BRIDGEWATER, N.J. - On a nice cool night under the lights of TD Bank Ballpark, home of the Somerset Patriots, the South Plainfield High School Tigers varsity baseball team went up against the Pioneers of Somerville.
Somerville won the battle of Somerset versus Middlesex County 8-6 and improved their record to 12-5 while South Plainfield fell to 8-11.
“[Despite the loss] I was real proud with the way we played,” South Plainfield head coach Anthony Guida told TAPinto South Plainfield on the field after the game. “I tried my hardest to get everybody in [and] everybody but one player got in and I thought that was pretty good (against) a team that kept all their (starters) in.
“I think each guy played real well, didn’t make any real defensive mistakes, and I’m pretty proud with the way we played today. I think this was a good game, but unfortunately we didn’t have a shutdown inning. They score and we needed to hold them but we did not.”
The Tigers got on the scoreboard in the top of the third inning. Number nine batter in the order Jake Hoffman started off the inning with a single that scooted past the second baseman and then moved to second on a stolen base. After a Jack Gillis walk, Hoffman and Gillis notched a double steal, and Kyle Bythell punched an RBI single to right to score Hoffman. Gillis, who made a highlight reel diving grab in centerfield which prompted the ESPN SportsCenter Top-10 tune to end the bottom of the second, scored on a fielder’s choice by Nick Polizzano for the Tigers’ second run.
South Plainfield kept things rolling in the top of the fourth inning, scoring two more runs on two-out RBI singles by Gillis and Bythell to go up 4-0.
Somerville woke up though in the home half of the fourth, getting their first hits of the game off Ryan Stankan as Kellen Hardy (double) and Thomas Babalis (single) put a two-spot up in the hit column. However, the Pioneers couldn’t push any runs across and left the bases loaded after South Plainfield catcher Jared Marks snapped threw to first base and picked off Somerville’s Ethan Lott to end the threat and the inning.
They did however explode for six runs in the fifth. After a bases load walk to score a run, JoJo Mosca followed with a big two-out, two-RBI single to cut the deficit to 4-3. Somerville plated two more runs to take a 5-4 lead as a high pop-up between first base and right field caused trouble and dropped to the grass. The Pioneers scored another as a single by Mike Miceli got passed the left fielder to score the runner and led 6-4 after five.
“Unfortunately we had one little miscue,” Guida said off the miscommunication on the ball that dropped in right field. “I actually didn’t get a chance to talk to those two guys [to find out] what happened communication wise, but that ball’s caught, you know, we walk out of that inning with the lead.”
South Plainfield didn’t put their heads down and came right back with two runs of their own in the top of the sixth. Dylan O’Connor smashed an RBI double into the right center gap to tie the game at 6-6.
But, Somerville’s Chris Ciempolo led-off the bottom of the sixth with a double and later scored on a passed ball to retake the lead 7-6. Somerville would plate another to lead 8-6 going into the final frame.
South Plainfield couldn’t muster any runs in their last licks, as the near three-hour game came to a close. The eight runs between the fifth and sixth innings for Somerville doomed the Tigers.
The Tigers used six pitchers including Polizzano, who started and pitched the first two innings. In fact, it was Polizzano’s first start on the mound and said the nerves that usually don’t affect him got the best of him.
“The nerves usually don't get to me, but getting the starting pitching job for the first time in my high school career on a stage like that really caught me by surprise,” Polizzano told TAPinto South Plainfield.
Jake Alba followed Polizzano for an inning of work as the two combined for a no-hitter through three innings. The rest of the hurlers couldn’t stack up and gave up 10 hits and multiple walks in final four innings.
But as mentioned above, Guida tried to get all his players in the game and give them an opportunity to play on a big stage in the stadium, something Somerville didn’t do.
“With playing at the stadium that was my goal,” Guida said. “This was a special game with where we were playing. A lot of these kids grew up coming here to watch the Patriots play, so I knew it would be important to get them on the field. That was my goal coming in, trying to get everybody in regardless of the score and I almost succeeded with one player not getting in.”
The Kean-bound senior Polizzano, in spite of the tough loss, said he enjoyed playing on a professional field and talked about what it was like playing at Ballpark Digest’s Best Independent Minor League Ballpark in the nation.
“I’ve played here before for the (Greater Middlesex County) finals my sophomore year and there’s no feeling like it,” Polizzano said. “The crowd, the lights, just the atmosphere in general makes the whole experience of high school baseball that much better.
“But to be there with the seniors Jack, Jake, and Brian Cullen, along with the rest of the team, really made the experience worthwhile.”
Before South Plainfield enters the GMC Tournament, they have a jam-packed schedule of games this upcoming week, including traveling to St. Mary’s in Rutherford, N.J. on Monday.
“We’ll find out Tuesday where our seeding is for the GMC’s, but we have a full slate of games,” Guida said. “We have five games in six days now so we’re continuing on.”