Wall certainly can not complain that it lacked for chances on Friday in the NJSIAA Central Group III championship game against Northern Burlington.
The Crimson Knights had base runners in every inning against Northern Burlington’s tall left-hander Zack Gakeler. Twice, they had the bases loaded. They left nine runners on base, seven in scoring position. Wall had another base-runner thrown out trying to steal second.
All of those missed opportunities ended up biting Wall in the rear end as Northern Burlington broke a tie in the bottom of the sixth inning and recorded a 4-3 win. According to Greyhounds’ head coach Rick Doppler, it is the school’s first baseball sectional championship.
Wall, which concludes its season 22-6, was making its first appearance in a sectional final since 2008, when it advanced to the Group III state championship game.
“We just didn’t get the timely hit (Friday),” said Wall coach Todd Schmitt.
Gakeler (9-1), who scattered 10 hits, walked two and hit a batter, but struck out nine, also made the pitches when he had to. He got out of a base-loaded, two-out jam in the second with a strikeout.
Then, in the top of the third, Wall loaded the bases with one out on an error, a walk and a single by Jack Gifford that hit the base umpire. Gakeler got out of that mess by inducing Luke Malone to hit a comebacker to him that he, catcher Brett Parlante and first baseman Adam Rapp turned into a 1-2-3 double play.
“I threw a two-seamer (fastball) inside and jammed him,” Gakeler said. “I was trying to get him to hit the ball on the ground in the infield.”
An inning later, Wall had first and third with one out, when it sent the runner from second, thinking Northern Burlington would not throw the ball through and try and make sure the runner from third would not break for home. However, Northern Burlington did throw through and got the out at second.
Wall sophomore catcher Dan Wondrack then followed with an RBI single to center — his second two-out RBI single of the game — to tie the game 3-3.
The Crimson Knights had a golden chance to take the lead in the fifth when Tim Willey led off with a double to left and moved to third on a ground out to second by Ryan Orender. However, Gakeler got a strikeout and a ground ball to short to strand Willey at third.
“It was just a lot of little things. It’s not one single thing,” said Schmitt, who also second-guessed himself for holding a runner at third on a hit earlier in the game. “The biggest thing is we didn’t get the big hit in any inning.
Northern Burlington, which will meet Burlington Township on Tuesday at Rider University in the Group III state semifinal, did get the big hit in the sixth from perhaps an unlikely source.
Rapp led off with a single to left-center — the Greyhounds’ first hit since the second and first baserunner since the third. After Wall pitcher Tyler Swiggart got a strikeout, Doppler elected to have Eddie Holmes bunt pinch-runner Justin Capone to second.
“We didn’t have a guy that can steal bases over there and we’ve got to get a guy in scoring position and a single can score him. That’s always been our motto,” Doppler said.
Senior Frank Bilancio then grounded Swiggart’s first pitch up the middle and Capone beat the throw home to give the Greyhounds the lead.
Doppler said Bilancio entered the game hitting .245, but he said Bilancio did hit .480 two years ago.
Wall went down in order in the seventh. Third baseman Kevin Welsh made a nice barehanded play on Brendan Biegart’s leadoff bunt and Gakler struck out the final two batters.
Swiggart (8-1) struggled in the first inning as he walked two and gave up three hits, including two-run double to center by Gaekler. Parlente delivered a third run with a sac fly.
However, Swiggart settled in after that. He gave up just one hit from the second-fifth innings and had retired eight straight before Rapp’s leadoff single in the sixth.
“It’s a tough loss because it’s so hard to get here,” said Schmitt, who coached Wall to the 2004 Group III state championship. “We told them (his players) to keep their heads up. They’re a young group. The sophomores and juniors, I hope this leaves a bitter taste so they can get back at it next year.
“The worst part about this is one of our sayings is: ‘Tomorrow, we get right back on the horse.’ We can’t back on the horse until April 1.”
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2B: (W) Willey; (NB) Gakeler. WP: Gakeler (9-1). LP: Swiggart (8-1).