NORTH BRUNSWICK-One could be forgiven for expecting a close, razor thin matchup in today’s semifinal Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament game between South Plainfield High School and Old Bridge High School. After all, the last time the two teams met, in last year’s GMCT quarterfinals, Old Bridge (10-15) barely edged out a victory off an extra innings walk off run. Despite that history, or perhaps in spite of it, this year’s game was a one-sided affair, much to the delight of the Tigers’ (18-9) fans in attendance.
The scoring came early and often for the 14th-seeded Tigers, and behind three home runs by Mike Stanczak and five shutout innings by Chris Shine, South Plainfield overpowered the seventh-seeded Knights to take a dominant 12-0 mercy rule victory and move onto the tournament finals.
In a game with no shortage of offense, Stanzak was undoubtedly the star. The senior was dealt a strikeout in his first at-bat in the first inning, but rebounded strongly in the second inning by hitting a bomb over the center field fence off the first pitch he saw that at-bat. The two run drive gave South Plainfield a 6-0 lead.
Stanzak followed that up with another two-run homer in the fourth inning, and in the fifth inning he helped close that show by sending another one over the fence for a solo-homer.
“First at-bat I struck out, and I didn’t see the ball real good on that one, but after that I knew what I had to change,” Stanzak said after the game. “I hit the ball real hard and that’s it.”
South Plainfield head coach Anthony Guida noted that Stanzak’s bat has been hot for the past few weeks. The senior currently has nine home runs this season.
“When he sees his pitch and gets his pitch, he puts a good swing on it,” the coach said. “Today he got his pitch again and he did what he usually does when the pitch is right there. I was real proud of the way he went up there and gave us a jolt early and continued on."
The surging South Plainfield squad was on a eight-game winning streak, but even with that few could have predicted the offensive onslaught they put on the Knights. For Guida,the decisive win came because his team was able to capitalize on mistakes and openings early on.
Connor Adams singled for South Plainfield to leadoff the game. Billy Keane put the first two runs on the board by hitting a double later in the inning. The Knights came close to pulling off a double-play early in the inning, which could’ve lead to the top of the inning ending 0-0. The Knights misplayed a ball that could have given them that double play though and instead the Tigers put up three runs before the first three outs.
“We didn’t want to miss any opportunities, which is what we say everyday." the coach said. "Today we were able to take care of those opportunities early, and any coach that coaches baseball wants to be able to do that early.”
Rob Gonzalez and Billy Keane bout went 3-for-4. Gonzalez had a solo homer of hits own in the fourth inning. Shine struck out four, and didn’t allow any runner to get past second base.
Guida didn’t talk to his team about last year’s setback against Old Bridge, but it’s safe to say it was on the minds of the players. Stanzak, who also hit a homer in last year’s game, was certainly motivated by it.
“Last year we were in the same situation, so it felt nice to hit three home runs and destroy them,” Stanzak said.
The win moves South Plainfield to their first GMC finals appearance since 2014. The Tigers will either be facing Spotswood or Perth Amboy next Saturday at East Brunswick Tech at noon, but either way, the Tigers are expecting a tough outing.
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the field with us next week; it’s going to be a tough opponent,” said Guida. “Spotswood is always gonna come out and give a good game. Perth Amboy can swing, and they have good athletes. We’re excited to be there. We would like to win, but we’re aware that whoever is going to be there will be a tough opponent.”