BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team battled hard with the Morristown Colonials for five innings Monday night under the bright lights of TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater before a rough top of the sixth doomed them in a lopsided 11-2 loss.
The Tigers had scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth to go up 2-1. The ace of the South Plainfield pitching staff, Jean Sapini, seemed to be cruising on the hill with only one run against (an RBI sacrifice fly in the fifth by Matt Nodoro) on five hits, a pair of strikeouts and a walk through five innings of work. But things went off the rails in the top of the sixth rather quickly for the senior hurler and his defense behind him. A hit batsman, three walks, an error at third base, and a wild pitch - all before a single out was recorded - put Morristown in the driver seat at 3-2 and knocked Sapini out of the game.
Sophomore reliever Mikey Marrero was charged with the unenviable task of trying to get out of the bases loaded, no out jam but the Morristown bats came alive for eight more runs off six hits, including a two run double by the Colonials’ David Haberman (3 for 3, hit by a pitch) to go up by the eventual final score of 11-2.
“It was a great game for five innings and then we just couldn’t get an out, we couldn’t stop the bleeding. It’s been happening far too often this season,” South Plainfield Head Coach Anthony Guida said, referring to ugly sequences against Montgomery, West Morris and Piscataway earlier in the spring. “Unfortunately, there’s times where we just can’t get an out. We just can’t find an out. I can’t find the words to really describe it,” he said.
Marrero has shown an aptitude this season for coming into games in high pressure relief situations and working his way out of jams, but it just wasn’t meant to be on this night.
“You want him to throw strikes, and they swung the bat and put the ball where we weren’t. It’s a tough spot for Mikey to come in, playing in a stadium with a big crowd, the bases loaded and no out. He threw strikes. Unfortunately we didn’t get any outs for him,” Guida said.
“But we knew Morristown was good; we played with them for five innings. Fortunately for them, their bats came alive, and that’s baseball,” he said.
South Plainfield looked primed to steal the game when they went up 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth. With two out and left fielder Ricky Pellegrino on first, the Tigers got Connor Adams off the bench and into the game as a pinch hitter for senior Kevin Soper. Adams was awarded first on a catcher’s interference call during his at-bat. With two men on, Morristown went to the bullpen to relieve starter Caden Tierney with Jaxen Ruhalter. The Tigers went back to the bench and sent out pinch hitter Chris Shine to hit for second baseman Roberto Gonzalez. Shine roped an RBI single to right center to score Pellegrino and move Adams to third.
South Plainfield would take the lead later in the fifth with catcher Jared Marks at the plate. Ruhalter attempted to pickoff Shine at first base but the Morristown defense noticed Adams way adrift off third base. The Colonial first baseman went to third and Adams busted for home and was called safe when he beat the throw from third to home.
Aside from the two-run rally, the Tigers went down quietly against Tierney for the first four innings, popping out to the Morristown starter seven times before finishing with ten fly outs. “That was the first thing I said [to the team]. Ten plus pop-ups, we’re not going to win the ballgame anyway,” said Guida, who stresses ground balls over fly balls. “So we gotta put the ball in play, and when we put the ball on the ground we got base hits.”
Guida toyed with his lineup and moved some players around defensively and in the batting order. Gonzalez moved back to the leadoff spot for the first time since early in the season, before Adams became a fixture there. Pellegrino was given a start at left over Adams, and Soper started in right field. The game being played at TD Bank Ballpark factored into his decisions.
“I want to get kids in the game. It’s an important game, there’s a lot of family [in the seats], so I wanted to get guys in there to get some at-bats and play on a nice minor-league field. And we got everyone in the game,” Guida said. “I’d like to come off the field with a win, but the big thing I wanted to do was make sure everyone got in the game and played. They got to hear their name on the loudspeaker and see their name [on the scoreboard]. Mission accomplished in that aspect,” he said.
It might be hard to see after a blowout loss like Monday night, but South Plainfield only needs two wins in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament to get back to the home of the Somerset Patriots for the conference semi-final game on May 20. “That’s what I told them. We’ll be back here hopefully in a week and a half. If we win two games in the tournament we’re back here again. It’s a big reason why we play here [in the regular season], so we get a little bit of experience and we’re used to playing here,” Guida said.
The Tigers were slotted into the fourth seed for the 29 team tournament on Tuesday morning behind St. Joseph, Woodbridge and East Brunswick, respectively. Their first tournament game will be played at home on May 15th against Dunellen, Wardlaw-Hartridge, or Metuchen. South Plainfield earned a bye in both the play-in and preliminary rounds.
South Plainfield (13-7) will look to bounce back on Wednesday afternoon at home against Hillsborough, but not before honoring six of their players during pregame Senior Day festivities.