TOMS RIVER, NJ - For anybody who had not yet witnessed in person the remarkably complete baseball skills of Richie Schiekofer, in the final game of his career, the senior outfielder provided a comprehensive synopsis of what they've been missing for the last three years on the big stage of a state championship game.
The center fielder headed to the University of Maryland on a full scholarship collected three hits, including a home run, scored three runs, stole a base and made a spectacular diving catch to snuff out a rally to lead Millburn to a 10-5 victory over Hunterdon Central for its second NJSIAA Group 4 state championship in the last three years Saturday at Toms River North High School.
Schiekofer went 3-for-4, and the only out he made was a fly ball to right field--into the wind--that nearly cleared the wall before being caught on the warning track.
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"Richie is that rare kid that can put up huge numbers but also do it in a way where he is buying into the team concept," Millburn head coach Brian Chapman said. "He is never above hitting behind a runner, putting a bunt down. When my No. 7 hitter sees that our No. 3 hitter will do that, it's a lot easier for me to say to the group this is how we do things. Richie has that rare ability to barrel up the ball and hit with proper spin from line to line. He will hit ball down left field line without that slice spin. He hits to both lines. He runs like a gazelle, and he is possibly the best defensive outfielder in the state."
Schiekofer finishes his season with 47 hits and a .516 batting average. He had 120 hits in his three-year varsity career at Millburn.
"We stopped at Jackson Memorial High School and took batting practice there a few hours before today's game," Chapman said. "And Richie hit a ball that broke a bus window 450 feet from home plate. I knew then that he was dialed in today."
Millburn (26-5) scored six runs in the third inning to take an 8-1 lead, and took a 10-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh, when Hunterdon Central (26-5) scored two runs in last-gasp rally after winning pitcher Connor Lally had been removed from the game in the final frame after throwing his 110th pitch.
Millburn's big inning didn't even get going until after there were two out with the bases empty. Schiekofer, whose single in the first inning preceded a two-run single by Peter Serruto that gave the Millers a 2-0 lead, lined a single over the second baseman's head, stole second, and scored when Serruto's infield hit to shortstop was thrown past the first baseman. After Lally singled and Mike Kologlu drew a walk to load the bases, Ben Chrzanowski hit a bounding ball up the middle that was fielded behind second for an infield hit--after Kologlu hustled and beat the force attempt at second--that plated courtesy runner Alex Byington with a run that extended Millburn's lead to 4-1.
Hunterdon Central changed pitchers at that point, but the Red Devils' reliever walked the first two batters he faced, forcing in two runs and giving Millburn a 6-1 lead. Peter Gula followed with a fly ball that was dropped in the outfield for a two-base error, extending the Millers' lead to 8-1.
Hunterdon Central, which had seen a potential rally snuffed out in the top of the third inning when Schiekofer made a headlong, diving catch in right-center with two runners on base to end the inning, scored two runs in the top of the fourth, aided by two Millburn errors.
"That was an unbelievable catch, and a complete turnaround to that inning," Chapman said. "The game was definitely teetering to that point. I'm thinking, that's two runs, next thing you know he's on his belly with the ball in his glove."
Schiekofer capped the Millburn scoring in the sixth inning with a two-out home run to right field after Ben Pampush drew a walk. Pampush's one-out single had sparked Millburn's two-run rally in the first inning.
Lally (8-1) had been nearly untouchable in his two previous state tournament starts, but the senior right-hander survived more on grit and guile on a hot day when he not only lacked his best stuff, but also had to adjust to a plate umpire whose strike zone for both teams seemed to favor the batters. Lally allowed eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, walking one and striking out one, but after appearing ready to wilt in the heat after four innings, Lally found a second wind and "cruised through the fifth and sixth after they'd had him on the ropes," Chapman said.
After Kologlu came in to relieve him, Sal Lombardo knocked in two runs with his second double of the game for Hunterdon Central. Lombardo was also robbed on Schiekofer's great catch to end the top of the third. Kologlu struck out the next batter to secure Millburn's title.