MORRISTOWN, NJ- It was a classic, “old school style” playoff baseball game; a pitchers’ duel in which every run is monumental.
The Randolph Rams manufactured a "small ball" run in their first at bat, and then rode the dominant arm of Josh Nathan into the North 1 Group 4 NJSIAA State Sectional finals by defeating Morristown 1-0 on Tuesday May 29.
“It was one of the best pitching performances I've seen since I've coached at Randolph,” said Rams coach Doug Anderson, whose team is a No. 9 seed in the playoffs. “Given the circumstances, he just threw a phenomenal baseball game. His control/command was tremendous and he executed the pitches that we needed him to in our game plan.”
Nathan was spectacular, holding the No. 4 seed Colonials to only one hit in the game, while walking two and striking out eight in a complete game shutout.
“Often, a lot of us talk to our pitchers during the game if they are struggling or going through a rough patch,” said Captain Brendan Lowery. “There was absolutely no talking to or coaching Josh today. He was lights out and just in a different zone on the mound. No words could have made him perform any better than he did.”
The Rams opened the game with a 9-pitch walk by leadoff man Nick Rampone. Anderson wasted no time playing small ball, having Lowery lay down a sacrifice bunt sending the speedy Rampone safely into second base.
Randolph’s leading hitter Tyler Berg stepped up to the plate and made Andersons’ decision pay off when he delivered a single up the middle to score Rampone for a 1-0 lead.
Little did they know Nathan was about to pitch the game of his life, and that one run was all the Rams would need.
“I knew Morristown had a few Division 1 hitters, so I wanted to do my best to attack on the corners and get ahead while mixing in curveballs and sliders,” said Nathan. “Morristown also had a great pitcher on the mound, so I knew runs would come at a premium. I knew I had to do everything I could to keep them from scoring.”
Morristown’s ace Brennan O’Neill took the hill for the Colonials, and on any other day, his performance would have been good enough to earn a win. O’Neill came in with a 7-2 record and pitched a strong game of his own by striking out six and only allowing three hits over seven complete innings. Unfortunately, for O’Neill and Morristown, Nathan and his defense were just a little bit better.
“Everyone was eager to play defense today, we knew that Josh had his best stuff going and we fed off of that energy,” said left fielder Shane Keane. “He was throwing strikes and doing his job, and it brought a responsibility for all of us to do the same. Knowing the hitting capability that Morristown has, for Josh to come out strong and aggressive was definitely impressive.”
The Colonials only real threat came in the bottom of the sixth, when a walk and a stolen base put a runner in scoring position with only one out. The next batter hit a sharp ground ball to the left side of the infield that appeared to be trouble.
But Lowery stepped up and made the defensive play of the game. The senior darted to his right to collect the ball deep in the hole at short, and fired to Mike Ippolito at third base who made a nice tag to gun down the lead runner.
“Overall the defense was great, we made some nice plays behind Josh,” said Anderson. “When you're a pitcher and your defense is making plays it makes you feel like superman on the mound. From our catching, to our infielders and outfielders, everyone played great behind Josh. It was as clean as it gets.”
Randolph will now face Ridgewood, the No. 2 seed in the Sectional Finals on Friday June 1 in Ridgewood.