SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 2011 AT TOMS RIVER SOUTH: – Manalapan 29, Westfield 14
Although the scoreboard read Manalapan 29, Westfield 14 once Saturday’s Group 4 state championship baseball game at Toms River South’s Ken Frank Stadium concluded, the Blue Devils produced a victory of sorts by the way they refused to quit.
Westfield trailed 11-0 going into the bottom of the second and it felt like 51-0 the way Manalapan – which looked more like a college team at the time – hit the ball. Westfield head coach Bob Brewster could only say, “wow”, as the Braves produced 11 of their 32 hits in the first two frames.
Did Westfield quit? No.
The Blue Devils scored their first two runs in the bottom of the second and then No. 9 batter Jonathan Gribbin blasted a grand slam over the left field fence in the bottom of the third to pull Westfield – the ultimate comeback team in these state playoffs – to within 11-6 heading into the fourth.
Manalapan answered with five runs in the top of the fourth to take a 16-6 lead.
Did Westfield quit? Once again, the Blue Devils did not.
Westfield, still down 16-6, needed a run in the bottom of the fifth to extend the game, otherwise it would have lost by the 10-run mercy rule. With the bases loaded and two outs, the Blue Devils – down to their final out – received a clutch, two-run single to right by first-pitch, fastball-hitting James O’Rourke to pull Westfield to within 16-8 and extend the game until at least the sixth.
At that moment, an NJSIAA official had to put the trophies away that he thought he was about to hand out to Manalapan.
Westfield wasn’t done.
With O’Rourke’s hit knocking out starter Kyle Rubbinaccio, that brought in lefty reliever Jake Winston to pitch to A.J. Murray. He struck out Murray swinging, but the pitch was wild and got past the catcher, with Murray making it to first base to load the bases again.
Then Dan Kerr, who struck out his first three times up, came through with a clutch, two-run single to right to make it 16-10.
Then James Barry drilled a three-run homer over the right-center field fence – smacking the ball off the brick field house – to pull the Blue Devils all the way to within 16-13.
Designated hitter Will Riggs then got hit with a pitch, which meant that Westfield got as close to having the tying run on deck. Amazing!
After trailing 11-0 and then 16-6 with one out to go before losing in five innings, Westfield rallied all the way back to put a major scare into Manalapan.
Plus, the Blue Devils knocked out Manalapan’s starting pitcher, who did not give up a run in the first inning, but threw 35 pitches in the frame and more than 100 in his 5 and 2/3 innings stint.
Manalapan scored a run after two outs and nobody on in the top of the sixth to make it 17-13.
The score remained that way until the seventh when Manalapan scored 12 runs on 11 hits against two Westfield pitchers for a 29-13 advantage.
In his only at-bat and on the only pitch he saw all season, Westfield senior Ben Kraus smoked a solo home run over the center field fence in the bottom of the seventh for the game’s final run.
Steve Forgash led Westfield with three hits, going 3-for-5, with three singles and three runs. He produced infield singles in the third and fifth innings.
Barry also had two hits for Westfield, going 2-for-3, with his three-run homer, a single, a walk, two runs and three RBI.
Westfield finished with 14 hits.
Manalapan ended up winning its first state championship in baseball in its first trip to Toms River. The Braves finished 29-3.
Westfield, which was also in its first state title contest in baseball and also making its first trip to Toms River, had an eight-game winning streak snapped and finished a remarkable season at 25-5. Manalapan was the only non-Union County team Westfield lost to this year. The Blue Devils lost to Group 2 state champion Governor Livingston three times and to repeat Union County Tournament champion Cranford once.
O’Rourke made one of the finest catches you will ever see in the top of the fifth to keep the score at 16-6. With a man on second and nobody out, he raced back, jumped up, dove full body and with his left glove hand snared a line drive. He then tumbled over completely and held on to the ball without separating his shoulder.
It was another highlight-reel catch by O’Rourke in center field, but maybe his best of the year.
“We kept battling back,” said O’Rourke, who was 1-for-3, with two walks, two RBI and a run. “Down 11-0 we knew we had to chip away. At 16-13 we were thinking it was a new game and we had the momentum.
“However, Manalapan kept coming back too and outscoring us.”
Murray went 2-for-5, with two singles and a run and just missed hitting a home run in his final high school at-bat. His first three at-bats as a freshman in Westfield’s 2008 season-opening win at Cranford were walk, walk and triple.
“They all seemed locked in,” Murray said of Manalapan’s hitting display.
Manalapan No. 3 batter Alex DeCastro was 5-for-7, with four runs and three RBI on three singles and two doubles.
The first five batters in Manalapan’s lineup went to the plate seven times.
Most teams would have folded at 11-0 or certainly at 16-6.
Not Westfield, which came back in the final inning to win its previous five state tournament games this season. Including its final state tournament win last year, the Blue Devils scored the deciding run in their final at-bat of six straight state tournament victories over a two-year span.
“This was incredible,” O’Rourke said. “To be on the first Westfield team to play in a state championship game and make it here is something I will always be proud of.”
“We finished second in Group 4, so it was an amazing season overall,” Murray said. “It was great to see all of our fan support here today and to play in front of all these people in a state championship-game setting.”
“Our kids wouldn’t quit,” Brewster said. “They battled to the end, like they did in all of our other games.
“They’re a great group of players, but they are even better human beings.”
Gribbin also made two fine catches in left field, both times diving full body extended to his right.
Westfield senior John Randazzo followed the Kraus home run with a double off the fence in right-center.
Hitting home runs for Manalapan were Marco Ferrante, a three-run shot over the left field fence in the second; Chris Baird, an opposite field, two-run blast over the right field fence in the fourth; Joseph Serrapica, a three-run shot over the field house in the seventh and Nick Kreiger a two-run blast over the right field fence in the seventh.
Manalapan produced four home runs and Westfield three.
Rubbinaccio earned the mound victory for Manalapan, while starter Justin White took the loss for Westfield and finished his senior season 4-3.
The way Westfield came back twice in the game was just as good – if not better – than the way the Blue Devils came back to win any of their previous five state tournament contests this season.
Winning 25 games, a sectional title and making it to Toms River does not happen every season in Westfield. For that the Blue Devils should be applauded.
* * *
FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2011 AT WESTFIELD – Westfield 5, Phillipsburg 4:
Westfield has decided to save its best for last concerning the North 2, Group 4 playoffs.
Down to their final out, James Barry blasted a home run over the left field fence to tie the game and then Tim Younger slugged one over the left field fence in the same spot to lift the second-seeded Blue Devils past 10th-seeded Phillipsburg 5-4 Friday in a North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal at Westfield’s Robert Brewster Sr. Memorial Field.
It was one of the most dramatic, come-from-behind victories 29th-year head coach Bob Brewster could ever remember.
This was a Westfield baseball win for the ages and one that fans will be talking about for a long time.
Barry and Younger, both seniors, went back-to-back in the bottom of the seventh and belly-to-belly as each produced their third home runs of the season.
Barry, Westfield’s No. 9 batter, connected for an RBI-single up the middle off Phillipsburg lefty Anthony Ciavaralle his previous time up in the fifth, pulling Westfield to within 4-2.
He hit a 1-0 fastball for his solo home run.
At that point, Westfield coaches Bob Brewster, Brian Sloan and Ken Miller had to calm the Blue Devils down after they mobbed Barry at home plate.
Westfield tied the game at 4-4, but it was not over.
Could this be another comeback like the one Westfield had Monday against Franklin?
Younger, Westfield’s leadoff batter, saw to it that it was. He connected on a fastball on a 1-2 count for the game-winning hit after grounding out his first three times up vs. Ciavarella, including a double play in the fifth.
You rarely see a team come back like that in two consecutive state tournament games, let alone win one of them with the No. 9 and No. 1 batters hitting back-to-back home runs with two outs in the final inning.
Westfield’s triumph over Phillipsburg was the epitome of the thrill of victory – Younger stepping on home plate to give the Blue Devils their only lead of the afternoon – and the agony of defeat – the Stateliners having to go back to Warren County after a very tough loss.
Both teams excelled in a well-played state tournament clash.
Second-seeded Westfield won its fifth straight to improve to 22-4 and will next host third-seeded Hunterdon Central Tuesday in the semifinals. HC improved to 20-7 after beating 11th-seeded Ridge 5-3 at home Friday in its quarterfinal.
Westfield is a win away from reaching the final for the first time since 2007.
Westfield has only captured North 2, Group 4 once back in 1988 and, according to head coach Bob Brewster, the program has only one other sectional title to its credit that was won in 1949.
Phillipsburg, the 10th seed, drops to 11-12, but still has league games to play. Some of the players, including senior first baseman Justin Scuorzo – a quarterback going to James Madison for football – helped lead the PBurg gridiron squad to a convincing 35-7 home win over Westfield in the 2009 North 2, Group 4 semifinals.
Westfield was able to exact some revenge from that night on the baseball diamond Friday.
“This is what you live for as a kid and dream about,” Barry said.
“This is huge,” Younger said. “We have to ride this momentum into our next game.”
“That’s a thrill those two kids will never forget,” Brewster said.
Ciavarella, whose record evened at 3-3, had a four-hitter going into the seventh and threw an even 100 pitches through six. He retired the first two batters on ground balls to third and second.
However, No. 8 batter Brett Ryan was able to foul off three pitches in his seven pitch at-bat before he was retired. Perhaps his extension of Ciavarella’s pitch count might have had something to do with the fastballs Barry and Younger smacked off Ciavarella for their game-tying and game-winning home runs.
Pitch No. 111 was the home run Barry hit and pitch No. 115 was the ball Younger hit over the fence.
“I just wanted to pick a good pitch and put the ball in play,” said Barry, who went 2-for-3 with two runs, two RBI, a single, a home run and he reached base all three times up, including on a fielder’s choice. “I knew every pitch he was throwing. The second pitch was a good one and I had a good approach on it.”
“It was so frustrating being 0-for-3 against him,” said Younger, who finished 1-for-4, with an RBI and a run. “Coach (Brewster) said to get focused and also said to me that I would get up with a runner on and get a hit to win the game.
“We have so much confidence in ourselves. We think we can hit any pitcher.”
“I did tell him to be ready, but told him that there would be a runner on base and he would drive that runner in – his home run was just as good,” Brewster said. “These kids just don’t quit. The time you hit a home run is usually when you don’t think about it.
“The air was light and the ball warm and this was the kind of day that you had a chance to see a lot of home runs.”
There were four total, including one hit over the right field fence by Westfield senior Dan Kerr leading off the second and getting Westfield on the scoreboard at 4-1.
“These were legitimate home runs, not like the kind you see at (Elizabeth’s) Williams Field,” Brewster said.
Westfield senior A.J. Murray produced the hardest hit shot of the day that went for an RBI-double over the center fielder’s head in the bottom of the sixth, scoring James O’Rourke and making the score 4-3.
O’Rourke, who struck out his first two times up, hung in there his third time against Ciavarella and led off the sixth by reaching on a walk in an eight-pitch at-bat that included two foul balls after he already had two strikes on him. He easily rounded the bases on Murray’s shot.
Steve Forgash led off the fifth with a slow roller in front of third base that went for a single. He was then able to move to second on a passed ball, which was a huge play, enabling him to get into scoring position. With one out, Barry drove him in.
Both No. 9 batters hit home runs, with Phillipsburg senior Alex O’Leary blasting a shot over the left field fence on the first pitch he saw with two outs and nobody on in the second.
Phillipsburg scored all four of its runs with two outs and nobody on – two in the first and two in the second. Mike Murray walked in the first and scored on an opposite field RBI-double to right-center by cleanup batter Scuorzo in the first. Devin Grade then drove in Scuorzo with a single to left to make it 2-0.
After O’Leary’s home run, Ciavarella reached on a bunt single, moved to second on a wild pitch and was then brought home by Ryan Luke, who produced an opposite field RBI-single to right on a high 1-2 fastball, going with the pitch.
That put Phillipsburg up 4-0.
Ciavarella was 1-for-4, with a run, while Luke was 2-for-4, with two singles and an RBI. Scuorzo was 2-for-3, with a double, single and an RBI, while Alex Martin was 2-for-3, with two singles, the last one on a bunt.
Barry was the only Westfield hitter with two hits. Murray was 1-for-3 and reached base twice – once on an error – while Kerr was 1-for-2, with a walk. Murray and Kerr each drove in one run.
Westfield overcame grounding into double plays in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, although the Blue Devils were able to at least score one run in the fifth and sixth. Westfield hit into inning-ending double plays in the fourth (6-4-3) and fifth (5-4-3). The double play the Blue Devils hit into in the sixth was a 6-4-3 for their first two outs.
Both No. 3 batters have the same last name, Murray, and are both seniors, Mike for Phillipsburg and A.J. for Westfield. A.J.’s older brother Mike is playing in the San Francisco Giants’ organization.
Both first baseman are seniors and were quarterbacks of their football teams – Justin Scuorzo for Phillipsburg and Dan Kerr for Westfield, who will play baseball in the Ivy League at Brown.
Each Westfield outfield had one outstanding catch, which turned out to be huge plays in the game.
Forgash in right field, who had five putouts, dove to his left to make a fine, running, one-handed catch to end the top of the first.
Junior leftfielder and lefty glove Matt Varakian, with one out in the fifth, went back and up against the fence to rob Scuorzo of what could have been a home run by making a fine, one-handed catch.
“Matt has been our DH a few games lately, but we needed him back in left field for his glove,” Brewster said.
O’Rourke, Westfield’s junior center fielder, raced back and made a nice one-handed catch on a ball hit by Ciavarella with one out in the seventh.
After yielding four runs on five hits in the first two innings, Westfield senior right hander Justin White (5-2) allowed no runs on four hits the rest of the way in a 105-pitch complete game that included five strikeouts, just one walk and perfect fourth and fifth innings during a streak where he retired eight in a row at one point.
“In the first inning my curve was hitting the dirt, because the ball was slipping out of my hand, which was moist because of the heat,” White said. “I put my hand in the speed dry and after that gained more confidence.
“Once I got my curve over, my changeup was then working and that’s all I needed.”
Westfield has not been scoring as many runs lately as it had for most of the year when it averaged 10-11. The Blue Devils have scored only 10 runs in one of their last six games.
“We’ve been getting better pitching and defense, which is important,” White said.
“This is the kind of game Justin pitches, he guts it out,” Brewster said. “We knew their top five hitters were good.
“Justin’s best pitch was his curve, then he lost if for awhile, but was able to get it back.”
Ciavarella was one out away from sending Phillipsburg to HC. The Stateliners had a right hander warming up from the sixth inning on, but he was never used.
“Their pitcher was still throwing strong,” Brewster said. “He had a fastball, changeup and curve and he kept us off balance.
“We’ve seen two good pitchers now in these state games.”
Westfield expects to see a third Tuesday.
The Blue Devils are alive and well for at least another three days.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4 BASEBALL QUARTERFINAL
AT WESTFIELD’S ROBERT BREWSTER SR. MEMORIAL FIELD
10-PHILLIPSBURG (11-12) 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 – 4 9 2
2-WESTFIELD (22-4) 0 1 0 0 1 1 2 – 5 6 0
Anthony Ciavarella, junior left hander (3-3)
6 and 2/3 innings complete, 115 pitches: 5 runs, all earned, 6 hits,
3 strikeouts (2 swinging, 1 looking), 4 walks
Pitch count: 1-15. 2-14. 3-17. 4-12. 5-17. 6-25. 7-15. Total: 115.
Justin White, senior right hander (5-2)
7 innings complete, 105 pitches: 4 runs, all earned, 9 hits,
5 strikeouts (2 swinging, 3 looking), 1 walk
Pitch count: 1-25. 2-16. 3-14. 4-9. 5-16. 6-8. 7-17. Total: 105.
DOUBLES: Phillipsburg – Justin Scuorzo. Westfield – A.J. Murray.
TRIPLES: Phillipsburg – None. Westfield – None.
HOME RUNS: Phillipsburg – Alex O’Leary. Westfield: Dan Kerr, James Barry, Tim Younger.
TUESDAY, MAY 31 SEMIFINALS
4-Woodbridge at 1-Perth Amboy – Perth Amboy won 1-0
3-Hunterdon Central at 2-Westfield – Westfield won 3-2
FRIDAY, JUNE 3 FINAL
2-Westfield at 1-Perth Amboy – Westfield won 9-7