SPRINGFIELD – Forget about seeds.
Whippany Park baseball came to play and nearly pulled off a big upset, which would have been just its third victory.
However, Dayton pitchers Vinny Pulice, Zach Gelo and Michael Cacioppo combined on a six-hit shutout to halt the visiting Wildcats 1-0 in Monday’s North 2, Group 1 first round game at Ruby Field in Springfield.
Dayton scored the game’s only run on an RBI-double hit by Pulice in the bottom of the first, with Dayton’s second baserunner – on the same play – getting thrown out at third by the WP center fielder for out No. 3.
Whippany Park had the tying run on third base and the go-ahead run on first when Dayton recorded the game’s final out.
Whippany Park, the 15th seed, came in with a record of just 2-16.
Dayton, the second seed, won for the second time in a row and for the sixth time in seven games to improve to 13-5.
The Bulldogs, seeking to win the section for the first time since 2014, will host 10th-seeded Shabazz in Thursday’s quarterfinal round. Shabazz won at seventh-seeded Secaucus 9-8, scoring a single run in the top of the ninth and then holding the Hudson County school scoreless in the bottom of the frame.
Pulice, a senior right hander, pitched the first four innings, while Gelo went 2 and 2/3 and then Cacioppo came in and threw two pitches, the second one resulting in a pop up to second to end the game.
Pulice, with a pitch count of 86, allowed no runs on five hits, while striking out five and walking four. He got out of bases loaded jams in the first and fourth innings. The Wildcats hit safely against him in all four innings and in three of them had runners in scoring position.
“This was not one of my best starts, but I trust my team behind me,” Pulice said. “We had to fight real hard to get this win.”
After Dayton took its 1-0 lead, Whippany Park came oh so close to tying the game in the top of the second. With one out and runners on second and third, a fly ball was hit to Dayton freshman left fielder Tommy DeSarno. The previous batter hit a ball over DeSarno’s head for a double.
This time the lefty-fielding DeSarno not only made the catch, but he also produced a perfect, one-bounce throw to senior catcher Aidan Elgrably, who caught the ball and quickly made the tag right before the Wildcat baserunner was about to reach home.
“Tommy made an outstanding throw,” Pulice said. “Then Aidan made the tag. That was great. I was right behind him.”
Although Whippany Park did not score there, Pulice was still not really able to quite settle down the next two innings he pitched.
“It was the location of my fastball that wasn’t the best,” Pulice said. “My curveball helped me get the bulk of their order.”
After giving up two hits and a walk, Pulice ended Whippany Park’s threat in the first with a strikeout looking. He struck out the side in the first.
In the fourth, Whippany Park loaded the bases after two outs and nobody on. First was an infield single followed by two base on balls. Pulice, on a 2-1 count, then got the next batter on a fly ball out to center.
“With Vinny it was all guts today,” Dayton head coach Mike Abbate said. “I would say that this was his best performance of the year because he had no right to be out there after the first inning.”
Gelo allowed only one baserunner on a one-out walk in the fifth and then tossed the game’s first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth. He allowed no runs on one hit, while striking out two and walking two.
However, Gelo’s seventh inning was anything but smooth. After the leadoff batter reached on an infield single to short, Gelo retired the next batter on a successful sacrifice bunt. He then got a pop up to second for the second out.
Then Gelo walked the next batter, with ball four also resulting in a wild pitch that allowed the runner from second to slide safely into third.
Abbate then brought in Cacioppo, who started the game at shortstop.
Cacioppo’s first pitch, a fastball, was good for strike one. His next pitch, also a fastball, resulted in the Whippany Park batter hitting a high pop up to second, with Dayton junior Darren Teixeira making the game-ending catch.
Pulice got the win, Gelo the hold and Cacioppo the save.
“Zach really pounded the zone,” Abbate said. “Mike has been hurt all year, but now we have him back for playoff time. He’s a difference maker. I’m really proud of the way he’s come back for us.”
After falling at Union Catholic in the Union County Tournament, Dayton is 6-2 since, with its only losses coming by one run at home to Union County Conference-Mountain Division outright champion Oratory Prep and at home to Group 4 Union.
Dayton has done quite well in the North 2, Group 1 playoffs under Abbate, winning the section in 2013 and 2014 and last reaching the final two years ago.
“We’ve won a lot of playoff games because of pitching and defense,” Abbate said. “Except for Vinny we’ll have all of our pitchers available and ready to go on Thursday.”
NORTH 2, GROUP 1 FIRST ROUND BASEBALL AT DAYTON
15-Whippany Park (2-17) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 6 2
2-Dayton (13-5) 1 0 0 0 0 0 x – 1 4 1
MONDAY’S UNION COUNTY
FIRST ROUND PUBLIC SCHOOLS
NORTH 2, GROUP 4:
Westfield 4, Union 2 – at Westfield
Elizabeth 4, Newark East Side – 0 at NES
Scotch Plains 10, Columbia 2 – at Scotch Plains
NORTH 2, GROUP 3:
Cranford 7, Iselin Kennedy 0 – at Cranford
Summit 5, Ferris 0 – at Ferris
NORTH 2, GROUP 1:
Dayton 1, Whippany Park 0 – at Dayton
North Arlington 10, Roselle Park 8 – at Roselle Park
Brearley 13, Lincoln 3 – at Brearley
New Providence 12, Belvidere 1 – at New Providence
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2:
Gov. Livingston 14, Rumson-Fair Haven 4 – at GL
Johnson 4, Raritan 3 – at Johnson