SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Pitcher Jean Sapini struck out ten batters and the Tigers offense jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning as the South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team topped NJ.com’s 11th ranked team in the state, the Woodbridge Barrons by a score of 5-3 in a heated affair Monday evening.
With the win, South Plainfield (11-5 overall) pulled to within even of Woodbridge atop the GMC White Division standings at 6-3. The teams will conclude their season series at Woodbridge High School Tuesday night.
Clinging to a 5-2 lead entering the top of the seventh, Sapini struggled for the first time all game, surrendering three base hits to load the bases and then issuing a walk to pull the Barrons within two. He still managed to force a pop fly to centerfielder Dylan O’Connor, however, to end the game. The senior would finish with a complete game victory on eight hits, ten strikeouts and one walk on 107 pitches.
“Going into this game I had all my pitches working,” the always composed Sapini told TAPinto. “My changeup was working good, slider, fastball, I was confident I could throw those pitches for strikes so I kept battling, kept getting them with the off speed and placing my fastballs in the right spots,” he said.
“Outstanding job, he did wonderful. He gave us exactly what we needed,” Tigers Head Coach Anthony Guida said of his ace. “Coming off the field at 4-0, I said ‘Jean, that’s plenty for you,’ and he said ‘absolutely.’ And it turned out it was, they only scored three. But he pitched the way we know Jean can pitch. He knows he can pitch that well and we needed that outing today. After Sunday’s game [a 13-10 loss to Piscataway] and with Woodbridge coming in here, exactly what Jean did was exactly what we needed, as a team,” Guida said.
“And there was no better person to put on the mound than him, so I was real proud of his effort, I was proud of how he didn’t let the umpire’s calls really sway the way he threw. Sometimes you get your calls, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you don’t get your calls four, five times in the game. But Jean stayed calm and cool and made sure that they hit his pitch. And I was real proud of his effort,” Guida said. “He did an excellent job. He was getting up there with the pitch count thing again but thankfully we didn’t have to worry about it.”
The South Plainfield offense would give Sapini all the run support he would need in the bottom of the second. And it all happened with two outs. First baseman Billy Keane lined an infield base hit off the glove of an outstretched Woodbridge third baseman. The next batter, third baseman Chris Shine brought Keane all the way around to score when he tattooed an RBI double deep to the centerfield wall.
“I had a 3-1 count so I was looking for my pitch and I saw it well, made contact, and it just went,” Shine said. “It was a huge game, so I was glad we put some runs on the board early.”
Guida said of Shine “That was beautiful. He’s starting to come around. He knows he’s been struggling. And I just said ‘look for fastballs, get on top of them,’ and he’s made some nice adjustments the past few days.”
Second baseman Roberto Gonzalez plated Shine with a dunk RBI single to right and sophomore Mikey Marrero brought Gonzalez home with an RBI double deep down the left field line to put the Tigers up 3-0. The ball was misplayed somewhat by the Woodbridge left fielder on the play.
Marrero would score the final run of the inning when left fielder Connor Adams knocked an RBI single to left to make the score 4-0.
“I like what Mikey’s doing,” Guida said of Marrero, a jack-of-all-trades. “He’s taking every bit of his opportunity, putting the bat on the baseball, playing great defense and when we need him he can throw strikes. He’s been just a wonderful addition to our team, taking the roll we give him. He’s been doing everything that we’ve been asking for and I couldn’t be more proud of the way he’s playing. He’s doing a tremendous job and showed it again today,” he said.
South Plainfield would add an insurance run to go up 5-0 in the bottom of the third.
O’Connor doubled down the third base line with one out and promptly stole third base. Sapini would help himself out to some run support with an RBI base hit to left the very next at bat. “I was down two strikes and honestly [the Woodbridge pitcher] had a lot of junk, he was throwing a lot of off speed pitches and stuff so I just hung in there on that curve ball and I was able to poke it out into left field and get the run home,” Sapini said.
Woodbridge made it 5-1 in the top of the fourth when Justin Silva placed an RBI sacrifice groundout to shortstop Mike Stanczak. In the sixth, Silva got himself another RBI when he singled to left with runners on first and second with two out.
But it wasn’t enough. Now South Plainfield has an opening to win the White Division, something that seemed improbable before the Barrons were swept by Sayreville last week. “This win kept us alive. We have an opportunity. We need to win out, win the rest of our three [divisional] games. Have to win [Tuesday], win both games with JFK,” Guida said. “Woodbridge has three losses so Tuesday is a huge game. So we have to worry about Woodbridge before we worry about anything else. But we definitely have an opportunity to win the division.”
“The opportunity is there for us and the kids are excited about Tuesday. They can’t wait for it,” he said.
The Tigers will likely see highly-touted senior Harry Rutkowski on the mound for Woodbridge on Tuesday. Rutkowski (4-0) is pitching to a 0.47 ERA in 30 innings of work. He has surrendered 12 hits and only two earned runs in that span while striking out 50 batters and walking six.