SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Morning showers wiped out many baseball games throughout the state of New Jersey Sunday afternoon. Scotch Plains’ Booth Field, however, withstood the rain and was able to hold day four of the Cal Ripken 8u District State Championship.
And, for the host Scotch Plains-Fanwood 8u travel team, it’s a good thing that their home field survived the elements.
After falling behind in an early 5-0 deficit against Kinnelon, the resilient Raiders battled back, forced an extra seventh inning, and then walked it off to win their final game of tournament play, 8-7. The Raiders — coached by John Sponheimer, Jay Shapiro, and Chris Masterson — had dropped their first two tournament games, but are still currently 23-8 this season.
Brian Byrne delivered the walkoff single on a sharp liner to left field that scored Brady Gelb, who battled to work a clutch one-out walk and advanced to third on two wild pitches. It was Byrne’s second RBI of the day, as he also drove in the Raiders first run with a single in the second.
Sean Sponheimer, pitching for the second consecutive day, picked up the win in relief. He tossed a scoreless top of the seventh to preserve a 7-7 tie.
Offensively, Aidan Luccarelli (2-for-2, 2 walks) and Gelb (1-for-1, 3 walks) reached base safely in all four of their plate appearances. Parker Lorenzetti scored three runs and had a single and walk, while Ryan McCann scored twice, and Sponheimer connected on two hits.
The Raiders collected a total of nine hits.
Relief pitchers Sam Galante, Simon Shapiro, and Sponheimer held Kinnelon to just two runs over the final five innings, both of which came in the fifth. Galante faced just one batter over the minimum in his two innings — the third and fourth — while Shapiro struck out the side in the sixth.
After Kinnelon’s two-run top of the fifth, which at the expanded its lead to 7-3, the Raiders responded with their biggest offensive inning of the tournament to get even.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Raiders put up a four spot to tie the score at seven apiece. After two runs came across on bases-loaded walks, Galante smoked a fly ball to center field that was deep, but looked as though it would be the third out. But the ball bounced off the glove of Kinnelon’s center fielder, and McCann and Lorenzetti scored to complete the Raiders’ rally and send it into extras.
Luccarelli ledoff the inning with a frozen rope single up the middle, and he would score — as would Charlie Sachetti — when four of the next five Raiders batters drew walks to force in a pair. Lorenzetti and Gelb had RBI walks, and the Raiders worked a collective 11 base-on-balls during the afternoon, six of which equated to runs.
Raiders starter James Masterson allowed just one earned run and struck out four over two innings during his second start of the tournament. Masterson would later add a screaming line-drive double through the right-center gap to leadoff the sixth, but, representing the tying run, he was left on base as Kinnelon ended the Raiders’ threat to force extras.
Kinnelon jumped out to an early 5-0 lead when it plated a run in the opening inning and four in the second, but that’s when the Raiders began chipping away.
McCann and Lorenzetti drew consecutive one-out walks and both scored in the bottom of the second to help the Raiders get two runs back. Byrne scored McCann with an infield pop-up single, and Lorenzetti was forced home on a Sponheimer bases-loaded walk.
That began a game-winning run in which the Raiders out-scored Kinnelon, 8-2, over the final 5 1/2 innings to ultimately come away victorious.
With two out and two Kinnelon runners on and the go-ahead run at second base in the top of the seventh, Raiders second baseman Parker Lorenzzetti made a running stab at a sharp grounder to his glove side. He then gathered it and made a clean throw to first to retire the batter and help his team and Sponheimer escape a high-pressure jam unscathed.
If that tricky grounder found a hole, Kinnelon would’ve had the bases loaded and the go-ahead run 60 feet away at third. Instead, Lorenzetti came up with a big-time play and the Raiders walked it off in their half of the frame.
To host the 8u state championships, the SPFBL won a bid over numerous other local towns, which guaranteed the Raiders a spot in the tournament, regardless of what they did in the initial districts. That perk didn’t matter though, because the Raiders qualified during districts, regardless of the venue.