Henry Brooks came in to relieve starter Conor McGrath, and blanked the Pirates for four straight innings, and generating a pair of strike outs.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

BELLEVILLE — The Montclair High School baseball team fought hard and held a tough Seton Hall Prep squad to just one run on four hits, but couldn’t drive any runs in themselves, falling in the Greater Newark Tournament semifinal, 1-0 on Monday, May 15.

This was a much different outcome than the previous meeting between these two teams on May 2, when the Pirates beat the Mounties 11-0. If second-seeded Seton Hall Prep (20-2) thought they would roll through MHS this time around, they must have been shocked by their inability to get runs in.

It was a sunny day, but the wind at Belleville High School’s George “Z” Zanfini Field blew in hard from the outfield. It hung up several balls that could have gone deeper into the outfield, and played havoc with shorter flies and pop-ups, making them hard to field.

The rain of the previous weekend was still soaked into the thick grass as well, killing rolling balls.

“Certainly the wet field and wind was a big dynamic in the game that both teams had to play through,” Mountie co-head coach Ron Gavazzi said after the game. (Gavazzi shares head coaching duties with Anthony Genche.)

The sixth-seeded Mounties (10-10) had Conor McGrath on the mound to start the game, but he got roughed up in two innings of work, allowing one run in the second inning off a sacrifice by Pirate batter Ryan Hebert which drove in Mike Ukrainskyj.

McGrath was pulled in favor of senior Henry Brooks, though it was unclear exactly why. It may be that McGrath was still fatigued after pitching just a week ago.

Gavazzi, who said McGrath was fine after the game, has stated many times this season that the depth of his pitching staff was something he trusted to be used at any time, in any situation. Brooks provided ample evidence Gavazzi was right, as he delivered a great performance out of the bullpen, holding Seton Hall Prep to just three hits during four scoreless innings.

“I thought Henry [Brooks] showed a lot of guts out there today,” Gavazzi said after the game. “He was able to work his sinker in and out, induced a lot of ground balls and pop-ups. Our defense did a real good job for the most part. So, a really good job by Henry, and I’m real proud of him.”

Brooks struck out two batters as well and while he occasionally found himself in a jam with bases loaded, he always found a way to get the last outs he needed and keep the Pirates off the scoreboard.

“[Brooks] gave us a great opportunity.”

The Mounties couldn’t string enough hits together in an inning to make the most of that opportunity, though.

“We just couldn’t collectively put the hits together in the right situations,” Gavazzi said. “That’s baseball.”

That was because the Pirates had some great pitching of their own. Pirates starter Kevin Young threw a solid game against MHS, preserving the win with a shutout. He wasn’t unhittable — the Mounties were able to generate five hits — but never let MHS build up momentum.

“I thought he pitched well,” Gavazzi said of the Seton Hall Prep starter. “He had a good breaking ball today. He was throwing it for a strike, he was burying it in the dirt. He had a real good top-spinner. He hung in there.”

The Mounties often would get their first hit of an inning after there were already two outs, which made it harder to advance the runner. Gavazzi’s team can be adept at moving a base-runner along with sacrifice hits, bunts and stolen bases, but it’s difficult to be as aggressive when you’re one out away from the end of an inning.

MHS did come close a few times late in the game when Young was tiring.

In the sixth inning with one out, Kyle Miller beat out an infield hit when the throw to first pulled the first baseman off the bag. Then Matt McGoey walked and both runners advanced on a John Lewis sacrifice.

The Pirates then intentionally walked Mahki Booker, and Dylan Wright came up to bat with bases loaded.

Wright swung hard, but the Seton Hall Prep starter struck him out in four pitches.

After a solid sixth inning by Brooks on the mound, Evan Chaladoff led off the seventh with a single and the Mounties looked ready to finally get going. The Pirates pulled Young, though, and sent reliever Nick Maldonado out to take over.

Dylan Scarfo advanced Chaladoff to second on a sacrifice, but Maldonado struck out Danny Banks and McGrath to end the game.

“You have to tip your cap to Seton Hall. They played a good game and they pitched a real good game,” Gavazzi said.

The Mounties have plenty of baseball left, with five regular season games (four on the road) remaining, beginning with a trip to Millburn on Thursday, May 18. The NJSIAA Tournament gets underway with  the bracket announcement today and North 1, Group IV first-round action this Monday.