by Andrew Garda
VERONA—If you spend any time talking to Montclair High School baseball coach Ron Gavazzi, you’ll hear him talk about how, in any game, there will come a time when a team faces a tough moment and has to decide whether it’s going to respond to adversity by folding or stepping up.
The Mounties faced that moment Saturday, May 11, when they watched the No. 1 seeded Nutley Raiders erase a three-run lead in the bottom of the third inning.
In the case of the Mounties, they responded, resulting in a 8-3 win and a berth in the Greater Newark Tournament championship next Saturday, against Seton Hall Prep.
Montclair’s fourth inning started off with a strikeout, by AJ Zaccareo, but then catcher Nick Urquijo reached on a single, and advanced when shortstop Alex Borelli walked.
That was it for starting pitcher Josh O’Neill, but the Mounties weren’t daunted by reliever Trevor Santos either. First, Conor McGrath drove a sharp ball up the middle, scoring Urquijo and putting Borelli on third. After that, Kyle Miller beat out an infield hit to load the bases.
Then Evan Chaladoff’s base hit off the first pitch of the at-bat drove two more runs home.
Santos got out of the inning without any other runs scoring but the damage was done and the Mounties were back in the lead, one they never relinquished again.
— Montclair Sports (@MtcLocalSports) May 11, 2019
“[It was] similar to the Livingston game, where it got really, really hard for us in the fifth,” Gavazzi said after the win. “Today in the third, when we gave up the lead, we had to make a decision. Are we going to take it right back, or are we going to lay down and die? And as a team we rallied around each other, battled, got the lead back and we didn’t let it go.”
“We knew if we had the right approach at the plate, we’d score more runs, and we knew we had Kyle on the mound who’s going to pump the strike zone,” said McGrath, who will be playing ball at UMASS-Boston next year. “So, we thought we were in great shape the whole time. They’re a great team but if we execute nobody can beat us.”
Along with tenacity at the plate, success for Montclair came on the mound as well. As they did against Livingston, the Mounties had Ben Zucker take the mound to start the game. He once again faced a formidable part of the order, and once again performed well, allowing no hits, with one strikeout and four fly ball outs.
“It’s a really cool thing,” Zucker said in regards to being the tip of the Mounties spear on the mound. “Me and Nick [Urquijo], who has been my catching partner for the last six years and having [Coach Tony] Genche with the game plan. I know exactly what he’s putting down even before I have it in my hand. It’s a great chemistry and environment to start the game, nd then take that momentum into the offense.”
The limited role doesn’t bother Zucker. In fact, he relishes it.
“Coach and I talk about it a lot. He brought me into his office and let me know that I have a role to serve this team. Especially with pitch counts, and a lot of games coming in, guys have to be used the way they can, the most valuable way. I’m just happy to get the opportunity to pitch.”
After the second inning, Kyle Miller took the mound and while he didn’t have his best day, he pitched well, only struggling in the third due to an error.
After that third inning, however, Miller did a great job of locating his pitches and getting himself out of jams. Miller did an excellent job of keeping the Nutley hitters off-balance, especially late.
That was when he faced his biggest test, in the sixth inning, after allowing Lou Raefelli to crack a double to lead the inning off, followed by a walk to O’Neill. Reafelli then stole third.
While the Mounties had a nice 8-3 lead, it seemed as if one more mistake might chase Miller off the mound.
However, with the first pitch to Marty Higgins, Miller got him to pop the ball up foul, along the first base line. First baseman Kevin Zaccareo scrambled to get in position, finally making a desperate dive to catch the ball for the first out.
Then Miller caught O’Neill stealing, before baiting Nutley’s Kevin Hogan to fly out to center field. After that, the seventh inning would end up being a piece of cake.
“When you’re not at your best, you need to pitch from your inside, and he gutted it out. He pitched from his heart, had a belly full of guts and he made big pitches when he had to,” Gavazzi said. “We made a mistake, we let it go, and we came back and made the biggest play of the game, with Kevin Zaccareo chasing down the pop up with no outs, first and third, first pitch with the heart of the lineup up—that’s when the game got real hard and we overcame it.”
More than anything else, Gavazzi said that play had the biggest impact of the game.
“I really believe that was the game right there, when we were able to get the momentum back. And only the pitcher can control that, and certainly Kyle did.”
Now the Mounties have a week before they face Seton Hall Prep. It’s the first GNT final Montclair has been in since 2013. They lost that game to SHP then, but the team is determined not to repeat history.
McGrath knows they have to keep up the hitting.
“We’re just going to keep our approach at the plate, keep the ball down. Not swing at balls in the dirt. Making routine plays. Basic stuff. And we have to throw strikes, but with all our pitchers, we’re going to.”
Miller agreed and added that they cannot be complacent.
“It’s an amazing feeling, I still can’t believe we defeated Nutley. But now we’ve got to stay focused. We have a week to prepare for the championship game against Seton Hall Prep, and we’ve beaten them this season but you know they’re going to come out and give us their best game. So we’ve got to do this again.”
Montclair and Seton Hall face each other at Verona High School next Saturday, May 18 with first pitch at 1pm.