CHATHAM, NJ - Normally, it's hard to break into the spotlight when Matt Stamford takes the mound for Chatham. But it was hard to overlook Sam Browning on Wednesday when top-seeded Chatham met Summit at Chatham High School.
Stamford pitched two-hit ball through six innings to win his sixth game of the year and Browning became the first Cougar player to hit a ball over the fence at CHS this season, belting a two-run homer to left center in Chatham's 9-1 win in the quarterfinals of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state tournament.
Chatham (17-6) will play host to the winner of Thursday's scheduled game between Mendham and Middletown South on Tuesday at Chatham High.
"That's the Sam Browning we expect for the rest of the year," Chatham coach Todd Leathers said. "He stepped up today in a big situation and had an all-around good game."
Browning reached base all four times he came to the plate for Chatham. He walked and scored in the second inning; singled for an RBI, stole a base and scored in the third; singled in the fourth, and launched a two-run homer over the fence in the sixth.
"There are a few games I wish I could have back, but this is the only time of the year that matters right now," Browning said. "I'm swinging good and I'm feeling good at the plate. That's all I can ask for.
"I hit a fastball for the home run. The pitcher made a mistake and put it right over the plate and I put a good swing on it. It felt good. At first, I didn't think it was going to make it, but when I heard everyone cheering I knew it was out."
Junior left-hander Stamford improved to 6-0 on the year with his two-hit pitching through six innings. He struck out six and walked three and did not allow an earned run.
"I think I was a little too excited early on and I threw a little too hard," Stamford said. "I remembered to be myself and pitch the way I have all year. My fastball was my best pitch. I was able to command it and hit both sides of the plate, which kept them on their toes. I also was able to throw by curve and change-up for strikes, which really kept them off balance."
Matt Devlin came on in relief for Chatham to pitch a clean seventh, striking out two of the three batters he faced.
After Summit (13-11) cut its deficit to 2-1 in the third inning, the Cougars batted around to push across four runs in the bottom of the third to take a 6-1 lead. Browning, Connor Winans, Clay Delsandro and Jack Lamar all drove in runs during the rally.
"The inning they scored all the runs really helped," Stamford said. "It kind of let me get comfortable and settle in with the lead."
In the fourth, Chris Delsandro doubled to the fence in left center, moved to third on Browning's infield hit and scored on Winans' sacrifice bunt.
"We did what we've done all year, which is battle," Leathers said. "We stressed to these guys all the time that it's not one pitch, it's not one thing, it's the totality of everything. We did a great job."
Leathers is hoping that Peter DeMaria, Chatham's top hitter, will be able to return from an injury next week.
Clay Delsandro hits a sacrifice fly to center to drive in the first run for Chatham
Sean Lee singles for an RBI to make it 2-0 for Chatham in the second
Matt Stamford shows his form in slow motion as he earmed his sixth win of the season