MILLBURN, NJ - With remarkable consistency, the Millburn baseball team has made many of the elite pitchers in the area work especially hard, before winning the battle the second or third time through the lineup.
It happened again on Tuesday, when top-seeded Millburn defeated Watchung Hills, 7-1, in the semifinal round of the NJSIAA Section 2, Group 4 tournament.
Millburn (23-5) will host second-seeded Woodbridge (25-5) in the sectional championship game Friday at 4 p.m.
Held to one hit their first time through the order, the Millers then took the measure of highly regarded right-hander Kevin Sylvestri when he faced each of them a second time. Millburn scored three runs in the third inning and four more in the fourth, collecting five hits but also taking advantage of four walks, a hit batsman and five Watchung Hills errors to avenge their loss to the Warriors in the same round of last year's tournament.
"The first time through the order, his (Sylvestri's) motion was quick, he was quick to the plate and it took us awhile to adjust," said Millburn second baseman Ben Pampush, a .423 hitter who followed Peter Gula's leadoff walk in the third inning with a long triple to right-center that gave the Millers a 1-0 lead.
"I got a fastball and I made good contact," Pampush said. "That got the momentum going, and then everyone was more relaxed."
Richie Schiekofer followed Pampush's triple with a long opposite-field drive to left field that was caught and then dropped, allowing Pampush to score and Schiekofer to reach second. Then, after a wild pitch sent Schiekofer to third base, Peter Serruto followed with a cue shot, hump-back liner that went up the middle and carried just beyond the drawn-in Watchung Hills middle infielders for an RBI single and a 3-0 lead.
"We don't have that many huge hitters, so we have to scrap together runs," Pampush said. "And the coaches stress that we can't leave runners on base."
Millburn made Watchung Hills (17-11) pay for almost all of the Somerset County team's many mistakes. The fourth inning included an error on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch, as the Millers added on with Gula's two-run double to left-center, Schiekofer's sacrifice fly and Serruto's run-scoring groundout.
That was more than enough for Millburn starting pitcher Mike Kologlu, who pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits, striking out five and walking one. Kologlu (7-0) was lifted with two outs in the fifth not because of fatigue or lack of effectiveness, but to preserve his eligibility to pitch in Friday's sectional final. Alex Byington came on to pitch 2 2/3 strong innings, allowing two hits and two walks and striking out two. Byington was an out away from completing the shutout when Nick Mink tripled in Watchung Hills' only run.
"Our top of the order does a nice job adjusting to and figuring out what pitchers are trying to do," Millburn coach Brian Chapman said. "It's consistently true that we seem to score the bulk of our runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings after we understand what the opposing pitcher is trying to do."