SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team was forced to get back on the bus and forget about their 20-2 drubbing at the hands of the Montgomery Cougars Thursday morning and rebound for the second half of a double header back at home against the Sayreville Bombers.
The Tigers (4-2) did just that in the evening to grab a crucial 7-3 GMC White Division victory and sweep the season series with Sayreville.
Sophomore pitcher Roberto Gonzales matched a South Plainfield season-high ten strikeouts over five complete innings on the hill, and the Tiger offense stitched together a four run fourth inning and a two run sixth to put the game out of reach.
What kind of message could Head Coach Anthony Guida possibly have sent to his players to help them put the Montgomery game in the rearview mirror before the second game?
“I just told them it didn’t happen,” Guida said.
“It was an embarrassing game. In other words, we just couldn’t throw a strike, made a couple mistakes, had 11 walks, three errors, three hit batters, just a bad game all around for us,” Guida lamented. “There was really nothing good that happened other than…we had a double-header. I think that was the only positive, like ‘Hey, we can now go and play another game and wipe this game completely out of our minds,’ and thankfully I think that’s what we did,” he said.
“Our mindset was that that game didn’t happen, let it go. It’s hard to be a part of those games when absolutely nothing is going right. But I told them ‘This is the game that matters. Sayreville is in our own conference, in our own division,’ and the kids rebounded,” said Guida. “They did a good job of just forgetting the morning game.”
Gonzales dazzled in the top of the first inning, striking out the only three batters he saw while displaying impressive put-away pitches all game long. He also struck out the side in the fourth.
It was just what the doctor ordered for the reeling Tigers.
“It’s what we needed,” Guida said. “Someone to throw strikes and it really gave us a boost and it said ‘Hey, you know what? We’re OK.’”
“We had a two game losing streak, but we needed a guy that was gonna be able to come out and give us a couple outs and that’s what he did,” Guida said of Gonzales. “He threw balanced, he threw accurate, he located, and we made the plays behind him. That’s the key to winning baseball.”
“I was really impressed. That was his first varsity start for us. He did a real nice job,” Guida said.
Following Gonzales’ strong start, it now appears South Plainfield is up to four reliable starters in the rotation along with ace Jean Sapini, Chris Shine and Billy Keane. That can only be looked at as a positive for later in the season when arms become essential for a deep playoff run.
“I felt great,” Gonzales (five hits allowed, one earned run, two walks, and one hit batsman) said of his performance. “Even though my pitch count was really high it felt like, to me, it was low, so I felt like I could’ve gone more but the pitch count kind of got me. But I still think I did very well,” he said.
Catcher Jared Marks said his pitcher made it easy to call a good game behind the plate. “I knew that he could throw fastballs by these kids and after the third time seeing them [in the order] I knew he had to throw a couple off-speeds, curveballs, changeups, and that’s what he did. And he did it well,” Marks said.
Sayreville jumped out in front early and scored their only run off Gonzales in the top of the second when Bryan Fernandez knocked in an RBI single to left.
The Tigers were silent until the bottom of the third when Ricky Pellegrino wreaked havoc on the base paths. The right fielder legged out an infield base hit near the shortstop and advanced to second on a passed ball, and then to third on a botched pickoff attempt by the catcher. Gonzales would treat himself to some run support with an RBI single to left that tied the game.
“I felt a little shaky [at the plate] but that one hit got the game tied 1-1, and it got a couple guys up and the whole team got together and got a good win,” Gonzales would say of his hit.
The Tigers would separate themselves in the fourth. With one man out and Dylan O’Connor on third, Shine on second and Keane on first, left fielder Connor Adams hit a high chop to the Bomber shortstop who couldn’t come up with the ball and saw it roll to the shallow part of the outfield, allowing one extra run to score on the error and making the score 3-1.
Mikey Marrero then grounded out to advance the runners to second and third with two outs for Pellegrino. Hustling down the line on a grounder, Pellegrino hurried the throw of the Sayreville shortstop, causing the ball to bounce into foul territory and another two runs to score on the error. It was now 5-1 for South Plainfield.
The Tigers have a bit of a reputation for forcing errors and confusing opposing defenses.
“I think the one thing a lot of teams know about us is that we put the ball in play,” Guida said. “We’re not afraid to bunt in almost any situation. Listening to other coaches coaching their kids, they’re saying ‘yes, they will bunt,’ so I guess there is word out there that we do like to put the ball in play, we like to bunt, so we kind of keep them guessing,” Guida said.
“Errors are going to happen. It happens, and as long as we hustle to first and hurry their throw, they’re gonna rush the throw and throw it away. We do try to keep teams on their toes to say ‘Are they gonna swing? Hit and run? Are they gonna squeeze? Are they gonna slash?’ So we try to keep them guessing,” said Guida. “That’s the whole name of the game.”
The Tigers tacked on another two runs in the bottom of the sixth by finally flexing some power hitting muscle.
Keane led off the inning with a base knock to left center and Adams scorched a double down the left field line to put runners at second and third. With two outs, David Tavarez (pinch hitting for the starter Gonzales) crushed a two RBI single to right centerfield that made the score 7-1. Catcher Jared Marks followed up Tavarez with another double down the left field line, good for his second hit of the game, before the inning ended.
“I was just looking first pitch fastball and I got that for each hit I had,” Marks would say after the game.
Ending the mini losing streak was a weight off everyone’s shoulders. “We knew we needed to get this win,” Marks said. “If we didn’t it would’ve been a tough week going forward. It was a very important win, especially in the White Division.”
“I don’t really want to remember what happened this morning,” Gonzales said. “No one remembers that game. We just wanted to bounce back and get a good win.”
South Plainfield will now prepare to go back on the road and play for a rivalry trophy at Paramus High School on Saturday morning. Guida always looks forward to facing the team coached by his best friend, Jonathan Morrisette.
“It’s a good game. It’s a yearly game for us. It means a lot for me because my best friend is their head coach,” Guida said. “I broke the trophy out to all the kids and I told them we’re 4-1 against [Paramus]. They’ve been talking about it already this year, they want to win the game, and they want to get the trophy back.”
“I like to keep it in my house. My son thinks the trophy is ours,” Guida said.