FLEMINGTON, NJ -- Cooper Bobowicz won his 10th decision without a loss and Greg Bozzo's grand slam highlighted a six-run third inning to send Ridge to an 11-1 baseball victory over Bridgewater-Raritan in the semifinal round of the Section 2, Group 4 tournament at Diamond Nation Wednesday.
Bobowicz (10-0) started the game and, at bat, he also finished it--his two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning gave Ridge the 11-1 lead to invoke the 10-run rule that ended the contest. And just in time, too, as the rain had increased to a borderline downpour when Bobowicz got the two-out hit to wrap things up.
Ridge (18-9) will host Westfield (10-11) - the defending champion - in the sectional final Friday afternoon. Westfield, the eighth-seed, knocked off top-seeded Bayonne and fourth-seeded Scotch Plains-Fanwood en route to the final.
Bridgewater-Raritan (15-13) had come in with the momentum of having knocked off Phillipsburg in five innings, 10-0, in the quarterfinals, and the extra day precipitated by Tuesday's rainout gave the Panthers the opportunity to again start Greg Verano, the same pitcher who had thrown the shutout last Friday. Bobowicz was on track to start for Ridge regardless of which day the game was played.
And Bridgewater did draw the first blood, reaching the Ridge left-hander for a run in the top of the first. Jake Hendershot drew a one-out walk, stole second and scored on Justin Sinibaldi's two-out single. The Panthers had a chance to add to that lead in the second inning, as leadoff batter Elliott Rodgers was hit by a pitch and Matt Smoke reached on an error. Josh Polon advanced them to third and second with a sacrifice bunt, but then Bobowicz toughened up, with some help from his defense. The next batter bounced back to the mound, with no advance by the runners, for the second out. Then David Olsakowski hit a sinking line drive to shallow center that Bobby Parisi, the Ridge center fielder, caught with a headlong dive for the third out.
Verano, working quickly, dispatched the first five Ridge batters he faced before left-handed hitter Jack Love slammed a 2-2 pitch over the right field fence for a game-tying home run.
"Jack's home run was huge," Ridge coach Tom Blackwell said. "It allowed us to take a deep breath after we were down, 1-0."
The Panthers again had an opprtunity in the third inning, and, again, Parisi's spectacular glove work helped the Red Devils escape. Hendershot led off the third with a double to left-center, but Bozzo, Ridge's catcher, threw him out attempting to steal third. Verano reached on an infield error with one out, then Sinibaldi's fly ball to center was snared by Parisi with another diving catch for the second out. Bobowicz retired the next batter on a fastball to end the inning.
That set the stage for Ridge to break the game open in its half of the third. Jason Arrigo led off the frame with an opposite-field double to deep right field. The next batter, Lukas Goodman, put down a bunt that was fielded quickly by Verano coming off the mound. He threw to third attempting to get the lead runner, but Arrigo was safe there after the low throw was juggled. A walk to Chris Parker loaded the bases with none out.
Brendan Bell followed with a single to right-center. Each runner moved up a base, but when Bell rounded first and kept on going to second, Parker, who had reached second and stopped, had no choice but to vacate second base and get in a rundown. But Bridgewater's cutoff man on the infield instead threw home and threw the ball away as Goodman scored to make the score 3-1. After Parisi drew a walk, the bases were re-loaded for Bozzo.
As so many Ridge batters have done during this season, Bozzo delivered a big hit despite beging behind in the count. He deposited the 1-2 pitch over the wall in left field for a grand slam that increased Ridge's lead to 7-1--still with nobody out.
Verano got the next three batters consecutively, but the damage had been done, and the Panthers' chances to inflict harm on Ridge's ace pitcher had passed, too. Bobowicz set down the next six batters he faced, finishing his mound chores with five innings, two hits allowed, one walk and five strikeouts. Bobowicz has allowed three hits and one earned run in 10 1/3 innings in the state tournament.
"Cooper was struggling with his curve early in the game," Blackwell said. "There was a lot of moisture with the sweat. It was a hot day out there. But once we had the lead, he was able to settle in and challenge them with the fastball."
While Bobowicz' sustained excellence on the mound, the power provided by Bozzo and Love and the glove work turned in by Parisi all deserved large font headlines on Wednesday, what also should not be overlooked were three productive at-bats by No. 9 batter Goodman. In addition to his fielder's choice bunt in the third, the Ridge left fielder smashed a triple to left-center in the fourth inning and served a two-run single through the right side in the fifth inning to extend the Red Devils' lead to 9-1.
Bridgewater-Raritan finished with three hits. After Hendershot's leadoff double in the third, the Panthers' only other hit was a one-out double by Jacob Olson in the sixth inning off Ridge reliever Bell, who allowed a hit and a walk and struck out two in one inning pitched.
The season marked a significant turnaround for Bridgewater-Raritan, which posted its first winning record since 2015 with a team composed of many key contributors who will be returning next season. Additionally, the junior varsity and freshman teams at BRHS both had outstanding seasons, all of which bodes well for 2020 and 2021.
BRHS (15-13) 100 000 -- 1 3 2
Ridge (18-9) 016 022 -- 11 8 2
HR-(Ridge) Love, Bozzo.