By ANDREW GARDA
The Montclair Mounties baseball team’s amazing run came to an end on Saturday, June 19, as they fell to a tough Middletown South team 6-0 at DeMeo Baseball Field in Hamilton Township’s Veterans Park.
The NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 champion Mounties had been on a roll, sweeping through the sectional tournament and then edging Ridge in the Group 4 semifinals on Monday, June 14 by a score of 3-2.
The Eagles were champions too, however, having won the Central Jersey Group 4 title on June 11 before slipping past a tough Clearview team 4-3.
Mounties head coach Ron Gavazzi and his staff knew their opponent had been battle-tested in a tough Shore Conference, and played a very challenging out-of-division schedule, which meant Middletown South would represent a significant challenge for Montclair.
“We were very concerned about them coming in. We knew they had a lot of talent, we knew they were well coached, we knew it was a really good matchup,” he said after the game. “We knew there was a certain way that we had to play this game, a certain script that had to go for us to win and it just didn’t work out that way today.”
The biggest riddle for the Mounties would be pitcher Ben Schild. The sophomore had an uncanny knack at finding the edges of the strike zone and the velocity to make batters struggle to react in time.
MHS never did solve that riddle Saturday, and Schild had seven strikeouts throughout the game, allowing just two hits and hitting one batter.
On the rare occasions Montclair found a way to get a man on base, the Mounties still struggled to advance him. In the third inning, Melvin Matias led the inning off with a line drive into center field and it looked as if, as has been the case all season, the Mounties had gained the measure of the opposing pitcher and were about to roll.
But Matias was picked off while leading at first base just before Will Godsil popped out. Brett Janifer was walked and ended up on the basepaths, but leadoff hitter Amar Francis made the third out right after Janifer reached first. Sean Brown was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning and stole second, but Jeremy Sacks popped out and Nick Levine ground out to end the inning. Levine would double in the seventh inning, but by then it was all over but the last out.
“We haven’t seen that type of velocity all year, and his command was just as good,” Gavazzi said. “Credit to him, he pitched an outstanding game, and he was a big reason why they were successful today.”
While the Mounties were struggling at the plate and to advance runners, Middletown South was playing small ball, getting a man on and advancing him into scoring position with sacrifice hits before sending him home with a sharply hit ball.
Jeremy Sacks started the game for the Mounties, but the normally surehanded lefty just didn’t seem to be getting the pitches where he wanted them, a problem Sean Brown had in the fourth after having replaced Sacks in the third inning.
Sacks allowed two runs over two innings, but while he wasn’t blanking the Eagles, he was keeping the game close for the batters so when they got hot, the Mounties were still in the game.
After a 1-2-3 third inning, Brown got touched up for three runs in the fourth, as the Eagles efficiently moved through their batting order with smart at-bats, which resulted in base hits, walks, and eventually, runs.
Anthony Anzaldi came in for the fifth and sixth innings, and did give up a run, but amassed three strikeouts and was able to keep things under control.
The Mountie bats remained silent, though, so any run after Middletown South’s first was just gravy.
The Eagles weren’t perfect, as they made two significant errors on the basepaths. One came trying to steal home on a strike, which resulted in Ethan Daddabbo tagging the runner out. In the other, the hitter drove the ball into the outfield and advanced to second base without realizing the runner there had stopped, allowing the Mounties to tag that runner out.
Montclair could never take advantage of those mistakes, though.
“Credit to Middletown South,” Gavazzi said. “They were better than us in every single area today.”
While the pain of losing this game will be fresh in the team’s minds for some time, Gavazzi hopes they eventually realize the special season they just took part in.
“I think in time when they’re able to let this one go, they can really enjoy the season they had and be really proud of themselves,” he said.
While the Mounties didn’t win the Group 4 Championship, they got there, which is something no Montclair team has ever done before. They also won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 title, the first any Montclair baseball team has won since 1964. They put together a fantastic record, going 24-6-1 overall and 6-4-1 in the SEC-American division.
Without a doubt, several Mounties will likely see awards come their way as the season ends, and they managed to stay focused on the team, avoid COVID-19 problems and succeed under strange circumstance.
For the coach, this has also been a special season and one he says he’ll look back on fondly.
“I’ve certainly been very grateful.” Gavazzo said. “It’s been a true honor to coach these guys this season Every year is special but certainly any time you get together with this group of guys it’s something you’ll always remember.”