With the regular high school baseball season coming to a close this weekend, Morristown junior right-hander Ian Kinney wondered if he would ever get a chance to start a game.
After all, Kinney had been a dutiful and efficient middle reliever for the Colonials all season and generally part of the team’s regular starting lineup. But he never got a chance to start a game on the mound.
That was before Saturday morning, when Morristown head coach Josh Ury informed Kinney that he was going to be the starting pitcher against Hanover Park.
“I was just excited to get the chance,” Kinney said. “It elevated my presence a bit, that’s for sure. I wasn’t really nervous, just excited.”
Kinney made the most of his first and only start of the season, scattering three hits over five innings with a variety of pitches coming from different angles, leading the Colonials to an easy 10-1 victory over the Hornets Saturday morning.
The victory enabled the Colonials to enter the NJSIAA North 2, Group III playoffs with a .500 record at 13-13. The Colonials will meet a familiar foe, West Morris, in the state playoffs Monday in the fourth matchup between the two this season.
Kinney was outstanding in his first start, allowing only the one unearned run, while keeping the Hornets (8-15) off guard. Incredibly, when Kinney delivers his pitches, he has his mouth wide open upon delivery — much like former New York Mets knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey.
“Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about that before,” Kinney said of his different facial expression. “I remember one time, an opponent asked me if I was in pain, because he saw my face. It’s just a habit I have.”
If Kinney pitches the way he did Saturday, Ury wouldn’t care at all what’s going on with Kinney’s face and mouth.
“We have a deep junior class and we’re trying to see who can step up and get the job done,” Ury said. “Ian is the kind of kid who can throw 60-to-70 pitches out of the bullpen and come right back the next day. He’s that tough. We gave him a shot today and he did very well.”
Kinney was staked to a huge 5-0 lead, courtesy of a third-inning rally that featured three walks and two errors. All three batters who walked scored, as did one Colonial who reached on an error. The inning was a microcosm of the Hornets’ season — getting one bad break after another and making plays that simply can’t win ball games.
“Baseball is not a game of luck,” said Hanover Park head coach Dave Minsavage. “With the bad breaks, you have to be able to rise above it. This year, walks and errors have been scoring in a lot of games. That’s how teams get big innings. It’s been unfamiliar territory for us. We’re very green as a team and teams ended up winning. That’s all part of baseball.”
The Hornets scored an unearned run in the home third, when Anthony Arce reached on an error and scored on an error.
The Colonials scored single runs in the fourth and fifth, then blew the game wide open in the sixth with two runs, also aided by an error.
Third baseman Chris Keenan made a diving play of a blistering blast off the bat of Kinney, got up and circled around, a la Brooks Robinson, to make a throw to first that should have been handled. Just another sign of the Hornets’ troubles all season.
Mark Turi capitalized on the mistakes and drove a two-run single to right, giving Turi a three-RBI day.
Scott Carton capped the scoring with a long pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning to right field.
Again, Ury went to his bench and the non-regulars came through.
“We have a long roster,” Ury said. “I can’t throw the starters out there every game. I’ve played about 15 kids in all kinds of situations. We’re giving some guys the opportunity to play more.”
One of those players is Turi, a late bloomer who has a knack to drive in runs when he plays.
“He’s been getting his chances to it and he wants to play,” Ury said. “He wants the ball in big games and would love to give him chances. I told him he was going in the lineup behind Jake (Fallon). I put him there and he’s done a good job.”
The season ended Saturday for them, who really never got going.
“Our team was resilient and honestly played pretty well together,” Minsavage said. “Their kid (Kinney) kept us away from having big innings. We faced kids who threw breaking ball.”
But none other like the multitude of breaking pitches, coming from all kinds of angles like over the top, three-fourths arm length and the side-armed slinger that Kinney threw.
“I just try to mix it up out there,” Kinney said. “This was a big group for us for sure.”
Hanover Park (8-15) 005 112 1 – 10 12 2
Morristown (13-13) 001 000 0 – 1 4 3
HR: Scott Carton
WP: Ian Kinney (1-1). LP: Justin Faybusovitch (2-3).