SOUTH AMBOY, NJ – The South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team kicked off their 2017 campaign in grand fashion Monday evening with a convincing 8-1 road victory over the Sayreville War Memorial Bombers at Raritan Bay Waterfront Park. Senior flamethrower Jean Sapini settled down after a spotty first inning in which he walked three batters to finish with 10 strikeouts and only two hits against in his five inning season debut.
The Tigers offense sputtered early but then manufactured base runners and capitalized on several Sayreville fielding miscues to jump out to a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning before the floodgates opened in the sixth, when South Plainfield added five runs to go up 8-0.
Starting second basemen Roberto Gonzales came in to relive Sapini on the hill in the 6th and Dylan O’Connor finished the game off in the 7th inning.
Head Coach Anthony Guida couldn’t have dreamed up a better result for his team to start the season, though he always thinks his team can play better. “It took us until the sixth inning. I was concerned with the first, second innings where we had guys in scoring position and we’re striking out,” he said. “We have to put the ball in play more. It was only 1-0 after two. It would have been nice to get a bigger lead earlier instead of 1-0.”
Alas, Guida’s starting pitcher made getting a big lead unnecessary.
“I just thought my fastball was really working,” Sapini said of his performance. “I saw they were behind it so I kept pounding the zone with fastballs, fastballs, and mixing a couple of changeups in there and it worked out for me.”
Sapini blamed the three walks in the opening frame on “first inning hectics,” but liked the way he recovered. “I wasn’t really hitting my spots and I was leaving the ball up, but then I was able to find the zone in the second and third inning and just build on that for the rest of the game.”
“Jean, to us, was a little wild,” Guida said of his ace’s first inning. “But he got a lot of help from [Sayreville]. A lot of his strikes in the first inning were up high and they were swinging at them and he was getting away with it. Sayreville is a great team and if they were a bit more disciplined it could have been a different game. If they drew a couple of walks who knows what would have happened,” he said. “But we lucked out with a couple pitches up that they swung at and missed and that got us through the inning. He did start to settle down but he had a little trouble with his arm so we pulled the leash on him a little quick.”
Sapini made it clear to his coach that he wanted to go out for the sixth.
“If he had a solid spring or a solid March we probably would have let him stay in there,” Guida said. “I know he wanted to stay in but it’s early and we want to make sure he’s in it for the entire season.”
At the plate, South Plainfield went up for good in the top of the second inning with two men out and no one on base. Left fielder Connor Adams hustled out an infield base hit and then took second and third base after an errant pickoff attempt by the Bombers. After right fielder Ricky Pellegrino drew a walk, Gonzales roped an RBI single to center, scoring Adams.
Adams impressed in his varsity debut. “He had a great game,” Guida said. “He had two hits in his first varsity game and scored three times and did a real nice job. That’s what we need to do, get bunts down and be fast.”
Already up 3-0 heading to the top of the sixth, the Tigers looked to put their opponents away for good.
With runners on first and second and one out, power hitting catcher Jared Marks crushed an RBI double over a falling left fielder’s head to put South Plainfield up by four. Shortstop Mike Stanczak walked to load the bases for third baseman Chris Shine, who put the final nail in the coffin when he blasted a three run double deep to left center to make the score 7-0.
Coach Guida was glad Shine, the fifth hitter, was able to take care of business when his team needed it most. “That was nice to see. That’s what we’re looking for with the bases loaded but he had a great March with the five scrimmages we had, hitting the ball hard and he’s got some varsity experience as a sophomore. The ball was struck real hard and carried a little more than I thought,” Guida said.
First baseman Billy Keane capped off the five run rally with an RBI double of his own down the right field line. The score was 8-0 and the Tigers were well on their way.
Sayreville finally got on the scoreboard with a run with two outs in the bottom half of the seventh but it was too little, too late.
The Tigers (1-0) will look to sweep the two game series with the Bombers on Tuesday afternoon although the weather forecast is calling for heavy rain. If the South Plainfield varsity field is not in playing shape they will look to reschedule the game to Wednesday at 4:00 PM.