SPRINGFIELD – After five-and-a-half innings the visiting Johnson Crusaders had 11 insurance runs in the bank, while their pitcher was tossing a one (infield)-hit shutout.
However, despite just being six outs away from remaining undefeated in division play, Johnson needed every run it produced, no matter it was ahead by double-digits.
That’s because host Dayton refused to go down easily and also worked very hard to get the game to the seventh inning and not go down by the 10-run mercy rule.
With their bats coming alive in the bottom of the sixth after producing just one infield hit and no runs in the first five innings off Johnson senior right hander Mitch Becker, Dayton gave Johnson a real scare.
In the end, however, a pretty good comeback fell short of what could have been a real memorable one. Johnson held on Friday for a 13-9 Union County Conference-Mountain Division baseball triumph at Ruby Field.
Dayton went from being down 12-0 at the start of the bottom of the sixth to having the tying run at the plate at the very end of the bottom of the seventh.
Maybe this will be something the Bulldogs can build off of. Dayton actually out-hit Johnson 9-8.
Credit Johnson for playing some small ball in the beginning, then taking advantage of Dayton errors and then producing some big hits to jump out to its 12-0 lead behind Becker, who did not allow a hit until the fifth inning.
Also credit Dayton for making a game of it after being down by 12 runs. The Bulldogs actually had a chance to tie the game or even win it in the bottom of the seventh.
“This game was crazy,” said Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy, now in his ninth season at the helm of the Crusaders. “It seems like no lead is a safe lead, especially when you’re playing a rival. We’ve certainly had some interesting games against them, especially here.”
Johnson ended up sweeping Dayton for the second straight season in Mountain Division play, after Dayton swept Johnson three years in a row. Johnson has now defeated Dayton four straight times after snapping a seven-game losing streak against the Bulldogs last year.
Johnson improved to 3-3 overall, snapped a three-game losing streak, and is now 3-0 and in first place in the Mountain Division.
Dayton fell to 1-4 overall and 0-3 in the Mountain Division.
Since Dayton moved up to the Mountain Division in 2011 after winning the Valley Division title in 2010, Union Catholic won the Mountain Division in 2011, followed by Dayton winning it in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Last year, Dayton, Johnson and Union Catholic finished tied for first in the Mountain Division, all concluding with 5-3 league records.
Usually Johnson-Dayton games are very close. Johnson defeated Dayton 12-8 in the season-opener for both back on April 1. Last year, Johnson defeated Dayton 3-2 and 2-1.
For a change, it appeared that Friday’s game was going to be totally one-sided.
Joe Turek drove in the game’s first run, with Johnson’s No. 3 batter producing an opposite field RBI-double to left in the top of the first off Dayton starter Joe Kastner. The Crusaders scored once more in the inning for a quick 2-0 lead.
Johnson then added three runs in the third for a 5-0 cushion, the latter two runs coming in on a single hit up the middle by Zachary Thornton. Earlier in the frame, Vincent Crisafi walked with the bases loaded for an RBI.
The Crusaders made it 8-0 with three more runs in the top of the fifth. Lefty-batting leadoff batter Andrew Sanchez drove in the second run on an RBI-single to right.
Meanwhile, Becker, without great control, was still mowing down Dayton batters without yielding anything. Through four innings, Becker held Dayton to no runs on no hits, while striking out seven and walking three. He retired the side in order in the third, which was the game’s only 1-2-3 inning.
In the fifth, Dayton designated hitter Ryan Kanarek managed to hit a bouncer just past Becker and in front of Johnson shortstop Thornton, with the leadoff infield hit breaking up Becker’s no-hit bid. Becker got the next batter to ground into a double play and then got through the rest of the inning with his shutout still intact.
“This game (the first five innings) I was more comfortable,” said Becker, whose pitching record evened at 1-1. He started and took the loss in Johnson’s 10-0 home setback to J.P. Stevens on April 6.
“I threw my fastball 75 percent of the time and then used my cutter to keep their batters off balance.”
Johnson added what turned out to be four more very important insurance runs in the top of the sixth to take its 12-0 advantage.
Becker got things going with one out and nobody on when he smashed a double down the left field line. Two batters later Brendan Stanzione drove in a run with a single up the middle. Johnson ended up scoring three more runs in the inning after three more Dayton errors.
Becker walked his fifth batter and then hit a batter to put runners on first and second with no one out in the bottom of the sixth. Then Dayton started to hit him really hard.
Kastner belted an RBI-double to center for Dayton’s first run. Cleanup batter Noah Goldberg, who Becker struck out his first two times up, then connected on a two-run double past the Johnson left fielder to make it 12-3.
An RBI-single to left blasted by Jake Elgrably made it 12-4.
Following a walk, Becker’s sixth, a fly out to center and a pop up to first, Anthony Santucci – Dayton’s No. 9 batter – produced an opposite field RBI-single to right to pull Dayton to within 12-5.
Just like that Dayton was sort of back in the game, still with the seventh inning to go.
Following Santucci’s hit, Becker re-grouped and struck out the next Dayton batter to finally close the inning. Becker allowed five runs on four hits in the sixth.
“I think it was a matter of them seeing me more in the lineup and my arm was dying,” Becker said. “Once you get to a certain amount of pitches the outs become tougher to get.”
Becker, who threw 77 pitches through five innings before tossing quite a few more in the sixth, finished giving up five runs on five hits in six complete innings, while striking out eight, walking six and hitting a batter.
“We wanted to build him up,” Kennedy said. “There were long innings. It’s a process.
“He had a pretty good handle of his fastball and was getting strikes with it. I thought his breaking pitch was also working well. He’s going in the right direction.”
Johnson took advantage of another Dayton miscue to score one more run in the top of the seventh for a 13-5 lead.
Kennedy brought in senior lefty Ryan Mulroy to get Dayton out in the bottom of the seventh. Mulroy eventually got the job done, but gave up four runs before doing so.
After a hit batter and a bloop single to short left by Kastner, Goldberg followed with the game’s longest hit. He absolutely smoked a shot to deep left that landed at the bottom of the fence just to the right of the 375 foot sign. With his triple in came two more runs to make it 13-7.
Kanarek produced an RBI-ground out to second and then Dayton scored again after the only Johnson error to make it 13-9.
Dayton then loaded the bases with two outs after leadoff batter Adam Paolella reached on an infield hit.
That brought the tying run to the plate, with Mulroy able to end the game – which lasted more than two-and-a-half hours – with his second strikeout.
Johnson, seeking to win the Mountain Division outright this season, will continue on Monday and Tuesday with back-to-back division games against Linden – Monday at Linden (a makeup) and Tuesday at Johnson.
“In first place is where we want to stay,” Becker said. “We now have two tough games against Linden coming up.”
Johnson began the season 2-0 before the loss to J.P. Stevens and then losses to Watchung Division foes Union and Westfield occurred the last two days.
“Union and Westfield leaned on us a bit,” Kennedy said. “We’ve done some nice things so far, but we have to get much better in other areas.”
Dayton, which lost at home to Cranford 10-0 Thursday in a conference-crossover game, has another one scheduled for Saturday morning at home vs. Governor Livingston.
The Bulldogs then resume Mountain Division action Tuesday at Union Catholic.
Dayton seventh-year head coach Mike Abbate used four pitchers, including Kastner for three innings, junior righty Matthew Pavick for two, senior right hander Jesse Klarfeld for one and one-third and one more for the final two outs.
Pavick started the game at shortstop.
Johnson beat Dayton twice last year by one run in Mountain Division play and twice this year by four runs.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-MOUNTAIN DIVISION
Johnson (3-3, 3-0) 2 0 3 0 3 4 1 – 13 8 1
Dayton (1-4, 0-3) 0 0 0 0 0 5 4 – 9 9 7
Johnson senior RH Mitch Becker (1-1)
Dayton junior RH Joe Kastner (0-1)
Johnson – Mike Sot (bunt), Zachary Thornton, Vincent Crisafi,
Brendan Stanzione (2), Andrew Sanchez.
Dayton – Ryan Kanarek (infield), Jake Elgrably, Anthony Santucci,
Joe Kastner, Anthony Monguso, Adam Paolella (infield).
Johnson – Joe Turek, Mitch Becker.
Dayton – Joe Kastner, Noah Goldberg,
Johnson – None.
Dayton – Noah Goldberg.
Johnson – None.
Dayton – None.
7 Sanchez 7
4 Sot 18
3 Turek 24
1 Becker 23
9 Crisafi 9
8 Stanzione 12
2 Rizzuto 13
6 Thornton 11
5 Prestineri 5
15 T. Mulroy
4 R. Mulroy
1 Paolella 7
22 Pavick 6
11 Kastner 1 (0-0)
8 Goldberg 8
3 Elgrady 2
14 Kanarek DH
2 B. Martin 4
33 Monguso 3
7 Mattoon 9
13 Santucci 5
JOHNSON VS. DAYTON SINCE 2011:
2016: Johnson sweeps Dayton in Mountain Division play
April 1 – Johnson 12, Dayton 8 – at Johnson
April 15 – Johnson 13, Dayton 9 – at Dayton
2015: Johnson sweeps Dayton in Mountain Division play
April 1 – Johnson 3, Dayton 2 – at Dayton
April 18 – Johnson 2, Dayton 1 – at Johnson
2014: Dayton sweeps Johnson in Mountain Division play
and also tops the Crusaders in the Union County Tournament
April 9 – Dayton 3, Johnson 2 – at Dayton
April 28 – Dayton 7, Johnson 5 – UCT first round at Dayton
May 23 – Dayton 15, Johnson 7 – at Dayton
2013: Dayton sweeps Johnson in Mountain Division play
April 11 – Dayton 11, Johnson 9 (8 inn.) – at Johnson
May 14 – Dayton 6, Johnson 1 – at Dayton
2012: Dayton sweeps Johnson in Mountain Division play
April 20 – Dayton 5, Johnson 4 – at Dayton
May 16 – Dayton 3, Johnson 1 – at Johnson
2011: The last time there was no sweep.
April 19 – Dayton 5, Johnson 1 – at Johnson
May 12 – Johnson 9, Dayton 5 – at Dayton