MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville Mustangs held on for a 3-2 victory against the Sparta Spartans on Tuesday at Montville Township High School in the first round of the state playoffs.
Erik Katterman went 2 for 3 with 2 runs, one of which was a steal of home plate. Moreover, Corey Kiernan went 1 for 3 with an RBI and Joe DelloStritto went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a stolen base.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Cardinale reacted to the win, "I'm really proud of the guys for pulling this game out. There were plenty of opportunities where adversity was thrown our way (blowing the 2-0 lead, getting a run taken off the board on the failed squeeze play, Sparta's lead-off double in the 7th). Usually when you have those things happen in a state tournament game, teams don't bounce back. Our guys kept on grinding, stayed in the moment, and were able to persevere despite the setbacks."
In the top of the first, Mustangs pitcher Dominick Caccavella ran into some trouble with two outs when Cole Patten doubled and Connor Coyle had an infield single. However, he got Jarrett DiBlasio to ground out to Anthony Bio at second to escape trouble. In the top of the second, Caccavella settled down and put down the Spartans in order.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, Katterman singled to left field and advanced to third base after two wild pitches by Coyle. After the next batter, Anthony Trifari, walked, Cardinale called a double steal, allowing Katterman to score the first run of the game.
Caccavella then retired the next three Spartans in order in the top of the third. In the top of the fourth, Cardinale handed the ball over to Matt Fusella who pitched a scoreless inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Jon Cocchio singled to right field with one out. After a wild pitch allowed him to advance to second and Trifari drew another walk, Kiernan singled to the shortstop. A throwing error on the play allowed Cocchio to score and put the Mustangs up 2-0.
Cardinale replaced Fusella with Joe Trifari in the top of the fifth, who retired the Spartans in order. In the top of the sixth, however, the Spartans answered offensively. With two outs in the inning, Patten Drew a walk and scored when Coyle smacked a double to left field. The next batter, DiBlasio, then hit a single to right field to score Coyle. However, Trifari got Cam Estanislav to ground out to third for the final out of the inning.
The Mustangs responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the sixth. Katterman led off the inning with an infield single and Trifari sacrificed him over to second. A wild pitch from Coyle allowed Katterman to advance to third. With two outs in the inning, Mike Trezza and Bio each drew a walk. With the bases loaded and two outs, DelloStritto singled to right field to score Katterman to give the Mustangs a 3-2 advantage. On the impact sophomore DelloStritto has on the team, Cardinale said, "On a team full of seniors, we all look to Joe as someone who will be sparking our offense. He leads our team in Batting Average, Hits, Doubles, and is Second in Runs."
In the top of the seventh, Cardinale put in closer Brock Caudill. After a lead off double by Ethan Guerra, a sacrifice bunt by Jake Zerillo allowed Caudill to throw out Guerra trying to advance to third. With one out and a runner at first, Caudill got Jaivis Ronan to ground into a double play to end the game.
The Mustangs have won 7 of their last 8 games, and Cardinale attributed that to the pitching and solid defense, "Our pitching philosophy is to work ahead, have quick at bats, and pitch to contact. That puts the emphasis on your defense. Coach Guarino does a tremendous job with our outfielders - Corey, Matt, and Jon catch everything. Our infielders (Katterman, Bio, DelloStritto, Courtman) have been playing at a high level, and situationally we've executed bunt defenses and first/thirds with regularity. During our 7-1 run, we've only made 4 errors in 8 games. If we continue to do these little things, we'll be in a position to win out the rest of the way."
The Mustangs (16-11) will face off next against the #14 seed Indian Hills Braves (14-12) in the second round of the state tournament at Montville Township High School on Thursday, May 26 at 4 p.m.