BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- In an epic struggle that eventually took on a life of its own, the Ridge and Immaculata baseball teams made history late Friday night.
But what was historic for both teams was heartbreaking for the Red Devils.
At 11:11 p.m., after four hours and eight minutes of taut, gripping baseball, Ryan Kabus lofted a soft fly ball that fell just beyond the glove of a desperately diving Ridge second baseman Chris Parker to drive in the winning run with the bases loaded and two out, giving second-seeded Immaculata a 6-5, 12-inning victory over fifth-seeded Ridge in the longest championship game in the history of the Somerset County Tournament at TD Bank Ballpark.
His own bases-loaded hit made Kabus the winning pitcher after he and Ridge right-hander Jack Love had engaged in a long-relief pitcher's duel for the ages. And, although Love will be listed as the losing pitcher in this one, his heroic effort on the mound--and after he'd delivered a huge hit in the fifth inning before he came in to pitch--is one that should go down in the all-time annals of Ridge High School baseball history.
Love came in from right field to relieve Ridge starting pitcher Cooper Bobowicz with Immaculata leading, 5-4, with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Love proceeded to allow two hits over the next 6 2/3 shutout innings. Bobowicz, still undefeated on the mound at 8-0 but touched up for more earned runs (four) Friday than he'd allowed all season to that point, enabled the Red Devils to take the game into extra innings with a one-out RBI single to left field in the top of the seventh (Bobowicz stayed in the lineup and moved to first base after Love came in to pitch).
Love, befuddling Immaculata with a deft sidearm change-up that gave additional life to his fastball, ended up pitching 7 1/3 relief innings, allowing five hits, one unintentional walk and one earned run. He struck out four, but consistently worked ahead of the count against the Spartans' dangerous lineup of hitters.
"It's actually what we expected from Jack," said Ridge head coach Tom Blackwell. "I don't mean to minimize what he did out there, but we knew we had two great guys (Bobowicz and Love) who are difficult to score off of, and Jack did his part on the mound. Jack throws a lot of strikes low in the zone and gets a lot of ground balls."
Ridge was trailing, 4-2, in the top of the fifth inning when Love tied the game, 4-4, with a two-out, two-run double to right-center. The Red Devils mounted that rally with two outs and nobody on, when Greg Bozzo and Jayden Hylton each singled to the same spot in left-center preceding Love's at-bat.
Immaculata quickly retook the lead, 5-4, on an unearned run in the fifth inning. In the top of the seventh, Bozzo led off for Ridge, which trailed by a run, by reaching first on a wild pitch after he had swung and missed for strike three. Hylton followed with his third hit of the game, a line single to center, and then Love grounded into a force play at second that put runners on the corners with one out. Bobowicz, a left-handed hitter, tied the game with his opposite-field single.
"Cooper, it was another clutch performance by him," Blackwell said, "at the plate and on the mound."
On the mound, Bobowicz displayed as sharp and effective a curve ball as he has throughout his remarkable senior season, but Immaculata got in some good cuts at his fastball even as the Spartans were usually left wanting against his southpaw curve. Starting pitcher Dan Johnson's three-run triple just inside the right-field line was the key blow in Immaculata's four-run fourth. But the Spartans' fourth-inning rally had been set up when, after a single and a hit batsman started the inning, Immaculata's Peter Gallo squared to bunt and popped the ball up on the third-base side of the mound. Bobowicz pounced off the mound and appeared poised to make a great catch that could have easily led to a double play.
Except Bobowicz slipped on the grass lunging for the bunt, which landed between the mound and third base as Gallo reached on a single that loaded the bases with none out. Bobowicz struck out the next batter on a nasty 1-2 curve, but then Johnson lined the first pitch less than 2 feet inside the right-field line for a bases-clearing triple, and he then scored with two out on the first of Kabus' two RBI singles for a 4-2 lead. Kabus, whose fourth-inning RBI single came on an 0-2 fastball, had started the game at shortstop before relieving Johnson in the fifth.
Kabus pitched 7 1/3 innings in relief, allowed eight hits, walked one, struck out eight and allowed one earned run. He did, however, throw three wild pitches and hit a batter.
On the infield Ridge shortstop Jason Arrigo made a couple of difficult plays charging slowly hit bouncers, second baseman Parker shined on a 4-3 assist going up the middle to register the third out of the 11th inning, and left fielder Lukas Goodman made a nifty shoestring grab in the ninth inning.
Hylton, Bozzo and Brendan Bell all finished with three hits for Ridge, and Bobby Parisi had two hits--both of them in extra innings.
"This was just an amazing effort by all of these high school kids on both teams," Blackwell said. "It just shows how important a county championship is to every single one of them. Immaculata has been a big rivalry for Ridge ever since I moved to Basking Ridge in 1978. It's what a county championship game is all about."
Ridge was seeking its first Somerset County championship since 2011. Blackwell played on the last Ridge team to win the title before that, in 1989. Had he ever been involved, as a coach or player, in a game anything like Friday night's marathon?
"No," the Ridge coach said, "and if I ever was, I've blocked it out by now."
(All photos by Guy Kipp)
Ridge (15-9) 100 120 100 000 -- 5 14 5
Immaculata (12-8) 000 410 000 001 -- 6 12 2