CHATHAM, NJ - It took the Chatham baseball team a whole season to win 10 games in 2016. On Saturday, the Cougars defeated Jefferson, 9-6, in the second round of the Morris County Tournament to put them at 10 wins in 2017 - and it's still April.
"It's a different mentality this year," Chatham senior shortstop/pitcher Jimmy Cunningham said. "I think it starts from the top with the seniors and it kind rubs off on everyone else. We have a winning attitude."
Chatham showed that it has more than just a deep pitching staff against Jefferson. It also has contributors off the bench such as senior Ronan Limroth, who entered the game in the sixth inning and made two clutch plays in the victory.
"This a team that battles," Todd Leathers, in his second year as the head coach, said. "We're using a lot of guys, Every game we use 13, 14 guys. People understand that just because you're not starting or in the lineup to begin with, doesn't mean you're not going to come up with the most important at-bat of the game."
Chatham (10-2) needed Cunningham to come in from shortstop to pitch with one out in the sixth inning to help quell a Jefferson rally. That put Limroth at shortstop and the first batter Cunningham faced hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Limroth dove and grabbed the ball, then got up and threw from his knees to second baseman Sean Lee for the force out.
"That was an awesome play," Cunningham said. "I was pumped up on the mound. A good play for him just coming into the game for his confidence. And a real nice bunt that ended up being a single and scoring a run for us (in the bottom of the inning)."
Jefferson (7-7) scored on the grounder to Limroth, making it 6-6, but Cunningham struck out the final batter of the inning to keep it tied heading into the bottom of the sixth. Lee led off with a line drive to left center that he hustled into a leadoff double. Connor Winans drew a walk and then Jefferson decided to intentionally walk Chatham's best hitter, Peter DeMaria, for the second straight time.
That brought up cleanup hitter Chris Delsandro, who drew a walk to drive in a run and regain the lead for Chatham. Matt Devlin followed with a fielder's choice grounder to gain his second RBI of the game before Limroth pushed a perfect bunt toward first and beat it out for an RBI base hit, making it 9-6 for the Cougars.
"He did exactly what you're supposed to do," Leathers said of Limroth. "He made a great play up the middle (in the field). He executed."
Chris Delsandro and Ronan Limroth talk about the key plays in Chatham's MCT win
In the top of the seventh, Cunningham pitched a 1-2-3 inning, striking out the final batter to end it and earn the win.
"That's something I've really done my whole life, being a shortstop and also a pitcher," Cunningham said. "So it's something I'm comfortable with. It's what the team needed for the win. It was a big win for us."
Lee doubled and scored two runs; Winans singled, doubled, scored two runs, drove in one and stole a base; Devlin had two hits and two RBI; Tyler Brock walked three times and scored twice, and Jack Lamar had two hits, a run scored and an RBI.
Chatham first baseman Peter DeMaria, making his return from an injury, was intentionally walked twice. Both times loading the bases for catcher Delsandro, who came through each time with an RBI. Delsandro ended with two hits and three RBI.
"I really have a good feeling about this year," DeMaria said.
Chris Delsrandro picks up one of his three RBI with this single for Chatham
Chatham plays host to Morris Hills, 1 p.m. Sunday at Chatham High in the quarterfinals of the MCT.