VERONA, NJ - Sophomore first baseman Will Egner's grand slam capped a six-run third inning that carried third-seeded Livingston to an 8-3 victory over fourth-seeded Nutley for the Greater Newark Tournament championship on Sunday.
It was the first GNT title for Livingston (17-3) since 2009, when the Lancers also defeated Nutley for the crown. The victory also extended Livingston's winning streak to nine games. The Lancers are 9-0 in May.
Senior right-hander Ryan Cardona (8-0, 0.99 ERA) pitched a six-hitter for the victory. He struck out six batters, walked one, and none of the three runs Nutley (17-8) scored were earned. It was his second complete-game victory over Nutley this season.
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But the game could not have possibly begun more ominously for Cardona, who hit the leadoff batter, wild pitched him to second, walked the next batter and then saw Nutley load the bases when Dan Caraballo's bunt with nobody out went for a single.
Somehow, Cardona escaped that predicament unscathed, striking out the next batter on a 2-2 fastball and inducing Trevor Santos to bounce into an inning-ending double play to second baseman Chris Tamburri, who flipped to shortstop Brett Mendez for the force before Mendez relayed to Egner at first to complete the twin-killing.
"When I am on the mound, I just try to wipe everything out of my mind," said Cardona of his method of crisis management. "I have a lot of trust in my fielders and trust in my pitches."
Nutley took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Leadoff batter and starting pitcher John Luberto reached second on a two-base throwing error, advanced to third on a sacrifice and scored when DH Ryan O'Mara dropped a squeeze bunt in front of the mound. Cardona fielded it and attempted a quick flip of the ball with the glove, but courtesy runner Dan D'Antonio slid home ahead of the flip.
A Livingston rally in the second was short-circuited before it got started when leadoff batter Kacey Chambers smashed a fly ball to deep left field, only to be retired when left fielder Santos, after twisting and turning while he backpedaled, made a spectacular catch falling against the fence.
In the bottom of the third, Luberto hit Cardona with a pitch to start the inning. Brett Mendez followed with a grounded single up the middle, but on Austin Chambers' bunt, courtesy runner MJ DePaolo was erased on a force at third. Chris Senney followed with an RBI single to center to tie the game, 1-1. It was the 30th RBI of the season for Senney, also the No. 2 pitcher on Livingston's mound staff.
Cleanup batter Tom Kelly's single beyond the second baseman's reach loaded the bases, and Kacey Chambers' sacrifice fly to center field scored courtesy runner Anthony Lopa to give the Lancers a 2-1 lead. After a wild pitch, Tamburri drew a walk to load the bases, and Nutley replaced Luberto on the mound with Santos, a left-hander coming in from left field (without being able to warm up in the bullpen) to pitch with the bases loaded.
The first batter against him was Egner, who launched a long drive to left field that cleared the fence for a grand slam that gave Livingston a 6-1 lead and provided Cardona with a ton of breathing room.
"It was a fastball that was just a little down," Egner said of Santos' delivery. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard. Our offense has been coming around more the last couple of games. Even when we haven't played well otherwise, we have managed to get runs in."
Cardona seemed invigorated by the run support, as he started the next inning with back-to-back strikeouts, one swinging, the other looking, and both with a fastball.
"I definitely didn't have my best stuff today," Cardona said, "but as the game went on, my 'velo' went up and my slider was working a lot better."
Livingston extended its lead to 7-1 by stealing a run in the bottom of the fourth. Cardona started the inning with a line single to left, courtesy runner Aidan Conway took second on a groundout and then third on a wild pitch. Senney drew a two-out walk, and then Conway broke for him with pitcher Santos holding the ball on the mound. Santos' throw home to try and catch Conway stealing was actually in time, but dropped by the catcher blocking the plate. Conway flipped over the catcher and got his hand on home plate safely for the run, although Nutley caught Senney trying to advance from first to third on the play.
Nutley scored two runs in the fifth, but another infield throwing error made both unearned against Cardona, who retired seven of the last eight batters he faced in his complete-game, 101-pitch effort.
Livingston added its final tally in the sixth inning. Egner, who was 3-for-3, roped his third hit of the game to center leading off. Matthew Feit beat out a perfect bunt to the right side. After Cardona popped out on another bunt attempt, Mendez drew a walk to load the bases, and Austin Chambers plated Egner with a sac fly to right field.
Livingston has less than 24 hours to enjoy the spoils of its GNT championship. The Lancers open play in the Section 1, Group 4 state tournament Monday afternoon at home against Kearny. Livingston is the top seed in the section. Kearny is seeded 16th.
NUTLEY (17-8) 010 020 0 -- 3 6 0
LIVINGSTON (17-3) 006 101 x -- 8 8 2