Ake, Maier lead Hunterdon Central to sectional title

Ake, Maier lead Hunterdon Central to sectional title


Ake, Maier lead Hunterdon Central to sectional title



The Hunterdon Central High School baseball team found themselves in an unfamiliar position Friday afternoon, trailing 1-0 in a pitcher’s duel against Brick Memorial in the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship.

It was then that the Red Devils (21-8) turned to something much more familiar — the highly potent bat carried by shortstop Jeremy Ake.

With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth inning, Ake roped an inside fastball down the left-field line, bringing both of his teammates home and handing starting pitcher Billy Maire all the run support he would need. Central hung on for a 2-1 victory over Brick (15-13), increasing its win streak to 12 and winning the section despite being seeded ninth in the bracket.

Ake, the No. 3 hitter and the club’s leader in home runs and runs batted in, received the highest form of praise from coach Mike Raymond.

“Jeremy’s one of our absolute leaders and he’s just a clutch, clutch baseball player,” said Raymond, who is in his 13th year on the job. “He’s probably the most clutch player we’ve ever had come through this program since I’ve been here. The bigger the game, the bigger his play. Whether it’s defensively, running the bases, or swinging the bat, he raises his level of play and he’s a true leader.”

After leading off the first and fourth inning with walks but having nothing to show for it, Central finally capitalized on catcher Brett Mele’s table-setting base-on-balls in the fifth. Second baseman Brett McManus followed up John Icaza’s sacrifice bunt with a single, and Mele was subbed out for speedster Mike Pfenninger. That put runners on the corners for Ake.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play, get the run in (from third base) and try not to get doubled up,” Ake said. The first pitch he threw me was a fastball up-and-in, and I just turned on it and pulled it.”

Maier made sure Ake’s 2-run double would be the difference. After yielding a first-inning run, the right-hander found a groove and grew stronger as the game progressed. Maier took advantage of a 6-4-3 double play in the top of the sixth, and in the seventh he stranded the potential tying run on third base via a three-pitch strikeout and a groundout.

“The kid is a gutsy, gutsy pitcher,” Raymond said of Maier. “He is who he is. He’s going to throw strikes, he’s going to battle and compete, and we knew if we got him the lead he would hold it. You could hear a sigh of relief from the dugout–when Jeremy got the hit and we got the lead, we knew it was over.”

Brick Memorial head coach Evan Rizzitello expected a high-scoring affair, not knowing Mustangs starting pitcher Anthony Assante would throw a gem of his own. This is Brick’s eighth one-run loss of the year, according to Rizzitello.

“As far as the plate goes, unfortunately that’s the way it’s been throughout the season” he said. “It’s difficult to get the momentum back the other way [when the opposition scores]. Once we hit that double in the last inning, I thought we would be able to get it done — at least put one across and push it to the bottom of the seventh.”

Central will take the field again on Tuesday in the state semifinal against NJSIAA’s South Group IV champion, either Eastern or Shawnee. For a team that dropped five of their first seven contests, it’s quite an accomplishment for the Red Devils to win their section and still be playing.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Raymond said. “The way the season started off and the way we’re playing now — just coming up with a clutch hit and a clutch performance on the mound today — it means a lot. They met some adversity early on, so for these guys to get better the way they have and to have an opportunity to play in the state semifinals, I’m so, so proud of them.”


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