VERONA, NJ — After the first three batters of Saturday’s game, Millburn senior right-hander Kyle Mazer was his usual dominating self, producing outs against a gritty Livingston lineup and giving his offense ample chances to jump ahead.
Unfortunately for Mazer and his Millburn team, allowing just a first-inning run cost the Millers a trip to the Greater Newark Tournament (GNT) final. That’s because Livingston’s Ryan Cardona was nearly unhittable, and one run was all he’d need to come away victorious and improve to 7-0.
With a fastball that sat 86-to-89 miles-per-hour, Cardona tossed a complete game, four-hit shutout and eliminated Millburn in the GNT semifinal Saturday afternoon, 1-0, at Verona’s Paul “Doc” Goeltz Field. Livingston advances to next Saturday’s final and will play Nutley, which stunned five-time defending champion Seton Hall Prep earlier in the morning. Millburn has been eliminated in the GNT semifinal for the second time in three seasons.
In a gritty outing in which he battled without his top-notch stuff, Mazer allowed just one run through the complete seven innings, while scattering six hits, walking just two and striking out a pair. Though he was the hard-luck loser Saturday, Mazer’s earned run average improves to 2.49 in 45 innings pitched this spring.
While Mazer was impressive and turned in arguably the best start of his season, the first three of the 28 total batters he faced ultimately decided the game.
Livingston took advantage of Mazer when he was most vulnerable Saturday afternoon, and that just happened to be right out of the gate. Batting from the leadoff spot, Livingston’s Brett Mendez worked a walk and advanced to second base on Kacey Chambers’ sacrifice bunt right back to Mazer. Now with a runner in scoring position and just one out, the table was set for Chris Senney, and he didn’t miss his opportunity.
The Lancer third baseman pulled a Mazer fastball over the infield and Mendez scored ahead of Millburn right fielder Nick Santagata’s throw home. Less than five minutes into the game, Livingston was staked to the lead that proved good enough to win.
Mazer settled down wonderfully after the first inning roadblock, and arguably pitched better than his counterpart Cardona from then on out. Though Cardona (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K) pitched his team into the GNT final with a masterpiece, he threw plenty of pitches under duress, and that was the doing of Millburn’s pesky lineup.
On consecutive occasions in the second and third innings, Millburn had the tying run 90 feet away at third base after working Cardona, but both times, could not convert. The Millers also stranded the tying run in scoring position at second in the fifth and sixth innings, but Cardona pitched out of the jam each time.
Millburn’s most dangerous threat came in the bottom of the third. Nine-hitter Matt Knowles lead off the inning with a single, and at the cost of two outs, advanced to third. That brought up Peter Serruto — the man Millburn would want up in a situation like this — but Cardona overpowered Serruto (0-for-3, K) and struck him out on a check swing to end the frame and scoring threat.
That scoring opportunity came an inning after the Millers had a two-on, two-out situation ended when Cardona struck out Peter Gula.
Cardona found himself in a similar spot two innings later in the fourth, when he walked Oren Abbott — who also drew a base-on-balls in that second inning — and Ben Sinins, consecutively. Abbott would steal second and third, but with one out, first baseman Will Egner made a spectacular over-the-shoulder running grab in foul territory and Tom Kelly snagged a Gula liner at second to bail out Cardona.
The big lefty-hitting Abbott, who also flashes speed around the bases, roped a ground-rule double to dead center field with one out in the sixth — the only extra-base hit from either team — but Cardona escaped his final predicament of the game by inducing two putouts to second baseman Kelly.
After his rocky first inning, Mazer spun a pair of 1-2-3 innings and didn’t allow a baserunner past second base. He escaped jams in the sixth and seventh innings in which a runner was at second with less than two outs.