SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team went toe to toe with the previously once defeated Middlesex Blue Jays and responded to a four run rally in the top of the fourth with a five run rally of their own in the bottom of the same inning to earn a 6-4 victory at home Friday afternoon.
Tigers Pitcher Roberto Gonzalez struggled to find the strike zone and was knocked out of the game with two outs in the fourth after the Blue Jays had already went ahead 4-1 on four walks, a hit batsman, an RBI groundout and an RBI single by shortstop Jack Hnylycia.
Sophomore Mikey Marrero came into the game for South Plainfield without a proper warm-up session and with runners on first and second base. He surrendered an infield base hit to Nick DiMaggio to load the bases but then forced Mike Salerno into a groundout to escape with his team only down three.
He would become the winning pitcher on record after his offense rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the inning, and shut the door the rest of the way. Marrero finished the day allowing no runs on three hits and a strikeout. The game ended dramatically when Quincy West grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with the tying runs on base.
Marrero was never daunted by being thrown into such a jam in the fourth. “Coach Bautista, before I went out, he asked me if I was good with my arm,” Marrero said. “And I was like ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go.’ So with my warm-up pitches I just tried to warm up, not really throw strikes, just warm my arm up, and then I just tried to battle back.”
“I think he did a great job throwing strikes. That’s exactly what we needed him to do.” Tigers Head Coach Anthony Guida said of his sophomore hurler. “You have eight [warm-up] pitches to get yourself ready. He’s been there before coming into the middle of an inning to close doors, close innings out,” he said.
“I think it was the sixth inning with the first batter up and the count was 2-0, I was like ‘C’mon, if you throw a strike, good things might happen.’” Guida said. “He got a two hopper to [third baseman Chris Shine] and we got an out. Things can happen when they swing the bat, too. Good things can happen. So we just have to trust our defense and I think we did a nice job today,” he said.
Gonzalez struggled on the hill for the first time all season. He still managed four strikeouts before leaving. “It’s very odd. We’ve known Rob for two months now and he’s always been someone to be able to throw strikes,” Guida said. “And he’s thrown strikes all the time, and then all of a sudden he just didn’t. And we were like ‘Crap! What are we going to do?’ and that’s when we were like ‘Hey, we might just have to go to Mikey here.’”
It felt good for Marrero to pickup his teammate Gonzalez, one of the best pitchers on the team through the first month of the season. “He was kind of mad in the dugout and I was like ‘I’ll just pick you up,’ and I tried to be as efficient as possible and go out there and get the win,” Marrero said.
The Tiger offense picked up everyone in the bottom of the fourth.
Facing Middlesex pitcher Patrick Kannaley (who threw a complete game in the losing effort), they turned a 4-1 deficit into a 6-4 lead. With one man out and runners on first and second, third baseman Chris Shine belted an RBI single to the right centerfield gap to score DH Jean Sapini and move first baseman Billy Keane to third. With two outs, Keane would score when a grounder by left fielder Connor Adams found its way underneath the glove of Hnylycia to cut the Blue Jay lead to 4-3.
Senior catcher Jared Marks drew a walk to load the bases and South Plainfield tied the game on another blunder by Hnylycia when he bobbled a grounder form shortstop Mike Stanczak.
With the bases still loaded, center fielder Dylan O’Connor was hit by Kannaley to bring the eventual winning run across home plate. Gonzalez then made it 6-4 with an RBI base hit to left.
“I told them, ‘Guys, there’s a lot of game left, there’s a lot of outs left, there’s a lot of innings left,’ and thankfully we were able to jump right on them and score right away,” Guida said of the response to the Middlesex rally. “We started the inning off with an out and then all of a sudden we started putting the ball in play, and they started making mistakes. Going station to station, we were able to put the ball in play and force them to make some mistakes.”
“That’s just how we’ve been playing all year. They rally, we rally right back.” O’Connor said. “It’s our mentality and we all saw that coming.” He said the team knew they could come back all along, even when things looked bleak. “Our morale comes right back up. We get loud, arrogant I guess, if you want to call it that, and we swing away.”
O’Connor opened the scoring in the bottom of the first when he smoked a two out RBI double deep to the left centerfield gap that scored Stanczak from first. “I just wanted to jump on them early, the first pitch was away, then [Kannaley] came in with the slider and it hung right there for me and it took off,” O’Connor said.
South Plainfield seemingly always jumps out to an early lead. “That’s what we we’re taught to do. Jump on them early, get on them early, and hopefully it leads to a win,” O’Connor said.
The Tigers are now 10-4 on the season, including a perfect 6-0 in their home confines. “We don’t do anything different [at home]. We just like playing at our home field, which is a great thing,” Guida said. “We like to win at home, we like to win both [home and away], but winning at home is always a good thing. It’s a good feeling to know we’re undefeated at home,” he said.
The scheduled makeup game at Piscataway Saturday morning was postponed due to overnight showers. Due to poor field conditions, the teams will now play the Piscataway home game in South Plainfield on Sunday at 1PM. The Tigers will wear their road gray uniforms on their home field.