NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ - The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team lost a heartbreaker to North Brunswick High School Monday evening by the score of 7-6 on a walk off RBI single by Andrew Tan that capped a three run seventh inning for the hosting Raiders and completed a comeback from being down 5-0 in the third.

Jean Sapini took the tough loss for the Tigers despite pitching into the seventh and striking out seven batters while walking none. Left fielder Connor Adams stayed hot and had another multi-hit game for South Plainfield, singling three times and scoring twice. Shortstop Mike Stanczak hit his first career varsity home run in the top of the first in a losing effort.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh up 6-4, the Tigers elected to stick with their ace to try to get the final three outs, but things went awry from the get go. North Brunswick second baseman Ryan Breheney doubled to right center off Sapini to bring the tying run to the plate. Christian Petrillo hit a tough grounder that South Plainfield second baseman Roberto Gonzalez couldn’t come up with to put runners on first and second with no outs.

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The big blow of the inning came when Justin Garcia laid down a sacrifice bunt back to Sapini who was hurried and fired an errant throw past first baseman Billy Keane that rolled down the right field line to tie the game and allowed Garcia, the eventual winning run, to reach third base with Tan coming to the plate.

It was the first time Sapini (2-1) struggled or faced adversity on the mound in his three starts this season.

“I thought he was consistent. I thought he was a little up [in the zone] still. He knows what he did wrong today. He left too many balls up in the zone and they did exactly what they were supposed to do with it,” Head Coach Anthony Guida said of his ace’s performance. “He’s our guy. He knew he had an opportunity to finish the game, he wanted to finish the game, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to,” Guida said.

The Tigers thought they had scored enough runs when, up 5-4, they tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh to go up by two.

Adams singled up the middle and Stanczak placed down a perfect bunt single to put two on with no outs. Dylan O’Connor sent a fly ball deep to right that allowed both runners to tag and then catcher Jared Marks laid down a sacrifice RBI squeeze bunt that scored Adams and moved Stanczak to third. Stanczak would be stranded at third, however, when North Brunswick pitcher Eric Vasquez got Sapini to ground out to short.

“We had second and third with one out,” Guida told Tapinto. “We squeezed for one run with my number five hitter [Marks] and I thought ‘If he swings maybe we score two,’ but I said ‘let’s get [at least] one for a two run cushion with our guy [Sapini] on the mound.’ I felt pretty good with that,” he said

The Tigers also stranded a valuable runner at third in the sixth.

Right fielder Ricky Pellegrino drew a two out walk off Vasquez and took second on a wild pitch and then third on a passed ball. Gonzalez drew a walk of his own to put runners on the corners for Adams. Guida then called an elaborate base running ploy that was snuffed out from the start.

Vasquez threw over to first when Gonzalez bolted for second, and Raider first baseman Danny Reardon threw immediately over to the catcher to tag out Pellegrino, who broke for home at the same time, well before he reached the plate.

“I’m more upset at myself,” Guida said of the botched play. “Coaches make mistakes, too.”

“In that sixth inning where we had first and third, we had a designed first and third play I tried about four years ago,” he said. “These kids obviously weren’t here but it worked successfully. We practice it every year and it just totally backfired on us. What I should’ve done when they talked on the mound – right before we did it they stepped off – I should have said ‘Play’s off,’ but I just stuck with it,” Guida said.

“And that hurt us. Who knows if we would have scored, but I was pretty mad at myself.”

The two runs that the Tigers couldn’t get across the plate may have been the difference. Leaving runners stranded on the bases is a problem South Plainfield has been dealing with all season thus far and Guida wants to see it fixed immediately.

“The approach at the plate has got to be a little better. We need to put the ball on the ground. I think we had about six or seven fly ball outs and high school teams can catch fly balls,” said Guida. “Hit the ball on the ground and three things have to happen: They have to catch it, throw it, and the first baseman has to catch it. So you have more of a probability of getting on base if you hit the ball on the ground. You hit the ball in the air a lot, it’s an easy out. And so we weren’t able to move runners like we usually do,” he said.

It looked like South Plainfield would win in a laugher when they went up 3-0 after just three hitters in the top of the first. Gonzalez drew a leadoff walk and Adams bunted for a base hit along the first base side. Stanczak then belted a deep three run shot to left center.

“Honestly I remember [Vasquez] from last year and I know what he threw, so I knew when I was coming into the batter’s box I wasn’t going to get much,” Stanczak would say of his approach at the plate. “So I knew what I was supposed to hit and I just hit the ball hard,” he said.

Stanczak didn’t change anything he was already doing even though this time the ball went over the fence. “Hit the ball hard and don’t think about hitting a homerun,” he said. “Hit the ball hard, hit line drives, and eventually they’ll go out.”

“I’m really happy for him,” Guida would say of his shortstop. “I was really proud of him. He got a ball he could handle and put a real good swing on it and it found its way over the fence,” he said.

This was not the first time this season the Tigers jumped on the opposing pitcher in the first inning.

“Maybe they just want to get out there and play, swing the bat,” Guida said of the first inning trend. “I don’t know if we’re a first or second inning team but we’re able to get some guys across, get some guys on base. I don’t know what it is about that. I guess the kids are a little more up for the beginning of the game,” he said.

The Tigers made it 5-0 in the top of the third. With runners on the corners and one out, Keane laced an RBI single to left center. Mikey Marrero (pinch running for Sapini who drew a walk earlier) advanced from first to third on the play and scored when Vasquez misfired to first on a pickoff attempt while David Tavarez was at the dish.

North Brunswick crawled slowly back into the contest with one run in the bottom of the third and two in the fourth. Petrillo doubled with one out in the third, advanced on a groundout to the right side and scored on a Tavarez error at third.

With runners on the corners and one out in the fourth, Breheney slammed a two RBI triple to right center off Sapini to make the score 5-3.

While the Tigers were going silent at the plate, the Raiders got to within 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth on a Reardon (2 for 3) solo shot to left center.

South Plainfield will try to exact revenge Tuesday afternoon when the Raiders pay a visit. Monday’s game should offer a little bit more incentive for the boys in green to go out and win.

“It’s why these home & home’s are great,” Guida said. “We know what we’re getting tomorrow and now we’re hungry to beat them and hopefully we can jump out there and put some runs across. We’re going to get a team that’s going to look to want to sweep us. I told them ‘This team can beat us,’ and they did. Their record might’ve said they weren’t as good, but not today. They were a lot better than we were. They did a real nice job,” Guida said of North Brunswick.

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Other notes:

Left fielder Connor Adams, as mentioned earlier, had another multi-hit game, this time going 3 for 4. Adams started the season as the eighth hitter but has moved all the way up to the second slot since then and is looking more and more like a mainstay in that position.

“I felt good, hitting the ball good lately and I just want to stay on top of the ball,” Adams said. “I knew I had to prove myself at the beginning of the year, but I’ve been hitting the ball well. So I think I belong up there.”