Their other four runs came from infield hits and taking advantage of Columbia fielder’s errors.
“I thought offensively we scratched for runs. We did what we had to do,” Millburn Head Coach Brian Chapman said. “We put the ball in play a lot and we tried to make them (Columbia) make plays. We tried to stay aggressive on the bases,” he continued.
After a scoreless two and a half innings in which Riddell and Columbia pitcher Nigel Hunter were dominant against the opposing hitters, Millburn clawed and ran the bases well in the bottom of the third to come up with the first two runs of the ballgame.
Riddell was walked to start off the inning and then Chris Gula, who was pinch running, stole second base before advancing to third on Hunter’s wild pitch. Designated hitter Dominic Dasti came up to the plate next. He was down 0-2 early in the count, but then fouled off a number of pitches before earning a free pass to first base as Millburn had runners on first and third with no outs.
Second baseman Jeff Fischer came up next. He was also walked and then Gula made it to home plate when Columbia catcher Henry Ertl threw the ball to second as it appeared he thought ball four to Fischer was called a strike.
“Chris (Gula) is a huge part of this team, whether he is in right field or he’s coming in to pinch run. He’s got a tremendous attitude and he’s a very, very good base runner. He gets good jumps on his steals,” Coach Chapman told The Alternative Press.
Later in the bottom of the third Dan Frischman grounded a ball to second base as Fischer was thrown out at second. However, an errant throw to first, in an attempt to get a double play, allowed Dasti to score all the way from second base to put Millburn up 2-0.
Columbia was able to get on the board in the top of the fourth when Nathan Tessler hit a ground ball to short to score Jimmy Murphy, who singled earlier in the inning, on a fielder’s choice play. Riddell, however, was able to work his way out of the inning as he retired the next two Columbia batters. Millburn held a 2-1 edge after three and a half innings of play.
Both teams failed to score in their next half innings at bat, but then Millburn was able to add some insurance to their lead in the bottom of the fifth. With the bases loaded, a ball was laced up the middle that was misplayed by Hunter that allowed Fischer to score. Then, Anthony Del Greco hit a sacrifice fly to left as Tim Swanson reached home to put Millburn up 4-1.
“We didn’t have a ton of hits today so we had to manufacture our runs,” Coach Chapman said. “It’s a familiar formula I think. We’re just trying to keep this game really simple,” he added.
The top of the sixth saw Riddell do a solid job of not allowing Columbia to eat away at the Millburn lead. He got Brandon Spears to ground out to third, before Murphy reached first on an infield single to short. Tessler came up to bat next for Columbia and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, the second of the game for the Millburn defense, to end the inning.
Millburn got another run in the bottom of the sixth when Dasti hit a hard ball to second that allowed Gula to score from third to give his team a four run edge.
All three Columbia batters in the top of the seventh were retired in order by Riddell, all on fly balls, who closed out Friday afternoon’s contest with a three strikeout performance.
Millburn is now an impressive 15-4 on their season. They will next host Newark Academy in the quarterfinal round of the Greater Newark Tournament Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Millburn.