BY ANDREW GARDA
The No. 1 Montclair High School Mounties (21-5-1, 6-4-1 SEC-American) took one big step toward an appearance in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 finals with a 7-0 win over No. 8-seeded West Orange (13-9, 9-3 SEC-Liberty) on Saturday, June 5.
Now they face No. 5 seed Passaic Tech (16-6, 7-3 Big North-Liberty) at Woodman Field on Tuesday at noon. in the semifinals. The game, originally scheduled for 4pm was moved up due to concerns about an incoming an incoming storm.
They may want to try and get things going a bit quicker than they did against West Orange, though, if they want to spare their coaching staff any new gray hairs.
“It was certainly a real tight, competitive state tournament game, that’s typically how they are this time of the year,” head coach Ron Gavazzi said after the win. “I’m really proud of the way the guys persevered, kept competing all the way to the last pitch. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
For five innings against the Mountaineers, the Mounties clung to a one-run lead, as MHS starting pitcher Jeremy Sacks and West Orange starter Owen Murphy baffled batters. MHS scored once in the second inning, off a sacrifice bunt, but for the most part the two pitchers made it hard for either team to do much offensively.
When the Mountaineers were able to get men on base, Montclair’s defense helped Sacks out with sharp play both in the infield and outfield, keeping West Orange from advancing its runners.
Then came the sixth inning, and a deluge of Montclair runs.
First, the Mounties managed to start getting their timing down on Murphy, loading up the bases.
Then catcher Ethan Daddabbo connected on a mammoth shot, clearing the bases for a stand-up triple, giving the Mounties a 4-0 lead. After putting in a pinch runner for Daddabbo, Montclair plated that runner as well and would add two more runs to get the seven-run lead.
After that, Alex Veldran came in to relieve Sacks and finish off the Mountaineers in the seventh.
The Mounties had a quick turnaround, with a regular season game at Caldwell Monday, before welcoming Passaic Tech to “The Wood” on Tuesday.
Gavazzi said the key to preparing for Tuesday was for his team to stay focused.
“We just have to keep our mind focused on the game, one pitch at a time, keeping real positive thoughts and staying real sharp on our fundamentals, and that will always give us our best chance to be successful,” he said.
Those fundamentals definitely include defense.
“We certainly preach [that] pitching and defense wins baseball games,” he said. “It’s no different in a state game. We need to make pitches and make plays, and we did [today] in the biggest moments of the game.”
So far in state tournament play, MHS has shut out the opposition, outscoring Kearny and West Orange 17-0.
While it took them a few innings to really get going against West Orange, the Mounties’ hitting overall has been tremendous this season and a big reason why they have won 10 of their last 11 games and outscored their opponents 102 to 25.
With that momentum offensively and their solid defensive play, Montclair was in good shape as they faced the Bulldogs Tuesday.
“Stay with it, the course, keep to the process, keep working hard, keep having fun playing, and hopefully we can play our best baseball games going forward,” Gavazzi said.
Passaic Tech finished second in the Big North – Liberty division and was coming off an equally dominant first two state tournament games, with a 8-0 shutout of Union City in the first round and a 7-1 win at Mount Olive in the quarterfinals.
Montclair, which finished second in the SEC – American, will face some tough pitching and have to be especially careful when Danial Ramos (7 doubles, 7 home runs, 21 RBIs), Johnny Gilligan (7 doubles, 3 home runs, 24 RBIs) and Steven Peralta (14 doubles, 3 home runs, 32 RBIs) come to the plate. Each of those batters can punish a pitcher, and the Mounties will have to be careful on the mound.
Then again, if Montclair keeps hitting the way it has lately, Passaic Tech is the one that might find itself in trouble on the mound.