WOODBRIDGE, NJ - South Plainfield High School head baseball coach Anthony Guida knew his team would have to capitalize on the finite amount of scoring opportunities they would have against Woodbridge ace Harry Rutkowski Tuesday night. The Tigers squandered a pair of sequences with runners on third base with less than two outs and were defeated by a final score of 4-2.
The loss drops the Tigers to 11-6 on the season and 6-4 in GMC White Division play. Woodbridge stands at 8-3 and in the driver’s seat to clinch the division title.
Junior pitcher Billy Keane took the loss for the Tigers despite going toe to toe with the highly touted Rutkowski. Keane finished with a complete game effort, allowing seven hits and striking out five, including when he struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth inning. He walked one batter and hit another. He was struck by a line drive to his ankle in the bottom of the sixth but stayed in the game.
Keane made two big mistakes and they both left the bandbox of a ballpark in Woodbridge for homeruns. The first was to Barrons third baseman Justin Silva to lead off the second and the other was to Rutkowski to start the fifth. Rutkowski would add another RBI on a double in the third inning to go along with his eight strikeouts on the mound.
“I felt good, all my pitches were working. I just missed my spots a couple times,” Keane said of his outing. “They just capitalized on my mistakes.”
Down 1-0 following the Silva homer, the Tigers tied the score in the top of the third, and almost took the lead. Second baseman Roberto Gonzalez torched a leadoff double off Rutkowski and right fielder Ricky Pellegrino bunted for a base hit to put runners on the corners with no outs. Left fielder Connor Adams then pounded a grounder to short to score Gonzalez, and reached first on an errant throw.
“I knew he was a Division 1 [prospect] so I was expecting at least 88-90 MPH down the pipe and I got it and just took it to left field,” Gonzalez said of his approach against the Woodbridge ace. Gonzalez tried not to be intimidated by one of the top pitchers in New Jersey. “When I come into the game I just treat him like any other kid. He’s a regular high school kid like us and I just play my game and that’s it,” he said.
Later, with runners on first and second, catcher Jared Marks laid down a sacrifice bunt and Woodbridge got the out at second to put runners on the corners again with one out. While shortstop Mike Stanczak batted for South Plainfield, a Rutkowski pitch got by the Woodbridge catcher and Pellegrino broke for home from third. He was called out on the slide but the entire Tigers dugout contended he beat the tag. Stanczak was caught looking for strike three later in the at bat to end the threat.
Down 3-1 heading to the top of the fifth, another base running miscue between third base and home plate proved costly for the Tigers. With runners on first and third and one out, the Tigers put on a squeeze bunt but pinch runner Kevin Soper got his signals crossed and broke for home on a pickoff throw to first. He was thrown out well before reaching home plate.
“These are opportunities you have to score,” Guida said, noting that although Rutkowski had command of his fastball, South Plainfield could have done more damage against his off-speed pitches.
The Tigers wouldn’t go down meekly and got to within 4-2 in the top of the sixth on a walk by Marks, a sacrifice groundout by Stanczak and another Woodbridge error with Dylan O’Connor at the plate. But it was not enough.
Still, there are always silver linings, takeaways and things to build on.
“We scored two runs against a kid that was very good, one of the best in the state,” Guida said. “Billy [Keane] had some great stuff against a good hitting team, pitched everything for a strike, and we had an opportunity to win the game today. Unfortunately we did not,” he said.
With a few days off before their next game, Coach Guida wants to utilize practice time to focus on improving team base running skills.