MILLBURN, NJ - For as much as there is at stake, and for all the statewide attention that will be focused on Saturday's matchup between top-seeded Millburn and second-seeded Seton Hall Prep for the Greater Newark Tournament championship game, the Millburn baseball team is going to approach the showdown as business as usual.
Millburn (20-4) will play Seton Hall Prep (23-2) Saturday at 4 p.m. at Belleville High School.
The game will mark the third meeting between the two Essex County powers this season. They split the first two, with Seton Hall winning, 9-3, just this past Wednesday. Millburn defeated Seton Hall Prep by the same score in April, but Seton Hall has won 17 games in a row since that loss. Millburn will be sending senior right-hander Connor Lally to the mound this time. Lally has a 5-0 record with a 1.44 earned-run average. He has allowed just 15 hits in 39 innings (with 30 strikeouts and 14 walks).
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Kevin Young (5-0) was Seton Hall's starter in the Pony Pirates' 1-0 semifinal victory over Montclair on Monday, but Seton Hall Prep has a stable of premium arms upon which the team can call in the championship game.
"I don't think we have discussed with our players who might be pitching Saturday," Millburn coach Brian Chapman said of Seton Hall Prep. "The reality is a) whoever it is, is a quality arm with great velocity and a great game plan. That doesn't really matter to our kids. They have to go up there and have quality at-bats and grind and wear you out. And, b) I also think our kids think we're just gonna go to war like we do every day. We have spent seven weeks taking everybody's best shot against us, and we have competed against them each time."
Lally's performance as the Millers' de facto ace has become more prominent after junior pitcher Kyle Mazer went down with a season-ending knee injury in late April after winning his first four decisions.
"Connor is able to keep us in the game against any team and consistently throw strikes," Chapman said. "He brings all the little intangibles, controls the running game, and has a great presence on the mound. We don't get the 88-92 mph pitchers in Millburn. We have a style, and we ask that our pitchers throw multiple pitches for strikes, are able to field and can hold baserunners."
Millburn senior center fielder Richie Schiekofer has turned in an all-state caliber season, with a .522 batting average, 12 extra-base hits and 30 RBI. The left-handed swinging outfielder headed to the University of Maryland is also 26 for 26 stealing bases. Millburn junior catcher Peter Serruto, renowned for his defense and cannon throwing arm, has become a vastly improved offensive threat in 2017 with a .375 batting average and 21 RBI. And junior second baseman Ben Pampush has emerged as a potent offensive threat who has batted .462 with 12 extra-base hits and 30 runs scored.
"Ben Pampush has been an elite player in his age group his entire time. Last year as sophomore we blended him in," Chapman said. "We knew his potential was great and his ceiling was high. He's been a super kid on both sides. He's a terrific athlete, and pretty special at second base, too."
Millburn has six players in its everyday lineup with batting averages above .300, including Lally, whose bat (.361) is too valuable to take out of the lineup even on the days when he is pitching.
"(Saturday) we will have the same game plan we have for any game that we play," Chapman said. "Runs are gonna be scarce on Saturday."