BELLEVILLE, NJ - Defeating a baseball team with as few flaws as Seton Hall Prep possesses in a championship game requires an effort of nearly flawless execution.
For Millburn, the effort was there and the fighting spirit was evident, but the execution strayed too far from flawless to complete the championship mission.
Second-seeded Seton Hall Prep won its fifth consecutive Greater Newark Tournament title on Saturday with a 4-2 victory over top-seeded Millburn behind the combined pitching of Jack Mahala and Nick Maldonado. The Millers were seeking their first GNT title since 1984.
Senior second baseman Kevin Gately had two hits and a pair of two-out RBIs for Seton Hall Prep (24-2), which scored single runs in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings--all with two out.
"Seton Hall played a clean game," Millburn coach Brian Chapman said. "We did not play a clean game."
Chapman cited six walks of Seton Hall Prep batters along with three Millburn errors as examples of the Millers' inability to execute cleanly.
"Gately had the two biggest hits of the game," Chapman said. "His two RBI were the backbreakers." Gately's second RBI, on a line-drive double just inside the left field foul line in the sixth inning, gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.
Millburn (20-5) fell behind, 2-0, before taking advantage of one of Seton Hall's few miscues in the fourth inning to close to within 2-1. Peter Serruto reached on an infield error with one out, stole second, then scored when Mike Kologlu lined a 2-0 pitch from Mahala to center for an RBI single. It was one of few instances all day when Mahala fell behind in the count. The rangy Seton Hall righty walked just one batter, struck out four and yielded five hits in six innings.
But Seton Hall got that run back, for a 3-1 lead, on Francis Prior's RBI single to left-center in the fifth inning. Millburn starting pitcher Connor Lally went five-plus innings, gave up six hits, walked five and fanned three. He allowed four runs, three earned.
On a day when the lower part of the order for both teams did considerable damage, Millburn's No. 8 hitter Jared Nemet led off the bottom of the fifth with a line drive that was misjudged for a double to center field. Freshman Ben Sinins followed with a solid RBI single to right center, bringing the Millers within 3-2.
Peter Gula followed with a bunt single, giving Millburn runners at first and second with one out and its two best hitters coming up. Chapman called for a bunt from .475 hitter Ben Pampush, who popped the pitch up in foul territory that Seton Hall first baseman Eric Vaz made a spectacular diving catch of for the first out. Left-handed hitting Richie Schiekofer, batting well over .500 on the season, followed by whistling a hard, low line drive that second baseman Gately picked off the short hop and relayed to shortstop Maldonado for the start of a slick and very costly inning-ending double play.
"I made a mistake there," Chapman confessed. "I should have had Pampush swinging. He has been red hot, and we had him bunt instead. That was a critical error on my part, and I admitted as much as soon as it was over."
Chapman also pointed out that, even had Pampush executed a successful sacrifice to move the runners to second and third, it could have resulted in taking the bat out of premium slugger Schiekofer's hands by giving Seton Hall the option of intentionally walking the lefty hitter in that scenario.
After the double play that ended the fifth, Millburn did not have another baserunner. Mahala closed his stint with a flourish, getting consecutive strikeouts looking to end the sixth. Maldonado, the sophomore prospect already committed to Vanderbilt University, shifted from shortstop to the mound to close out the seventh in 1-2-3 fashion with one strikeout.