Paul Sparano’s right arm proved to be better than those of the seven pitchers who combined to face him.
The junior outdueled the Spotswood High School baseball team’s entire staff, striking out 11 and allowing just two hits while benefitting from two controversial calls during a tide-turning sixth inning as Ewing rallied for a 6-3 comeback victory Saturday in the NJSIAA Central Group II quarterfinals.
For the third time this season, Spotswood coach Glenn Fredricks bucked conventionality and allowed seven of his pitchers to each throw an inning.
“The philosophy behind using the entire pitching staff is to not give very-high octane hitting teams a second look at one guy,” Fredricks said. “So when we roll a guy an inning (each) out there, nobody gets tired and nobody gets a second look from the offensive standpoint.”
The Chargers handed defending Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament champion Middlesex its only regular-season defeat in league play with that inning-apiece-strategy. They employed the same formula in a narrow loss to reigning Somerset County Tournament runner-up Immaculata.
Spotswood (12-13), which allowed just three runs in each of those games, coasted into the sixth inning of Saturday’s quarterfinal with a 3-2 lead.
“Each pitcher is different so it’s hard to get anything going,” Ewing coach Kip Harrison said. “I’ll tell you, it’s effective. It’s just harder for teams to get kind of locked in and to get anything going. The good part is if someone comes in and they are off we can capitalize.”
After Spotswood’s sixth hurler, Alex Christian, retired the first two batters in the sixth, No. 8 hitter Moses Vigo (3-for-4) ignited Ewing’s comeback with a bloop single to left. Pinch hitter Kyle Seifert was then allegedly hit on the elbow by a 2-1 pitch, a call which Fredricks vehemently protested.
With runners on first and second, Mike Salvatore singled to left. Capitalizing when the left fielder missed the cutoff man, Vigo scored the tying run on a bang-bang play at home in which Fredricks felt catcher Jack Dalrymple successfully blocked the plate and tagged out the runner.
“It was two out, nobody on with No. 8 and No. 9 coming up,” Fredricks said. “We liked our chances. We were winning the game 3-2. They got their hit out of their No. 8 guy and then the mysterious hit-by-pitch call. That brought up the three guys that could hit for their team. If we took care of business with No. 8 and No. 9 there, we come up with a minimum 3-2 lead going into the final inning.”
Darren Basich followed Salvatore’s hit with a two-run single off the first baseman’s glove to make the score 5-3. Ewing tacked on a paramount insurance run in the ensuing frame off Corey Brown, Spotswood’s seventh pitcher.
Sparano, who allowed all three runs to score in the third on an infield error, a bases-loaded walk and a fielder’s choice groundout, retired 14 of the last 15 batters. He allowed just two balls to leave the infield during that stretch.
“If (Sparano) has a knock, the knock on him was that he could be a bit wild,” Fredricks said. “He was not wild today (walking just five, all on full counts, including three during the third-inning rally). He was money today and he made his pitches when he needed to. We scratched across a couple of runs and we just didn’t extend the lead. He did a good job keeping the ball down and throwing breaking balls in good hitter’s counts to keep us off balance. He was mixing speeds and locations.”
The busiest player for either side was backup catcher Mason White, who escorted a steady stream of relievers into the bullpen during the top half of the first six innings.
The official scorecard was already a mess by the top of the fourth inning when Fredricks was forced to bring in Chris Marlow ahead of schedule as Spotswood’s fifth pitcher. Marlow recorded a groundout to escape a jam with two runners aboard and one away, preserving a 3-2 lead.
Sparano, whose fastball has topped out in the high 80 mph range, improved his personal mark to 6-2, accounting for all but three of Ewing’s wins.
Earlier this month, he led the Blue Devils (9-12) to a first-round upset of 15-time and defending Mercer County Tournament champion Steinert. The defeat was his second of the perennial state power Spartans (17-7-1) this season.
Ewing pounded out 13 hits and stranded nine runners. The Chargers left four in scoring position.
“Sometimes,” Fredricks said, “you’ve just got to tip your hat to the other guy.”
Bishop Ahr falls
Gloucester Catholic 10, Bishop Ahr 0: Sixteenth-seeded Bishop Ahr was shut out by top-seeded Gloucester Catholic in the Non-Public A South first-round game.
In the third inning, Billy Larkin had an infield hit for the Trojans (9-13).