NUTLEY, NJ - Chatham center fielder Tyler Brock made a valiant effort in trying to extend the game into extra innings, but the senior just couldn't reach far enough over the fence to bring back the home run off the bat of Nutley's Kevin Hogan with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
"The ball was coming, I had my glove out and I kind of got a read on it," Brock said. "I made a long reach and it tipped off the bottom thumb part of my glove."
Two batters earlier, Marty Higgins homered with one out to tie the game, setting up Hogan's two-out, walk-off homer that lifted No. 2 seeded Nutley to a stunning 4-3 baseball win over No. 7 Chatham in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state tournament quarterfinals on Thursday at the Oval.
"Baseball goes either way sometimes," Chatham senior Peter DeMaria said. "This team, this program shouldn't be defined by one game. The seniors, the past four years really made a 180 in the program. The sky is the limit for them. I'm pretty bummed out it ended that way, but we left something for these guys to finish."
Chatham (15-8) batted around to take a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. DeMaria got the rally started with a one-out walk and Andrew Bergman followed with an opposite-field double down the third base line (see below) to put runners on second and third.
After Bergman's double, Chatham cleanup hitter, Ben Gorski, was walked intentionally to load the bases. Clay Delsandro then hit a grounder up the middle (see below) that slipped between the runner Bergman and diving shortstop Higgins to score DeMaria.
Bobby Briganti knocked in Bergman with a grounder to second for a 2-0 lead. Chris Doherty was then hit by a pitch to reload the bases for Chatham and Luke McCorry drove in the third run when he was plunked by a pitch (see below).
Nutley (20-8) got a run back in the bottom of the first off Chatham ace left-hander Matt Stamford, who had pitched Monday and was on a limited pitch count.
Stamford kept Nutley in check through the third inning thanks to a great play in the field by shortstop Gorski. With a runner on first and no one out in the third, Higgins hit a low liner that Gorski made a full-out dive to his right to catch inches off the ground. He then leaped to his feet and threw to first, doubling the runner off first base. That defused a rally that could have been trouble since the next batter doubled.
In the fourth, Nutley loaded the bases with one out and Chatham coach Todd Leathers called on reliever Tyler Tornberg. The right-hander surrendered a sacrifice fly that narrowed Chatham's lead to 3-2. Tornberg pitched a scoreless fifth and then allowed a walk before striking out the side in the sixth.
Entering the seventh against Nutley's top of the order, Tornberg hadn't allowed a hit. He induced a popup for the first out and followed with two strikes to Higgins. But Higgins hit a 1-2 fastball from Tornberg over the fence for his fifth homer of the year, tying it at 3-3.
"The top of their lineup is very good for them," Leathers said. "We knew that their hitting was strong at the top. He had (Higgins) 1-2 there and it looked like a fastball ran over the plate. That's what great hitters do, when you make a mistake as a pitcher, they make you pay for it."
Tornberg came back to get a grounder for the second out before Hogan ended it with his second homer of the season, just out of Brock's reach.
"When the seniors were freshmen, they had a 4-20 season, that's what varsity was at that time," said Leathers, in his third season as the Cougar coach. "Chatham wasn't thought of as anything in baseball. Now you look at it the last two years they're 18-7 and 15-8."