OLD BRIDGE – With reigning Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year and Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American Zach Attianese on the mound, Sayreville High School baseball coach Mike Novak knew his team’s chances to score would be limited.
The sophomore lefthander is notorious for getting stronger as a game progresses, so when the Bombers left a runner on base in each of the first two innings, Novak sensed Attianese was about to settle into a rhythm.
“If you don’t get to him early you don’t have a chance,” Novak said. “Once he started throwing that (trademark) curveball for strikes and had our kids guessing we didn’t have a chance.”
Attianese, who retired 15 of the last 18 batters, hurled a complete-game four-hitter with eight strikeouts and no walks as Old Bridge snapped Sayreville’s winning streak at five games with Tuesday’s 8-1 victory.
“We needed him to come out and dominate like that and get it done in short order,” said Old Bridge coach Jimmy Freel, noting Attianese threw just 77 pitches to help the Knights avenge Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Bombers.
“Once he got rolling – the curveball was sharp today, about as good as it gets – he was almost unhittable.”
Through a strength and conditioning program, Attianese filled out his frame, gaining more than 20 pounds.
The University of North Carolina commit attended 95 of 96 offseason training sessions with teammates (missing once due to illness) and has gained some velocity on his fastball as a result. Against Sayreville, Attianese topped out at 87 mph.
“He does everything he’s supposed to do,” Freel said. “He worked his tail off. That’s why he is who he is. He’s the greatest kid. The best thing about him in this day and age is he’s all about the team. He doesn’t get caught up in all the hype and national attention. He’s a great cornerstone. North Carolina is lucky to get him. He’s really awesome.”
Old Bridge (4-5) provided significant run support, rallying for four runs in the second, three more in the fifth and tacking on an insurance tally in the sixth on Brian Hulasiya’s RBI single.
Eight different players had at least one hit apiece with cleanup batter Vin Donofrio (4-for-4) leading a 13-hit onslaught.
The Knights batted around in the second, parlaying four consecutive bunts – including Tyler Hopman’s flawlessly executed suicide squeeze – and Jordan Fetterman’s RBI single into a 4-0 lead. Luiz Cruz (2-for-4) ignited the rally with a leadoff double down the left-field line.
“We work on it constantly, playing small ball, getting bunts down and executing,” Freel said. “That’s what we needed to do, to put some pressure on the defense.”
After Cruz and James Gabriel singled and advanced to third and second, respectively, on a fielder’s choice in the fifth, Hopman laid down a safety squeeze to plate the first run of the inning. Attianese followed with a two-run single to right for a 7-1 lead.
“We jumped on them early,” said Attianese, whose defense committed just one error and helped him record seven groundball outs. “I got some good run support and the field behind me was (almost) perfect.”
Sayreville (5-3) spoiled Attianese’s shutout bid in the top of the fifth. Jayson DeMild led off with a double to right, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a fielder’s choice.
The Bombers stranded runners on second in the first and seventh innings – wasting Brett Dzamba’s one-out double in the final frame – and also left a runner on first in two other innings.
All of Sayreville’s hits came on either first-pitch fastballs (DeMild and Dzamba’s doubles) or on fastball counts (DeMild singled on a 3-2 offering with two away in the second and Chris Eveigan singled to lead off the game on a 2-0 pitch).
Staff writer Greg Tufaro: firstname.lastname@example.org