BY ANDREW GARDA
For five innings of the 2021 NJSIAA Group 4 Baseball Championship semifinal game between Montclair High School and Ridge, Mountie hitters could not get runs home.
They’d scored two in the first inning when Jeremy Sacks planted a ball over the safety fence in right field and onto the football field, but after that the team stranded eight runners.
So when catcher Ethan Daddabbo walked to the plate in the seventh inning with Jack Burke and Jeremy Sacks standing on first and second, and with two outs, the crowd certainly was nervous.
Daddabbo fouled off the first pitch and then watched as two more sailed past him for balls. He was waiting for the right pitch.
“I looked over at Coach Gavazzi and he kept telling me to pick it up, pick it up, pick it up,” Daddabbo said after the game. “I swung through the first-pitch slider and the next pitch he missed with a fast ball. I got [a count of] 2-1, and I knew I was getting a fastball and I put the bat on the ball.”
Head coach Ron Gavazzi loved the matchup of his lefty batter and the side-arm pitcher Ridge had put on the mound to close out the game, and thought Daddabbo would like what he saw.
“I kept yelling his name and looking at ‘E’ to pick it up early because the ball’s got to come in on him,” Gavazzi said. “And Ethan likes it there. He got a good pitch that he could handle, he squared it up and I’m really happy for him.”
The moment Daddabbo connected with the ball, the crowd erupted, as did the rest of the Mounties bench. As Burke crossed the plate for the winning run, his teammates rushed out of the dugout, swarming Burke and Daddabbo in celebration of the 3-2 win.
When the dust settled, Montclair had achieved another in a growing list of baseball program firsts, securing its spot in the NJSIAA Group 4 finals on Saturday, June 19. Montclair will face Middletown South, which beat Clearview in walk-off fashion as well. The game is expected to be at 10 a.m., though that may change as the rest of the games fill out.
While he tired at the end, starting pitcher Anthony Anzaldi had a gutty performance, constantly pitching his way out of jams. Even though he gave up the tying run in the sixth inning, the coaches left him in the game and he managed to pitch his way out of the inning without further damage.
Every time he looked tapped out, he seemed to find another reserve.
Daddabbo had a lot of praise for Anzaldi saying his contribution was the key to Monday afternoon’s victory.
“I think the biggest key was really Ant. The way Ant comes on the mound and just shuts down teams, holds him to two runs and really gives the offense an opportunity when we’re not doing so well to get that big hit late in the game or bunt in a couple of runs or run the bags and really get runs for him and have him hold,” Daddabbo said. “Pitching really keeps us in these games. Ant did a phenomenal job today.”
Sean Brown came in to pitch in the seventh, shutting down Ridge’s three hitters with a pair of strikeouts and a ground out.
Now Gavazzi and his team have four days to prepare for what is really the biggest game in program history.
Gavazzi said the plan is to keep it simple.
“We’ll use our time wisely and we’ll use it to the best of our advantage,” he said. “We’ll prepare it to play the best game that we played all season because that’s what it’s going to take to win the Group Final.”