BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — Throughout the pandemic-induced shutdown of all sports, Nate Scott never felt comfortable keeping a social distance from the game of baseball.
"I tried to throw and hit when I could, but there's nothing like hearing an umpire and playing on a raked infield again," Scott said.
Scott, a 2020 New Providence High School graduate, finally got the chance along with the rest of his Pioneer teammates to take the field as a team on Tuesday in the first game of the statewide Last Dance Tournament at Snyder Park in Berkeley Heights. And, in this case, even a walk-off loss to Summit couldn't cast too much of a pall on the fact that baseball was finally being played in the warm summer sun after the gloomiest and emptiest of springs.
Summit rallied from a 2-0 deficit after five innings and defeated New Providence, 4-2, on Mike Reddy's two-out, two-run home run over the right-field fence in the bottom of the seventh.
Scott pitched five shutout innings and scored both of the Pioneers' runs. In the first inning, he hit a two-out single, took second on an error and scored when Aidan Donnelly reached base on a misplay in the outfield. In the fourth inning, singles by Scott, Jeff Policarpio and Jason Marcantuone produced the Pioneers' second run.
The way Scott was pitching to that point, it appeared those two tallies could have been enough. The right-hander effectively blended a mid-80s fastball with a change-up and curve and made a dangerous Summit lineup look out of sorts the first two times through the order.
"They were late on everything the first couple of innings," said Scott, who estimates he's added as much as 4 mph to his fastball since the end of his junior season in 2019. But in the sixth, Summit scored twice to tie the game, getting an unearned run and then a two-out RBI double by Brett Colon.
"On that double, I just missed my spot," Scott. "It got a little messy in the sixth inning."
In the bottom of the seventh, Scott went to second base and James Pazdera took over on the mound. Pazdera was consistently in the strike zone and fanned two of the first three batters he faced. But in between them, Wes Hellings hit a one-out double. With two out, Reddy went with a fastball and drove it over the wall in straightaway right field.
The Pioneers will play two more games this week, including a Wednesday evening game against Oratory Prep at Snyder Avenue Field.
"My club team coach, Mike Murray, organized this tournament, and by mid-June we saw some hope in actually playing again," Scott said. "It just felt so good to be out there again playing."