NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ - The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team got a brilliant pitching performance from sophomore Chris Shine and benefited from two clutch plays by catcher Jared Marks to stun NJ.com’s ninth ranked team in the state, the Millburn Millers, by a score of 3-1 at North Brunswick Community Park Saturday afternoon.
The game was part of the Autism Awareness Baseball Challenge that attracted 40 teams from across the state over the weekend despite dreary weather. Both teams were dressed in special blue-shaded jerseys.
Shine finished just one out short of a complete game, finishing with one earned run charged to his name on seven hits, five strikeouts and three walks in 6 & 2/3rds innings. He was forced to come out after exceeding the 110 pitch limit while facing his last batter in the seventh.
Senior Dylan O’Connor recorded the last out and the save when he got the potential winning run Richie Schiekofer to fly out to end the game with two on and two out.
Shine recovered well after surrendering a triple on the second pitch of the contest to the Millers’ Peter Gula and an RBI base hit up the middle two batters later by Schiekofer later in the first. “It was good,” Shine said of his afternoon. “I wanted to keep all my pitches low today because I knew we were playing a great team. I was happy I could locate, and I hit all my spots,” he said.
“[The leadoff triple] was the second pitch of the game, and he could have put his head down and it could’ve been a whole different ballgame, but he pitched his butt off,” South Plainfield Head Coach Anthony Guida said of Shine.
Catcher Jared Marks liked what he saw from Shine, too.
“Awesome game, he’s a sophomore, young kid. He was a little nervous, not gonna lie. He was a little nervous coming in because Millburn is a great team, a great hitting team at least, and he just did an awesome job,” Marks said. “From the beginning we told him to mix in every pitch. ‘We’re gonna go first pitch curveball, first pitch changeup. We’re not going to give them fastballs right down the middle,’ and it worked out today. He pitched great.”
South Plainfield’s offense picked up their pitcher and tied the game in the bottom half of the first inning. Left fielder Connor Adams drilled a double to center field and catcher Jared Marks laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to third. With one out, shortstop Mike Stanczak grounded out to short, scoring Adams on the play.
Millburn threatened to score in the top of the third after Schiekofer tripled, but Shine forced the next hitter to groundout to second to end the inning.
The Tigers took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, Thursday’s hero TJ Massaro placed an RBI groundout to the right side of the infield to give his team a 2-1 advantage.
“He put the bat on the ball,” Guida would say of Massaro’s RBI. “When a guy is coming in who is a contact hitter, he’s looking to poke the ball somewhere and get himself on base and I’ve been proud of the way he’s been playing the ballgame,” he said.
The Tigers scored their final run in the fifth to go up by a pair. Mikey Marrero (starting for the ailing Roberto Gonzalez) battled hard and stroked a single to left center and advanced to second on a Millburn wild pitch. Adams drew a walk (he would finish 1 for 1 with two walks) to set the table for Marks.
Ever the experienced senior, Marks initially squared up to bunt but then pulled back and laced an RBI base hit to left. It was a professional piece of hitting.
“That was excellent,” said Guida. “A situation where we needed to scrape a run across and he was able to put the bat on the ball, get on top of the baseball and it found a good spot to score another insurance run.”
Marks broke down the anatomy of the play: “I had a bunt earlier in the game. We bunted all day today because of the wet rain. They threw it away a lot, and I saw the first baseman was almost ten feet away from me so coach gave me the slash [signal]. Mikey stole and it just worked out. I got a fastball right down the middle. I drove it to left field for the RBI. It was awesome,” Marks said.
But Marks wasn’t done showing off just yet.
In the sixth, Millburn finally got Shine off rhythm somewhat and found themselves with runners on the corners and two outs. The Millers sent the runner on first and Marks made a pump fake to second and froze the drifting Miller runner on third. Marks threw to third baseman David Tavarez to start the rundown and he threw back to Marks for the clutch tag out.
“A huge momentum change,” said Marks. “I mean, we had momentum but they had men on first and third with one of their best hitters up, so that play was huge.”
“Every time I throw the ball to second with a man on first and third, I peak down to third really quick before I throw to second base and I saw he had a pretty big lead,” Marks said. “I thought that the pump fake would work and it actually did.”
The victory over Millburn was a statement for the Tigers (8-3), who may have felt a little disrespected by the state rankings.
“I didn’t say a word about where this team was in the state ranking because state rankings don’t mean a thing, an absolute thing. It’s just someone’s opinion,” Guida said. “But these kids know that Millburn’s good. They’re a class act program, their coaches are fantastic people, and they were a good team from the first pitch.”
“I don’t get into rankings at all, I got into telling them this is a great program we’re playing, it’s a program we can beat, it’s a program that we’re just as good as. But we did what we had to do here, we scratched some runs across, we put the ball in play and fortunately for us, they made some mistakes. But all the way around this was a well played high school game,” Guida said.
The Tigers will try to improve upon their 4-2 GMC White Division record on Monday and Tuesday during their home and home series with division newcomers the Piscataway Chiefs.