For the fourth time since 2012 the Dayton Bulldogs will attempt to defeat the Ridgefield Royals in a state tournament baseball game.
The first two losses were heartbreaking to say the least.
The third – two years ago – was still tough enough.
“They’ve had our number,” said Dayton head coach Mike Abbate, who has now led the Bulldogs to the North 2, Group 1 semifinals for the seventh time in his eight seasons at the helm.
Top-seeded Dayton (17-5) will host fourth-seeded Ridgefield (14-12) Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Ruby Field in Springfield in a North 2, Group 1 semifinal.
Tuesday’s other 4 p.m. N2, G1 semifinal features 14th-seeded North Arlington (10-15) at seventh-seeded Glen Ridge (10-13).
The final is Friday at 4 p.m. at the higher seed.
Dayton lost at Ridgefield 3-2 in the 2012 N2, G1 semifinals, which was the third straight season the Bulldogs lost in the semis. The first attempt to play the game was at night and Dayton trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth when rain forced the game to be halted.
Dayton had Tommy Losito pitching that game, but he couldn’t pitch the next day when the game was continued. After Dayton tied the contest at 2-2, the Bulldogs went on to lose 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth.
The squads next clashed in a Group 1 semifinal at Ramapo College in 2014 after Dayton captured N2, G1 for the second straight season. The first day in Mahwah saw two innings played before rain forced both teams to come back to Bergen County the next day.
Chase Kimmel remained the pitcher for Dayton and gave a great effort both days on the mound. Dayton took the lead when the game was continued before Ridgefield found a way to come back and produce the game-winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh for a 6-5 triumph.
Ridgefield also defeated Dayton 5-3 at home in the 2015 N2, G1 semifinals, a game that took only one day to play and complete.
This will be the first year Dayton will play Ridgefield at home in state tournament action.
Will the fourth time be a charm for the Bulldogs?
“We have (pitchers) Anthony Santucci (back from surgery), Matt Pavick and Ryan Lashuk ready to go,” Abbate said. “We feel like we have a lot on the mound. They just have to throw strikes.”
Dayton’s No. 1 pitcher – senior right hander Joe Kastner – delivered another fine performance Saturday in helping the Bulldogs advance.
Dayton defeated eighth-seeded Becton 6-3 in its quarterfinal at Ruby Field.
Kastner, now 8-0, went 6 and 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits, while striking out nine and walking one. Pavick, after yielding a single up the middle, recorded the last out by getting a pop up to first base.
“Joe did a nice job for us again,” Abbate said. “If not for the new pitch count rule we would have had him try to complete the game.
“In the last inning we wanted to see how many outs he could get and he got as many as he could.”
Becton took a 2-0 lead in the second before Dayton answered with one run in the third and five in the fifth. Becton scored the game’s final run in the seventh.
Producing for Dayton in its five-run fifth were senior Anthony Monguso with a two-run single and junior Jack Quinn with an RBI-single. One of Dayton’s other runs in the inning came as the result of a fielder’s choice play when senior Jon Holland hit the ball back to the pitcher.
Kastner will be the only Dayton pitcher not eligible to throw Tuesday.
Dayton came back from the only sub-.500 season it’s had under Abbate last year (7-16) to get back to the N2, G1 semifinals.
The Bulldogs also did quite well to finish second in the Union County Conference’s Valley Division at 8-2.
Dayton won the UCC’s first Valley Division crown in 2010 and then won the Mountain Division outright in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and shared the championship with Johnson and Union Catholic in 2015.
“We pride ourselves on being consistent in both the conference and the section and for a small, Group 1 school we have been for the last eight years,” Abbate said.
“Our win at Roselle Park (11-10 on May 9) was huge because it got us the top seed.”
The division rivals played again the next day at Ruby Field, with Roselle Park winning 8-6. The Panthers then won at Brearley 6-2 on May 17 to clinch the Valley Division championship with a league record of 9-1.
“Roselle Park was really good this year,” Abbate said. “The second game against them, we just had nothing left the next day.
“But beating Roselle Park the first time we played them helped get us the top seed and that gave us the position to be home against Ridgefield if we were to play them and now we will again.”
Although Dayton had a less-than-spectacular record a year ago, the Bulldogs still managed to make the grade in N2, G1, falling at North Arlington.
“We had a tough schedule that included some Group 4s, we were in the upper (Mountain) division and we had a ton of injuries,” which was how Abbate described Dayton’s 2016 campaign.
It was the only year Dayton didn’t win a state playoff game under his guidance.
“To come back this year and do what we have done so far, I’m really proud of it,” Abbate said.
Union County baseball Tuesday includes Group 1 Dayton, Group 2 Governor Livingston Group 3 Cranford and Non-Public, North A Union Catholic still alive.
“We may not have any Division 1 players, but we pride ourselves on playing with the big boys,” Abbate said.