NORTH CALDWELL, NJ -- The West Essex baseball team is prepared for the state tournament following a resilient 6-5 extra-inning victory over Columbia on Saturday.
“Obviously it is nice to win, but the focus is playing well…we did enough eventually to win the game,” said Knights Head Coach Mike Llauget.
The Knights found themselves down, 5-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning after Columbia put up two in the top of the frame. A scrappy West Essex offense quickly put the tying runs on with a single and a walk from Liam James and Scott Barlow, respectively. On the next play an error on what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt scored pinch-runner Noah Garcia from second and put the winning run on.
In déjà vu like fashion, the following play was a safety squeeze from West Essex’ Tanner Newby. The Columbia pitcher fumbled the ball before throwing it away into right field to score Joe Visaggio and Barlow for the Knights win.
“A lot of times in bunt situations, even when teams know it’s coming, kids get worked up about it on both sides offensively and defensively, and sometimes that’s what happens,” said Llauget.
The Knights will be able to confidently enter the state tournament, as their offense managed to put up the most runs they’ve had in their last three games. A key cog in the offensive chain was Justin Waack, who played his part on Saturday. Waack’s two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning tied the game, 3-3, to set the stage for the extra-inning heroics. Waack has had two runs scored, seven hits, and two runs batted in in his past four games for the club.
“[Waack] is doing a good job overall this year,” said Llauget.
West Essex improves to 10-11 on the year, breaking a two-game losing streak in the process. Despite the sub-.500 record, the Knights are happy overall, as most of their losses have come against top-tier teams.
“We have a lot of losses to teams that are top 10 in the state, so I don’t get that down if we look at the record because at the end of the day the record is irrelevant. It’s how we played in those games and if we’re using the things we didn’t do well in those games to make us better,” said Llauget.
The Knights will head to West Milford on Monday in the opening round of the Section 1, Group 3 state tournament.