EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ- South Plainfield High School senior Connor Adams had already begun stealing second base when a groundout was recorded and stood a potential base hit away from scoring the go-ahead run on a hot and sticky afternoon. After senior Mike Stanczak struck out swinging, Adams broke for third base and the ball ended up into left field.
“As soon as I saw that ball go into [left field], I didn’t even see where the fielder was,” Adams said of the chance he had to score. “I just ran home and we were winning the game after that.”
He chugged home and slid to score the game-winning run to give his team the lead where both teams had several chances to win, as the dugout and fans erupted in cheers after he came home safely.
“Connor, after seeing that hit, you get that base stolen. It was his call, he was telling me he had it,” South Plainfield head coach Anthony Guida said. “He felt it and knew he was going to be safe. He got there, it was all him.”
The Tigers, who fell in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 Quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon to Governor Livingston HS, needed three more outs for the win, but the Perth Amboy High School Panthers were not ready to concede what ultimately turned into a marathon game.
With junior Billy Keane on the mound in relief of junior starting pitcher Chris Shine, he recorded the first out before surrendering back-to-back hits to put the tying and winning runs on base. Then, a flyball came in the direction of junior Chris Born.
“Once it was hit, I was like, ‘This ball is not dropping, [Perth Amboy is] not winning this game,’” Born said. “I ran as fast as I could, almost overran it and I caught it.”
After hauling in to make the impossible-looking catch, he immediately heaved the ball back to the infield and junior second baseman Rob Gonzalez doubled off the runner to end the game and begin the celebration.
The 14-seeded Tigers captured their first Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship in program history, in a 2-1 win in the GMC Tournament Finals over the 12-seeded Panthers 2-1 Saturday afternoon at East Brunswick Vo-Tech High School.
“It feels amazing. There’s no words to describe it,” Adams said of the first GMC Tournament championship. “For the seniors, it’s our last game and to go out with a win in the 12th inning, there’s nothing better than that.”
South Plainfield sent junior Chris Shine to the mound, looking to make history on the day and for the most part, the game became a pitcher’s duel, with Shine facing off against Perth Amboy senior starting pitcher Jose Peralta.
Both starters threw 110 pitches each, before being relieved by their respective bullpens. Shine went 8 2/3 innings, striking out four batters and issuing no walks. He scattered nine hits and allowed only one earned run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“The curveball was a little spotty to start it off, so I threw my fastball the first couple of innings,” Shine said of his pitching selection. “After I settled in, I had to look at my pitches and passed it on to Billy Keane to finish it.”
Peralta did his own part, not allowing the first Tigers hit of the game until the top of the fourth inning, allowing an infield single to South Plainfield sophomore Jordan Hamberg. He was relieved by Jodarlyn DelaSantos, finishing with 8 2/3 innings pitched, striking out eight batters, issuing one walk, scattering six hits and allowing no earned runs (one run total).
“Pitching is going to beat good hitting and Perth Amboy gave us good pitching. We knew we had to scrap out a couple of runs,” Guida said.
As the game shifted to extra innings, the amount of chances for both South Plainfield and Perth Amboy came quite frequently. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Panthers got runners at first and second with one out after a hits-batsman and a single, but a huge 4-6-3 double play, started by Gonzalez to Stanczak to Keane forced extra innings.
The Panthers got the potential winning run in scoring position in the bottom of the eighth inning, but Shine worked around the two-out single from Darius Diaz to send the game to the ninth inning, where both sides had golden opportunities to seal it.
South Plainfield had two on with two outs, before a call was made, saying that Niko Vazquez was out on a tag after it looked as if the Tigers had the bases loaded, after initially being ruled safe. Perth Amboy’s chance to win was next.
Bryan Valenzula and Juan Espillat (pinch-hitter) both singled and Jesus Acosta was walked to load the bases with two outs. Keane struck out Juan Nunez swinging to get the game to the top of the tenth inning. He credits his strategy with going through his pitches to get out of trouble.
“I just had to keep them off-balance and nothing to hit,” Keane said. “I worked backwards the whole time, from the cutter and our defense saved me a bunch of times.”
Overall, the Panthers had six errors on the day, but the last one proved to be the costliest, with the winning run coming in, but did finish the season with a 14-12 record following a 3-7 start, featuring the first Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Finals appearance in program history.
“I told the players to hang their heads [high]. This is the first time in Perth Amboy history that we’ve ever made it to the [GMC Tourament] Finals. So win or loss, it’s a big accomplishment, especially with how we played earlier in the season.”
Earlier on, the first two Tigers batters, Adams and junior Michael Marrero reached base on errors. Stanczak sent a deep flyball to center field for a sacrifice fly, scoring Adams to give South Plainfield the 1-0 lead.
Shine took the mound and for the most part, kept Perth Amboy from getting anything early on.
In the bottom of the first inning, after hitting Perth Amboy’s Darius Diaz, a quick line drive from the next batter turned into a double play, with Rob Gonzalez catching and throwing to first, doubling off Diaz.
The Panthers would find their way on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth inning. After the first two batters reached, Jodarlyn DelaSantos drove home the tying run after grounding into a double play.