CHESTER, NJ - The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team looked in control for much of Thursday afternoon’s matchup at West Morris, enjoying a three run cushion through five and a half innings. But they were done in by a six run rally in the bottom of the sixth by the Wolfpack and fell by a final score of 8-5 in the non-conference tilt.
Pitcher David Tavarez took the hard-luck loss as he came in with the Tigers up 5-2 in the sixth and was on the hook for all the West Morris runs scored during the inning. But that doesn’t exactly paint a clear picture of what happened. Tavarez forced Wolfpack hitters into groundballs time and time again and his defense just couldn’t come up with the stops as three runs came across home plate to tie the game on four hits that never left the infield cleanly.
Three of the hits were tough plays to the right side of shortstop Mike Stanczak and one was a hard hit ball that trickled by the diving first baseman Jean Sapini. With the score now 5-5 and runners on second and third, West Morris catcher Matt Blount blew the game open with a one out, two RBI double over the head of left fielder Connor Adams. With Blount on second, an Aidan Healy grounder found its way through the legs of second baseman Roberto Gonzalez to put the Wolfpack up three.
“Four groundballs, we should be out of the inning,” Tigers Head Coach Anthony Guida lamented. “They put the ball in play, put the ball on the ground, and we didn’t make the plays. That’s the way baseball is,” he said.
Billy Keane started the game for South Plainfield on the mound, throwing for the first two innings to log some work before his next start on Tuesday. Keane surrendered two runs in the first but finished strong. All six of his recorded outs came via groundouts. Kevin Soper pitched three innings in middle relief and didn’t allow a run or a hit while striking out one and walking three.
South Plainfield jumped out of the gates strong once again, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Adams drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt at first and then swiped third base. He would score on a one out double to left by Stanczak.
Down 2-1 heading to the top of the third, the Tigers put together a four run rally that they probably thought would be enough to win the game.
Catcher Jared Marks laid down a bunt and forced a hurried throw and an error. He was replaced by runner Mikey Marrero who promptly stole second base. Stanczak drew a walk to put two on. He and Marrero put on a double steal to put two runners in scoring position for Gonzalez, who smacked a two RBI double down the left field line.
“I was just trying to look to get a hit,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know, I just saw a nice fastball coming down the middle and just tried to put it in play. And I noticed I could get a double so I was just running as hard as I could.”
Up 3-2, the Tigers weren’t done yet.
Third baseman Chris Shine plated Gonzalez with an RBI base hit to left center. Next, first baseman Jean Sapini knocked a double to left, sending Shine from first to third and knocking out Wolfpack pitcher Nick Caskey (Sapini would double again to lead off the sixth). Still with only one out, Keane ripped an RBI sacrifice fly deep to left to score Shine and put South Plainfield up 5-2. “It was nice to see us hit the ball around a little bit. We executed things pretty well and put the ball in play. It was nice to score a couple runs there,” Guida said of the rally.
In addition to the sloppy bottom of the sixth, the Tigers had a few miss opportunities with runners in scoring position to increase their lead at the plate. “We needed a little bit more timely hitting, that’s what we lacked today,” Guida said.
The game ended on a controversial call. Gonzalez struck out and was called for batter interference by the home plate umpire while Ricky Pellegrino was trying to steal second on the last pitch. A double play. It was the second batter interference call of the game to go against South Plainfield. Sapini was called out on it in the second inning. “I’ve never seen it before, not two [in one game], and listen, he was pretty certain on his call, I can’t change it. It is what it is,” a clearly vexed Guida said.
“I just ignore it, I can’t say anything. It’s the umpire. Everyone makes mistakes,” Gonzalez said of the final play.
South Plainfield (9-4), which saw its four game winning streak snapped, will look to rebound at home on Friday in a makeup game against conference rivals the Middlesex Blue Jays. Then they will make up the final game of their season series at Piscataway on Saturday morning before preparing for games against Woodbridge on Monday and Tuesday.
There will be a lot of baseball for the Tigers in the next week and coach Guida sees no reason to change the way his team prepares. “No, not really. Just go out and play. Nothing really different,” he says.