BRIDGEWATER, NJ – It all came down to the final inning at Prince Rodgers Field to determine who won the North Region 8 pool of the Last Dance World Series. Rival teams from Bridgewater-Raritan, Somerville, and Immaculata all remained alive to win this pool heading into the final day of pool play on July 16th, and their performances up to that point set the stage for a thrilling finale.

Even though all three teams ended up finishing atop the standings with identical 2-1 records, it was ultimately the hometown Panthers who broke the three-way tie and survived.

Needing a win in its final game and help by one of its crosstown rivals to advance, Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1) easily did its part against Bernards (0-3). Leading 3-1 in the 3rd inning with one out, the Panthers broke the game open with an eight-run frame and 12 unanswered runs in a 15-1 victory by mercy rule in five innings.

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Whether or not Bridgewater-Raritan ultimately won the North Region 8 pool came down to the pool’s final game between Immaculata and Somerville (Branchburg Bulldogs), as the Panthers needed a Spartans loss to force the above three-way tiebreaker scenario. A Spartans win would have resulted in Immaculata winning the pool outright with an undefeated record.

But with strong crowd support from the Bridgewater-Raritan faithful, who immediately made it very clear that they were rooting for the Bulldogs, Somerville (2-1) quickly struck first and never looked back against Immaculata (2-1). Starting pitcher Shawn Scott threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 upset victory over the top-seeded Spartans in a thrilling pool play finale.

Due to Bridgewater-Raritan, Immaculata and Somerville all finishing with 2-1 records as a result, the tiebreaker went to the Panthers since they had the lowest ratio of total runs allowed and total defensive innings played. Bridgewater-Raritan’s 2-0 ten-inning victory over Somerville, and even its 1-0 loss to Immaculata, therefore paid off greatly in the very end for the Panthers. The one run they allowed to Bernards in the morning therefore gave the Panthers a ratio of 2 total runs allowed / 21 total defensive innings played (or 2/21 = .095).

In other words, given the Panthers only allowed 2 runs in 21 total innings (2/21 = .095) in their three pool play games, this put Bridgewater-Raritan ahead of Immaculata’s 4 runs allowed in 21 total innings played (4/21 = .190) and Somerville’s 5 runs allowed in 22 total innings played (5/22 = .227).

What a way for the Panthers to keep on dancing!

GAME 1: Bernards (AWAY) vs. Bridgewater-Raritan (HOME)
FINAL/5: Bernards 1, Bridgewater-Raritan 15

With the above tiebreaker scenario required for Bridgewater-Raritan to advance, the Panthers found themselves in early trouble against Bernards.

Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1) starting pitcher Justin Peterson (3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 3 IP) retired the first two Bernards (0-3) batters he faced. A walk by Andrew Holmes and a single by Colin Walsh eventually gave Bernards runners on second and third in the 1st inning for the second straight day. However, they again were denied with these runners in scoring position, as Peterson’s second strikeout got the Panthers out of the jam unharmed.

Had those two runs for Bernards scored, given the second game’s result, that would have likely resulted in Immaculata winning the tiebreaker. The Panthers definitely were aware of this going into the contest, so escaping that first inning gave them a wave of momentum.

Bridgewater-Raritan immediately responded, and David Olsakowski immediately lined the first pitch down the left field line for a leadoff single.

Justin Sinibaldi then brought him home two at bats later with a one-out RBI single. A two-run single by DJ Ward with two outs propelled the Panthers to an early 3-0 lead that they never relinquished. Peterson added a pair of strikeouts and retired Bernards in order in the 2nd inning, and he opened the 3rd frame with his fifth strikeout in nine Bernards batters faced.

However, a two-out walk by Bernards’ Eddy Gambelli and an RBI by Ryan Falduto cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-1 due to a throwing error, but another strikeout by Peterson got Bridgewater-Raritan out of the inning with only a single run allowed and runners on first and second.
While this was only Bridgewater-Raritan’s second run allowed in all of pool play, given Immaculata had only allowed one total run heading into the final day, the potential tiebreaker advantage shifted over to the Spartans at that moment. However, the Panthers did not allow another run the rest of the way, and Bridgewater-Raritan broke the game open with seven runs on three hits and four walks before recording an out in the bottom of the 3rd inning.

Leading 10-1 at this point, the Panthers scored one more run (and eight total) in the 3rd inning to go up by ten and put the mercy rule into play. Bridgewater-Raritan capped off what ended up being 12 unanswered runs with four more in the 4th inning and what ended up being their final inning of offense.

Bridgewater-Raritan ultimately won the game 15-1 at the conclusion of the 5th inning by mercy rule.

GAME 2: Somerville (AWAY) vs. Immaculata (HOME)
FINAL: Somerville 3, Immaculata 0

While Bridgewater-Raritan did its job and left no doubt in their win over Bernards, to win the pool, they still needed help in the form of a loss by undefeated, top-seeded, and crosstown rival Immaculata. Not often do fans at sporting events cheer for their rivals (let alone any opposing team), but a huge amount of Bridgewater-Raritan faithful came out and did just that for Somerville (Branchburg Bulldogs). The Bulldogs were mathematically eliminated from the pool championship crown due to the Panthers’ earlier result against Bernards, meaning their rivalry game against Immaculata would be their final game of the tournament regardless of the outcome.

With an assist from the Panther fans, who needed Somerville to win AND score at least two runs against the Spartans to shift the tiebreaker advantage back to Bridgewater-Raritan, the stage was set for a wild and memorable finale. The odds were highly stacked against the Panthers, as top-seeded and pool favorite Immaculata had only allowed one run heading into its contest with Somerville.

But the stars aligned at Prince Rodgers Field, the Bulldogs seniors went out with a bang against their archrival, and Bridgewater-Raritan’s seniors lived to dance another day.

Matty Wright opened the game with a leadoff walk for Somerville, and two at bats later, Matt Miceli brought him home with an RBI single to give the Bulldogs a quick 1-0 lead right out of the gate. Starting pitcher Shawn Scott then retired the Spartans in order in his first appearance on the mound to begin what ended up being arguably the best pitching performance of the pool.

With the momentum in favor of the Bulldogs and the crowd behind them, Tyler Stone then opened the 2nd inning with a leadoff double into center. Spartans starting pitcher Derek Von Horn (5 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 K, 6 IP), who also had a solid outing on the mound despite the loss, then bounced back with a pair of strikeouts before Somerville’s Nick Petrillo extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 2-0 with a two-out single into center.

Those two runs scored by Somerville ended up shifting the potential three-way tiebreaker advantage in Bridgewater-Raritan’s favor, though an Immaculata win would have given the Spartans the pool championship no matter what.

Von Horn responded for the Spartans by striking out the side in the 3rd inning. Then, already with three strikeouts in two innings, Scott answered right back in the 3rd frame for the Bulldogs with a pair of strikeouts before Immaculata’s AJ Johnson and Chris Markovich hit back-to-back singles. With the tying runs on first and second, however, the Spartans came up empty, and Somerville still led 2-0 after three innings.

Both starting pitchers had 1-2-3 innings in the 4th and 5th frames. Von Horn then escaped the top of the 6th inning unharmed with Bulldogs runners on second and third, while Scott came up with a pair of strikeouts for Somerville to keep the Bulldogs up 2-0 heading into the final inning of regulation.

Markovich came in at relief pitcher for Immaculata to replace Von Horn in the top of the 7th inning. Scott led off for Somerville with a single at the plate, and three at bats later, Timmy Wright drove him home with an RBI single to give the Bulldogs a late insurance run just before the final out was recorded.

With his team now leading 3-0, Scott returned to the mound for Somerville to try to close out his complete-game gem. He retired Immaculata’s leadoff hitter, but Von Horn singled for Immaculata, and fellow Spartans hitter Michael Schumacher drew a walk to bring the tying run to the plate with one out.

Scott responded with back-to-back strikeouts for Somerville to slam the door on Immaculata’s championship hopes, and the Bulldogs closed out their tournament run with a 3-0 victory. His complete-game gem on the mound, particularly with four hits and two walks allowed with ten strikeouts, resulted in a three-way tie between Somerville, Immaculata, and Bridgewater-Raritan atop the pool standings at 2-1.

Given what was at stake with the result, Bridgewater-Raritan was certainly the most excited about this.

FINAL POOL STANDINGS:
At the conclusion of the North Region 8 (Bridgewater) pool, the final standings were as follows:
1. Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1) – CHAMPION*
2. Immaculata (2-1)
3. Somerville (2-1)

4. Bernards (0-3)

*As mentioned at the top of the article, the Panthers won the three-way tie atop the standings due to only allowing two total runs in 21 total innings played (2/21 = .095) in their three pool play games. This put Bridgewater-Raritan ahead of Immaculata’s four runs allowed in 21 total innings played (4/21 = .190) and Somerville’s five runs allowed in 22 total innings played (5/22 = .227).

NEXT UP:
With Bridgewater-Raritan winning the North Region 8 pool, the Panthers will advance to the Round of 32 and the single-elimination portion of the Last Dance World Series. They will get the winner (TBD) of the North Region 9 pool in a single-elimination contest at 10:00am on Tuesday July 21, 2020 at Skylands Park in Augusta, NJ.

Fans should be advised that there may be a $5-10 entry fee into Skylands Park.*

*Per The Last Dance tournament fan policies: “Fans are encouraged to wear masks, to bring their own chairs, and to socially distance from all non-family members. Fans are not permitted in the areas directly behind home plate or directly next to the dugouts. Fans should stay in their cars until fifteen (15) minutes prior to the start of a contest. If a fan returns a foul ball, please return it to the dugout so it can be sanitized before return to play.”

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