SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Pitcher Jean Sapini grinded through seven innings and shortstop Mike Stanczak drilled a two run double to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the South Plainfield High School varsity baseball team a 4-2 victory over the Piscataway Chiefs Monday evening.
The victory improved the Tigers’ record to 9-3 overall and 5-2 within the GMC White Division. They will look to sweep the two game series versus the Chiefs when they visit Piscataway on Tuesday.
The Chiefs had tied the game at two in the top of the fifth when Joe Hatcher laced an RBI single to left field off Sapini with runners on first and second.
South Plainfield looked to retake the lead in the fifth, and with one out they got a spark from left fielder Connor Adams, who bunted towards third base and legged out an infield single. Adams, who would finish the day 3 for 4 with two runs scored, then swiped second. He would advance to third on a base hit to right by catcher Jared Marks. Courtesy runner Ricky Pellegrino came in for Marks and stole second to set up Stanczak.
With two men in scoring position, South Plainfield Head Coach Anthony Guida faced a bit of a dilemma.
“We had second and third. Mike’s our number three hitter and he’s been driving in runs for us,” Guida said of the situation. “2-2 game, my first thought is always ‘Should we squeeze? Get a free run; get the lead right here.’”
But Stanczak made Guida look like a genius after he swung away and drilled pitcher Jason Mahmood’s offering deep down the left field line, scoring Adams and Pellegrino.
“Mike is an excellent bunter, but I thought ‘I gotta roll the dice here, let him swing the bat, that’s why he’s our three hitter,’” Guida said. “And he came through. I was really happy he was able to put the ball in play. I told him ‘You gotta get the ball in play. Give me a little dribbler to the pitcher, give me something, let something happen,’ so thankfully he was able to drive the ball into the outfield. If that ball was caught we were taking the lead anyway. Thankfully it dropped and we scored two,” he said.
“Coach asked me ‘do you want to bunt or do you want to hit?’” Stanczak told TAPinto. “And I said ‘I wanna hit!’ because I was hungry. And I just swung at it and hit it hard.”
Stanczak finished the day 2 for 3 with three runs batted in. He collected his other RBI in the first inning when he singled to left to score Adams from second and give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. “I saw a pitch right there and I just hacked at it, hit it on the ground hard and it went through,” Stanczak said of his first hit.
The other South Plainfield run came one inning later when first baseman Billy Keane and DH Chris Shine each doubled to the gaps to lead off the bottom of the second. Piscataway had just tied the game 1-1 in the top of the second on a Joe Maisano RBI single to left with Parris Washington on second.
It never looked easy for Sapini, the ace of the staff, but he still managed to grab the complete game victory while striking out seven against two earned runs on eight hits and three walks. He seemed to get stronger as the game went on, giving up only three hits over his final four innings of work.
“They came out very aggressive, they were swinging at a lot of fastballs, a lot of my pitches, and weren’t taking too many,” Sapini said of his outing. “It was a challenge. I had to battle every inning, I didn’t have my best stuff so I was just trying to make sure I was fighting through everything, working hard to get those hitters out.”
“I like grinding my way through it, trying to get those big outs when we need them even though I don’t have my best pitches, my strikeout stuff. So it was a good win,” Sapini said.
Sapini caught a big break on his first pitch of the day. The Chiefs James Ingram seemed to belt a triple to right center but it turned out he never touched second on his trek across the bases. Guida saw the gaffe immediately and signaled for Sapini to appeal to second where Ingram was called out.
“He caught my attention because he was celebrating running to first,” Guida said. “He smoked the ball. [Right fielder TJ Massaro] was playing the line and it took him a while to get to the ball and my eyes just stayed on the runner. He kind of slipped a bit and went right over [the second base bag]. I saw it right away.”
South Plainfield has now won four games in a row and six of its last seven.
“One thing you don’t want is a big win on one day and come out and lose the next game,” Guida said. “So I’m happy we continued the winning streak. We took care of business today,” Guida said. “We made plays when we needed to and we got the big hits today. It was a nice game today, and a big win in the division. With winning on Monday and now having the opportunity to sweep them, it’s what we needed to do.”
“We’re feeling pretty good, feeling pretty confident,” Stanczak said of the team’s morale.
Coach Guida is still shuffling his lineup around on a game to game basis as he tries to find the perfect batting order. On Monday he had second baseman Roberto Gonzalez batting fifth instead of his usual first or second.
“You always want consistency but we’re also trying to find the right mix. I do like what I see in part of our order, but I’m still trying to fit guys in. Some people need to learn the strike zone a little bit more. But I’m trying things out and right now I do like what I see. At least the lineup I had today, I do like what I had,” Guida said.