MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn baseball team will be making its third appearance in the Section 2, Group 4 final in the last four seasons, but this Miller team has really defied the odds and left no margin for error in its path to the final.
Second-seeded Millburn will play on the road against top-seeded Westfield Friday at 4 p.m.
Millburn (19-8) has won all three of its state tournament games by one run. The Millers narrowly avoided a major upset in the first round, rallying from a two-run deficit to beat 15th-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan. Then Millburn again needed to come back from down two runs against Watchung Hills in the quarterfinals before winning, 4-3, in the bottom of the eighth inning on Peter Gula's RBI single.
So, after pulling out two comeback victories against sub-.500 teams in the first two rounds, coach Brian Chapman's team came up with an even more unlikely--some would say nearly impossible--way to win in the semifinals, beating Bayonne, 1-0, despite being no-hit by Bayonne pitcher Justin O'Connor.
Millburn has leaned heavily on senior pitcher Kyle Mazer throughout the tournament--and all season. Mazer pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings to beat Bayonne, got the win in long relief against Watchung Hills, and started and pitched the first four innings against Bridgewater.
But Mazer won't be available to pitch against hard-hitting Westfield--which will counter with unbeaten left-hander Cory Hiltz (7-0)--on Friday because of the pitch-count rules. Gula (3-0, 1.98 ERA), a senior righty who is Millburn's shortstop when not pitching, will likely start on Friday.
Fifteen of Millburn's 27 games this season have been decided by one or two runs. The Millers are 10-5 in those games.
The Millburn lineup features senior catcher Peter Serruto (.337), who leads the team in RBI with 25 and who is an elite defensive catcher who may be selected in Monday's major league baseball amateur draft. Sophomore third baseman Ben Chrzanowski (.420) has nine extra-base hits and 24 RBI. Sophomore center fielder Ben Sinins (.342), junior first baseman Jordan Brochin (.329) and senior second baseman Ben Pampush (.319, 26 runs scored) are other big bats that Hiltz must contend with. Millburn's lineup is likely to have at least seven right-handed batters up against the Westfield southpaw.
While Gula is likely to start, Chrzanowski looms as a power right-hander out of the Millburn bullpen.
The Millers are seeking their third overall state Group 4 championship in the last four seasons.