MILLTOWN– St. Mark’s right-hander Billy Sullivan took the mound for the first time this season in the top of the seventh inning Thursday.
He was a little amped up and a little rusty, and it showed. The junior made things very interesting before ending the game with a called third strike with runners at second and third as the Spartans held on for a 4-3 home victory over Caravel.
“I had to get the jitters out a little bit in my first time out there,” Sullivan said. “After that, I settled in and controlled the fastball.”
Sullivan got the save and lefty Andrew Reich (4-0) pitched six solid innings for the win as second-ranked St. Mark’s (7-1) won the annual regular-season meeting between two teams who have combined to win 11 of the last 13 state championships.
With a combined 172-54 record over the past six seasons, two-game losing streaks have been a rarity. But with both teams coming off a loss, that is the reality facing third-ranked Caravel (3-3), which will try to get back on track at home against Hodgson at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re going to grind it out,” Buccaneers coach Paul Niggebrugge said. “… I thought some of our hitters had good, quality at-bats, which we haven’t had. We’re still trying to figure some things out.”
The Spartans took a 1-0 lead in the third when Reich’s single drove in Jeremy Vogel. Caravel answered in the fourth, going up 2-1 when Brandon Fraley scored on a delayed double steal and Joey Silan doubled to bring in David Willis, who was running for catcher Colin Adams.
Vogel singled to lead off the St. Mark’s fifth, and Tyler Kaczmarczyk was hit by a pitch. Brian Gilardi advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Reich was intentionally walked to bring up cleanup hitter Matt Theodorakis with the bases loaded.
The junior made the Bucs pay, ripping a two-run single to right to give the Spartans a 3-2 lead.
“I took that as a challenge,” Theodorakis said of the walk to Reich. “I said, ‘If you want to give me bases loaded, I’m going to knock some runs in.’ That was my goal.”
Sean Gilardi followed with a double to deep right to drive in Reich for a 4-2 cushion.
“Sean’s been having a great year for us,” St. Mark’s coach Matt Smith said. “That was a big hit.”
Reich was at 93 pitches through six innings, so Smith went to Sullivan.
The right-hander promptly hit Silan to start the top of the seventh, and walked Kevin Keister. Troy Marenco advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Silan scored when Tyler Slavin reached on an error.
Pinch-runner Tyler Longinotti stole second to get two runners in scoring position, but Sullivan struck out the next two Bucs to end the game.
“We needed him to step up, and he did,” Smith said. “He made some big pitches at the end. I think he was a little pumped up when he got out there, hit the first batter, but he did a nice job overall.”
Sullivan said the final called strike came on a curveball. The Spartans were coming off a 4-3, 10-inning loss to defending state champion Appoquinimink on Monday, making this win even sweeter.
“We had a great two days of practice. We were prepared,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t want to lose two in a row, so we came out here and played our hearts out.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.