CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham varsity baseball team defeated Madison in a home game on Monday afternoon, 4-1, to improve their record to 6-2-0. Brian Ballard, Brett Huelsenbeck, and Drew Ballard touched home, and John Byrnes hit a home run at the top of the fifth inning. Chatham pitcher Ballard regulated the plate with a sharp eye and limited Madison’s progress, leading the Cougars' victory.
Ballard and first baseman Gregg Bazzani kept the bases empty at the bottom of the first, and Huelsenbeck and Ballard nabbed singles during Chatham’s offensive bid that eventually got them home, ending the first inning with Chatham up 2-0.
Ballard and Bazzani kept the bases empty once again at the bottom of the second. Madison pitcher Connor Higgins responded with two strikeouts, and the team’s offense kept John Byrnes of Chatham from reaching home, maintaining the 2-0 score.
“My fastball and curveball were both working today, and I got into a rhythm and I kept going. It always gives me a lot of confidence when we get the runs early, get the defense going early, and I just do my work from there. I got my fastball working and I was getting the ball in the corners I needed, too. I just wanted to keep them in check,” Ballard of Chatham commented after the game.
Jamie Hunter of Madison loaded the bases at the bottom of the third with a cut to left field before Michael Wulff of Madison hit an RBI single to bring Jake Meister home. Madison kept Chatham from reaching first at the top of the inning, ending the third with Chatham still up 2-1.
Ballard pitched two strikeouts and Brownlee of Madison was tagged while trying to steal second. Chatham failed to touch first at the top of the fourth. Right-fielder Halliburton and center-fielder Byrnes of Chatham caught two hits by Madison and Bazzani made a tag at first to start the fifth. When Chatham was at bat, Byrnes hit a home run at the top of the inning to increase Chatham’s lead to 3-1.
“We did things that were uncharacteristic of us today: we kicked the ball around a little bit defensively, we had trouble with pitch location, our pitcher was kind of wild in the strike zone and just couldn’t hit some spots for us, but their kid -- Ballard -- did a fabulous job keeping us off balance, and threw two pitches for strikes, in particular his curveball that just kept us off balance all day long” Madison Coach Mickey Ennis said after the game.
Madison’s hitters made contact at the start of the sixth, but Chatham second baseman Michael Fox kept all three off his base. James Damato of Chatham initiated the most exciting play of the game during the team’s offensive bid: while starting to steal second and finding himself pursued by Madison’s first and second basemen, Drew Ballard started to steal home, creating a tense standoff before both players capitalized on Madison’s indecision by completing their steals. Unlike Ballard, Damato did not touch home and was sent in after Madison right-fielder Michael Haughey hustled to a fast catch to end the inning with Chatham up 4-1.
When asked about this play, Drew Ballard said, “It was a drama play for me to get home; I just tried to wait for the moment when they weren’t looking at me. James was doing his job staying in the rundown, so I could just quickly get home and score the run before the out was made. I was supposed to go once he threw the ball back to first base, so right when the ball came into the second basemen’s hand was when I dove for home.”
Madison’s batters faced the pressure of eliminating their deficit at the start of the seventh, but Ballard, Halliburton, and Bazzani of Chatham coordinated to make three consecutive outs, ending the game with a Chatham victory of 4-1.
“The key to the success today was starting pitcher Brian Ballard coming out and throwing about as good as he has done all year, strike one all day long and then working off that and just mixing it up and doing a great job for us. The relevance of this game for us was that, the first time we played them, we had an early lead 6-1, and they came back and took it from us, and we just wanted to come out and play a good game today,” Chatham Coach Bryan Hedgecock commented.
Chatham will play in an away game against Dover on Tuesday.