Thursday afternoon’s Somerset County Tournament semifinal looked destined for an extra innings finish the way Immaculata’s Eric Bateman and Montgomery’s Evan Gillespie were dueling. But Immaculata broke through – coincidently just as the sun did – in the sixth inning when it scored all of its runs on the way to a 4-1 victory at TD Bank Ballpark.
The No. 3 seed Spartans (10-7) play Bernards – a 5-2 winner over top-seeded Watchung Hills – in the county final on Saturday at 7 p.m. at TD Bank Ballpark. The Spartans will be looking for their 14th county title and first since 2008.
The Spartans got going in the sixth inning courtesy of some intervention from above, and several clutch hits. Senior shortstop Jimmy Rice led off with a double before Drew Rodriguez flew out to center. Senior third baseman Brandon Wagner then hit a lazy – and apparently innocent fly to left. But it was lost in the sun’s glare and fell for a single. Instead of two outs and a runner on second, the Spartans were set up with a first and third. Junior DH Luke Bonfield followed with a line double to left to give Immaculata a 1-0 lead. Junior right fielder Micah Harris followed with a two-run double to left to make it 3-0. The left-handed Gillespie was relieved by senior righty righty Zach DeVincenzo, who struck out JT Himerlick. But senior catcher Mike Dolan singled to bring home Harris for a 4-0 lead.
On the other side, Bateman was rolling along. The senior righty walked Sam Capolongo in the sixth with two outs, but wasn’t hurt by it. An RBI single by Adam Kornberg in the seventh would be the No. 2-seeded Cougars fifth and final hit of the game.
Bateman (4-2) struck out six and walked four..
Montgomery’s best chances of scoring came in the first with runners on first and third, but Bateman struck out Ben Verducci and got Capolongo on a liner to center. In the fifth, No. 9 hitter Rob LaRue – who had three of Montgomery’s hits – doubled with one out. But Bateman got DeVincenzo ground out to second baseman Joey Messina before Messina went into shallow right to steal an RBI from Kornberg and keep the game scoreless.
“When you don’t make any errors with him on the mound you’re going to win baseball games, and that was the difference today, we made all the plays in the field,” said Immaculata coach Kevin Cust
“There’s nobody else I would want to see in a big game for us than Bateman, he’s a big-game pitcher,” Cust added. “He’s been doing that all season, he beat Jackson (Memorial).”
Immaculata was hitless against Rutgers-bound lefty Gillespie until the fourth inning when Luke Bonfield singled with one down. Bonfield stole second and Harris walked. The two then pulled off a double steal with Himerlick at the plate. Himerlick grounded back to Gillespie, who threw to first baseman DJ Nozza for the second out. Bonfield then tried to go home, but was thrown as Nozza threw to catcher Capolongo, who made the tag.
Bernards stuns Watchung Hills
No. 4 seed Bernards (16-3) beat top-seed Watchung Hills (16-5) 5-2 and will make its second-ever SCT final appearance. The Mountaineers won in 1986.
Lefty Brendan Ball (5-1) pitched a complete-game eight-hitter for the win.
The Mountaineers took a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Jon Iaione and Zach DeSee had RBI singles and Johnny Maddaluna had a two-run double in the inning.
The county final will be head coach Jeff Falzarano’s second. He led Bridgewater-Raritan East to a county title in 1990.