SUMMIT, NJ - On a chilly and windy afternoon better suited for a high school football game than opening day of the baseball season, the Summit High School Varsity Baseball team took a while to warm up but, when they did, the result was a white hot finish.
Playing against a formidable AL. Johnson (ALJ) team, the Hilltoppers saw the visitors post three runs in the first inning despite not getting a hit, but The Maroon & White -- on the backs of a strong pitching performance by Ben Lim. a key 'little ball' play, a stellar bullpen performance, and a game-winning hit by senior captain Grant Douglas, rallied to defeat the Crusaders 7-6 on the Upper Turf Field.
After holding ALJ scoreless in the top of the second inning, sophomore shortstop Matt Reddy was able to drive in run off a sacrifice fly to put Summit on the board and cut the lead to 3-1.
Solid pitching by senior starter Ben Lim, as well as superb defense from Catcher Justin Weiss, third baseman Michael Competiello and the 'keystone combination' of Reddy and second baseman Greg Vlass, would limit the damage, but the Crusaders took a 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the third, which is when the Hilltoppers' offense went to work.
Singles from Vlass, senior captain Matt Murdock and sophomore Trevor Mutolo would load the bases for the Hilltoppers with no outs and Will Schaffer at the plate with a chance to capitalize. The senior did just that, lining a ball into left center field for a clean double and -- with a ALJ error -- Schaffer advanced to third base and plated three Summit runs.
With the game tied 4-4, junior captain Andrew Miller -- on the ensuing at-bat -- drove in Schaffer with a sacrifice fly, and gave the boys from the 07901 had the lead at 5-4.
AL Johnson, however, would take the lead right back in the top of the fourth, scoring two runs to make the score 6-5.
The lead held until the bottom of the seventh inning but, first, relief pitcher Patrick Smolyn delivered a 1-2-3 inning against the top of Johnson’s order.
Matt Mormile was able to get on base after a walk. After a Mormile stolen base and a Vlass sacrifice bunt with two strikes, Murdock had a chance to tie the game.
Murdock's seemingly routine pop fly turned into an RBI single tying the game at six, and he then promptly stole second base. Mutolo would flied out, leaving Summit with a runner in scoring position with two outs.
Douglas stepped up and, on the second pitch of his at-bat, smacked a RBI single for the game-winning hit and initiating the celebration launch sequence that culminated at home plate.
”The first inning was not the start we wanted, but I loved the way our guys fought back," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Zaleski. "This was a good win and I hope we can continue to buy in moving forward.”
Zaleski emphasized how big of a team win the victory was and pointed to key moments and contributors by saying,”You saw Greg Vlass get that bunt with two strikes, Patrick Smolyn coming in against the top of the order and going 1-2-3? That’s huge. I told our guys, you never know when you are going to be able to come in and make an impact and that showed today.”
Summit is back in action on the Memorial Field diamond when they on Watchung Regional April 3. First pitch is at 4 p.m.
Kyle Standing is a Summit High School sophomore.