SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Monster offensive performances from TJ Massaro, Dylan O’Connor and David Tavarez plus great pitching from Chris Shine and Billy Keane added up to a 5-0 South Plainfield win over the Bernards Mountaineers Thursday afternoon.

Massaro (2 for 3, two RBIs, a walk, a stolen base, a run scored) plated O’Connor (2 for 4, a stolen base) twice in the win. Tavarez finished with two RBIs as well.

The victory represented the last game for the Tigers (15-7) before they begin play in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament on Monday at home.

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Shine started the contest for South Plainfield, throwing four effortless innings, fanning two, walking two and allowing two hits. Keane pitched the fifth and sixth innings, allowing only three hits, and O’Connor notched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to preserve the shutout. Both Shine and Keane kept their pitch counts low and should be available, if needed, on short rest come Monday.

“It’s a win, and a win is always a good thing,” Tigers Head Coach Anthony Guida said of the victory over Bernards. “Especially against a team that is in our Section, and after tomorrow we could see them again [in the NJSIAA playoffs]. And it would be right here again, so it was good to see competition on the other side.”

South Plainfield stranded runners with the bases loaded in the first inning and then with runners on the corners in the second before finally breaking through for a pair of runs in the bottom of the third against Mountaineers starter Tommy Ruck.  And it all happened with two outs.

O’Connor singled up the middle and swiped second base, and second baseman Roberto Gonzalez drew a walk to put two on and bring Massaro to the plate. The first year varsity sensation slammed an RBI base hit up the middle to put his team up 1-0.

“Lately, I’ve been struggling a lot, haven’t been hitting the ball, and today, I don’t know, I switched it up and changed my mentality,” Massaro said. “My first hit in the third inning felt really good. The RBIs just kept coming.”

“I’m happy to see TJ being able to hit, he hasn’t played really in two games, so he finally got a couple at-bats, and it was nice to see him drive the baseball today,” Guida said. “The last few times he’s been up he’s been popping the ball up or he’s been striking out. He’s been patient, he’s been working hard, and it was great to have him just kind of open up the game and put some runs on the board.”

Still with two outs, Tavarez, the DH, banged his own RBI base hit to left center to score Gonzalez.

The Tigers have a knack for forging two out rallies. Do their approaches change? “Yeah, I think it changes a lot because you’re always trying to get that extra run, that extra base hit just to solidify the score [with two outs], so changing the approach and getting the run is what we like to do,” Massaro said.

“Shorten up, put the bat on the ball, and get it in play. Just like we were taught,” O’Connor said of his two-out strategy.

The Tigers went up 3-0 in the fifth off reliever Ryan Tantleff. Massaro drew a walk and stole second. With one out, Wednesday’s hero Mikey Marrero placed a sacrifice groundout to the left side to advance Massaro to third. Right fielder Ricky Pellegrino then pounded a ground ball to shortstop that found its way underneath a Bernards glove for an error, and Massaro strolled across home plate.

The final two runs came in the bottom of the sixth. With runners on first and second and one out, Massaro crushed his second RBI of the day down the right field line to score O’Connor and bring Gonzalez from first to third. “I felt really good about it, so I hope there’s more to come,” Massaro told TAPinto.

Tavarez batted home his second run when he popped an RBI sacrifice fly deep to left. Gonzalez tagged and scored easily on the play to give South Plainfield a 5-0 lead.

Now the Tigers wait for the winner of the preliminary round game between GMC tournament seeds #13 Metuchen and #20 Dunellen. To say the team-seeded fourth-is fired up to get the county playoffs going is an understatement. “Oh yeah, absolutely, now it’s tournament time. It’s time to go,” said O’Connor.

“It’s very exciting. We’re a four seed and our kids did a good job earning that, getting second place in the White Division gives us a four which I thought was very good. I’m excited, and I’m excited to see whoever shows up here on Monday,” Guida said. “Metuchen is very good, and Dunellen, we scrimmaged them. And whoever comes in here is going to be expecting to beat us. So that’s something that we need to get our energy level up starting on Monday regardless of whoever it is that’s coming here.”

“But it is exciting. It’s something that in the past ten years we’ve been to the Final twice and we haven’t won, so I think we have the horses and we can make a strong run, and hopefully get to where we want to go,” Guida said, before reiterating that his team isn’t looking past Monday.

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I GOT IT, NO YOU GOT IT:

South Plainfield has been plagued recently by miscommunication between outfielders and infielders while converging to catch fly balls. Guida spoke to the team after the game about methods to make the catch while avoiding injuries.

“Just simple communication, stuff we’ve worked on. A couple pop-ups have landed, so we were talking about calling the ball right away. ‘Hey, you know what, you want the ball? Go after it until somebody calls you off,’ which is what our infielders did but our outfielders need to know that it’s their ball,” Guida said.

“And what’s happening is now the outfielders are letting the infielders catch the ball. No, it’s [the outfielder’s] ball. We got both outs today but it could have been a disaster, someone could have gotten hurt. On both of them they collided but we did catch the ball.”