After South Plainfield High School’s baseball team lost to John F. Kennedy in the Greater Middlesex Tournament semifinals May 18, coach Anthony Guida reminded the Tigers they might not have seen the last of the Mustangs.
The No. 2-seeded Tigers’ 12-7 victory Sunday over seventh-seeded Governor Livingston in the North 2 Group III quarterfinals at North Plainfield’s Krausche Field and Kennedy’s 5-2 victory at Roxbury has made Guida’s message reality.
South Plainfield (21-7) will play 11th-seed John F. Kennedy for the fourth time this season, but this time in a sectional semifinal, Tuesday at South Plainfield. The Tigers won both regular-season games 7-2 and 6-3 April 30 and May 1, but dropped a 6-2 county semifinal decision. South Plainfield has won three straight since.
“It’s a big incentive,” Guida said of playing John F. Kennedy, whose team hosted the quarterfinal round on the turf at Krausche because of poor conditions at home left by the rain. “I told the kids when I saw the bracket I said, ‘Guys don’t be surprised if we play them a fourth time.’ It’s very rare. They are a darn good ball club with a long winning streak, they were our last loss, so there’s more of a reason for us to go out there and win a ball game.”
South Plainfield will see their GMC White rivals once more in large part because of senior lefty Pat Boyle’s stubbornness and 20 hits. Four came from leadoff batter and left-handed hitting catcher Justin Marks and three by Taylor Born, Quinn Cochrane, A.J. Celentano and Jeff Pellegrino. Most of those hits were needed; especially after junior first baseman Barron Natelli cracked a three-run homer to left off Boyle in the fourth to cut the Tigers’ lead to 7-6.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, that was obvious,” Boyle said. “I just kept going out there, throwing strikes, letting them put it in play and let my defense do all the work.”
South Plainfield scored five runs in the first off sophomore lefty Ethan Frohman (5-2), but the biggest hit of the game may have been in the fourth. After Natelli’s homer, Cochrane led off the bottom of the inning with an opposite-field triple to right. Lefty-swinging Celentano followed with an opposite-field RBI single and Rob Eggert made it a 9-6 lead with another RBI single. Celentano drove in five runs.
“Since we scored those two extra runs to give us a (three-run lead), he was a batter-by-batter basis and I told Pat that it was going to be one batter at a time and if one guy got one that he was coming out and he understood that,” said Guida.
Boyle (6-1) persevered, going five innings before being relieved by junior righty Kyle Dickerson after Boyle walked junior shortstop Steven Duda to start the sixth. Boyle has six complete games, and the one he lost was April 10 to Woodbridge
“He usually completes the game,” said Guida. “His arm is very durable; he proved that last year, he’s a gusty performer. I knew that he’s got a lot of innings in him, but since we were scoring runs I wanted to show confidence in him because we have been successful with him on the mound this year.”
The one concern was a defense that at some points sparkled with two especially fine plays by Born in the third and sixth innings. The Tigers made four errors – all in the infield, two coming in the sixth. The errors resulted in just one run, but it was a lesson.
“I told the kids 20 hits wins a game, but four errors against a good program usually loses a game, but when you get 20 hits it’s easier to win a game in that situation,” Guida said.
Governor Livinsgton took a 1-0 lead in the first on Duda’s RBI triple. But South Plainfield answered with its big inning in the bottom half, and never let it get away.
Westfield 1, Linden 0: Jake Greenberg’s RBI single in the fourth was just one of two Westfield hits Sunday, but it was enough to spark a 1-0 win over Linden in a North 2 Group IV quarterfinal in Westfield. No. 10 seed Westfield will play host to No. 14 Perth Amboy Tuesday in a rematch of the 2011 final that was won by Westfield in Perth Amboy.
Middlesex 20, South River 3: Senior Tommy Marcinczyk doubled, tripled and plated five runs for the top-seeded Blue Jays in CJ I, who will play host to fifth-seed Point Pleasant Beach in Tuesday’s 4 p.m. semifinals. Brennan Price went 2-for-4 with a three-run triple for Middlesex, while teammate Jeff Reinecke had three hits and two RBI. Kyle Dotey went 2-for-2 with three RBI for the Blue Jays, who scored nine runs in the first inning.