SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Third baseman Mikey Marrero blasted a game-winning RBI base hit to deep left field to break a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning that capped a furious and gave South Plainfield a 6-5 victory over Hillsborough on Tuesday.
The Tigers rallied from down two runs heading into the final frame.
Prior to the contest the Tigers honored their six seniors and their families with a ceremony in recognition of Senior Day.
Down 5-3 heading to the seventh, Tiger shortstop Mike Stanczak and center fielder Dylan O’Connor both drew walks to get things going. Pinch-hitter Connor Adams came in to pinch hit and watched a wild pitch bounce behind the Raiders catcher to advance the runners to second and third. With two runners in scoring position, Adams legged out an RBI infield single to get his team within one.
Now with runners on first and second and still no out, second baseman Chris Shine laid down a bunt. Hillsborough seemed to forget about needing to cover first base, and the bases were now loaded for another pinch-hitter, Roberto Gonzalez, who singled through the hole between shortstop and third base to tie the game, 5-5, and send Marrero to the plate for the game-winner.
It felt good for Marrero, a sophomore, to bounce back after a tough pitching performance Monday night on a big stage like TD Bank Ballpark. “After that loss at the [Somerset] Patriots’ stadium I was looking to come back and get something going, and that was my opportunity,” Marrero said. “First pitch was a fastball and I was trying to hop on it. It got to 0-2 and he came in with another fastball so I tried to drive it anywhere to get the run in.”
There was never a doubt in his mind that they could rally to win it late. “I knew something was coming before the inning even started. We were all hyped up to get these runs, and once I saw Mike [Stanczak] start it off, I was pretty happy,” said Marrero.
South Plainfield Head Coach Anthony Guida continues to be impressed by Marrero, who also drew three walks. “He’s been finding himself in clutch moments at the plate and on the mound and he’s been getting the job done. For a sophomore to get that type of experience is tremendous and it only prepares us for what’s coming up in a couple weeks, so it’s real nice to see,” he said.
Every South Plainfield batter in the inning seemed to have a good plate approach. “Coming into the seventh inning, just like we always do if we’re down, we’re playing catch-up. We’re taking the first strike until we see it,” senior catcher and co-captain Jared Marks said. “[Kuc] came in and threw a lot of balls. We got a couple men in scoring position and then we kinda just rallied from that, hit after hit, and we ended up getting the ‘W’”
Guida was happy to see his players adhere to his late-game strategy of plate discipline.
“We play catch-up, and this time it worked. We’ve done it in the past where we’re down by a run, down by two runs, our leadoff batter comes up and he swings at the first pitch and it’s a popup, and we’re out, or guys going up there hacking when we’re down two, three runs,” Guida said. “We don’t need a hit right there, we need base runners. Let’s make sure he throws you a strike. Because sometimes when you swing at the first pitch, it’s a ball. Force him to throw you a strike. If there’s a first pitch ball late in the game, maybe [the pitcher] starts to get a little nervous.”
“And this time it worked. It doesn’t work all the time but it’s definitely our approach when we’re down by a run or two. Play catch-up. Force the pitcher to throw you a strike. Today it worked,” Guida said.
The Raiders went up 5-3 with two out in the top of the sixth when Tigers reliever Austin Feltham balked with the bases loaded and Steve Grober at the plate. Feltham would get out of the jam before Hillsborough could do any more damage by striking out Ryan Watson looking.
South Plainfield started the scoring way back in the home half of the first inning with a run against Raiders starter Derek VonHorn. Marks doubled down the right field line, and Stanczak drew a walk. A passed ball with O’Connor at the plate put two runners in scoring position, and O’Connor popped an RBI sacrifice fly deep to center to plate Marks.
“Back [on Monday night] we flew out a lot, popped up. And yesterday coach was just telling us to chop wood, get on top of the ball and hit line drives, and I knew I needed to change my approach and I did. And that’s what happened,” Marks said of his big double.
Hillsborough put up two runs in the third and another two in the fourth against Tigers starter David Tavarez. An RBI sacrifice fly by Grober and a sacrifice groundout by Watson were the runs in the third while an RBI sacrifice fly by Lucas Norfleet and an RBI single to left center by Brandon Beck accounted for the two runs in the fourth.
But the Tigers kept pace with one run in the third inning and one in the fourth. With Ricky Pellegrino on third and Jared Marks on second thanks to a double steal, Stanczak placed a fly out far enough to allow Pellegrino to tag and score. Stanczak would finish 0-2 with an RBI, two walks and a stolen base.
In the fourth, the Tigers were helped by a pair of Hillsborough throwing errors, or maybe they were forced. Tavarez led off with a booming double off the left field wall and Marrero drew a walk. VanHorn got Tavarez into a run down between second and third but the throw to third was mishandled and both Tavarez and Marrero advanced a base. Later, VanHorn went to check Marrero at second but the throw went into center field and Tavarez jogged home.
“I told them that teams are going to make mistakes,” Guida said. “But it’s important that when they make the mistake we capitalize on it. Some of them we didn’t. The one with Dave [Tavarez], we did score in that inning, but most teams are going to make a mistake or two. You’ve got to get guys on base for those mistakes to happen. But I told the guys we made the most of our opportunities.”
The six seniors (Marks, Sapini, O’Connor, Pellegrino, Soper, Tavarez) were all introduced to the fans prior to the game by coach Guida and escorted onto the field by their parents before posing for pictures.
SPHS Principal Ronnie Spring, Assistant Principal Kelly Richkus, Vice Principal Patrick Sarullo and Athletic Director Kevin McCann all took part in the ceremony.
“Those six guys are standup kids, I respect them a lot and wish them the best going forward, but we have a lot of baseball to play this year,” Guida said. “I really think with the balloons and the pictures, the parents, it was just a really nice ceremony. I told the kids to understand this introduction is not about you, it’s about your parents. I said ‘make sure you tell them you love them and thank them for coming to the game and enjoy that moment,’ and it looked like they did.”
Jared Marks, who shares the captaincy with Sapini, took in the festivities. “It’s awesome, I love these guys. I wouldn’t change them for the world. And I just hope we keep rolling into late May and early June and hopefully we do something special.”
Guida said making Marks and Sapini co-captains made perfect sense.
“We’ve got good leadership with those two guys. When I choose a captain I always like to try to choose a captain that’s good in the classroom and both of those guys are good in the classroom, both of them are multiple sport athletes and both of them excel on the baseball diamond. So those two were perfect fits, and they were also a part of a championship team along with O’Connor.”