by Andrew Garda
The No. 3-seeded Montclair Mounties baseball team found itself in a tough battle against No. 11-seeded Randolph Friday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 Tournament.
While they ended up defeating the Rams 7-6, reaching their first NJSIAA Sectional semifinal since 2010, Montclair nearly fouled it off in the last inning.
Montclair had lead 6-5 since the third inning, and with Conor McGrath on the mound in the top of the seventh inning, things looked good. Especially after the first two Rams batters had been struck out.
With McGrath’s overpowering fastball, it looked very much like the Mounties were in total control.
Randolph wouldn’t give up though, and scored off back-to-back base hits to tie the game.
“I thought Conor’s stuff was really good, but credit to [Randolph], they got their bat on a couple of sliders outside the zone, and they were able to bloop them in there,” co-head coach Ron Gavazzi said after the win.
Montclair knows about two-out rallies, as they’ve manufactured them over and over again this season. When McGrath and Kyle Miller hit into groundball outs to open the bottom of the seventh, the question became, can they do it again?
First, Evan Chaladoff came to the plate. The senior infielder had cracked a double in the first inning before walloping a mammoth triple in the second, scoring two runs. He was definitely looking to add a third big hit to his stats, but found himself down 0-and-2 to Randolph reliever Mike Ippolito.
Then Chaladoff hit a shot directly to the shortstop, who fielded it smoothly, but rushed his throw when he was Chaladoff sprinting down the line to first.
The ball bounced off the infield dirt and the first baseman was unable to scoop it up. As the throw bounced past first and into the crowd, Chaladoff was allowed to get to second base.
Next up was Ethan Greengrass. Like Chaladoff, the designated hitter had also been successful in his first two at bats, but relatively quiet since.
Once again, Ippolito got ahead in the count, and once again, forced a grounder to the shortstop.
And as Greengrass ran to first, the infielder again rushed the throw and bounced the ball past his first baseman, just as Chaladoff was rounding third.
Chaladoff scored easily and the Mounties clinched their place in the semifinals.
“Look, a big key to winning in baseball is to make contact and run hard. So that’s just what we did,” Gavazzi said. “You want to try and put as much pressure on the defense as you can, and fortunately for us, we were able get the winning run across in the bottom of the seventh.”
As anyone who has played at Nishuane knows, the ball takes funny hops. On Friday, those “Nish Hops” burned both the Rams and the Mounties, but in the end, they came through for the home team. Of course, you have to be able to take advantage of those moments, and the hustle of both Chaladoff and Greengrass did just that.
Now the Mounties face a massive task in the form of Ridgewood, which hammered Livingston 15-0 while the Mounties and Rams were battling.
Gavazzi said his team is well aware of how good the top-seeded Maroons are and that there is room for Montclair to improve before they head to Ridgewood for the game on Tuesday, May 28.
“They’re obviously one of the top teams in Group IV and one of the top teams in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “They’ve been for the last few years, so typically this section has gone through them in recent times. We’re going to have to play a lot better baseball, especially defensively, if we’re going to stay competitive on Tuesday.”
Despite the daunting task ahead of his squad, though, Gavazzi feels like they’ve done what they needed to do—they got themselves into the game. Now, as is always the case, they have to take advantage of the opportunity presenting itself to them.
“Look, we’re in the game, we’re
excited about it and we’re going to give them our best shot,” he said. “We feel really confident with our team and if we play our brand of baseball, we can compete with anybody I feel. So we really respect Ridgewood for what they’ve done, but we’re having a great season and we’re looking to battle.”