Big bats, Stellpflug arm steer Somerville past Immaculata

By Bob Behre | April 2, 2022

Matty Wright had a big game in Somerville’s opening day victory over Immaculata.

Baseball players prefer warm weather, which makes the complicated enough acts of hitting, fielding and pitching a bit more comfortable.

The relentless Somerville lineup, however, seemed to embrace a frigid April 1 afternoon – as their families and friends sat shivering in the stands – lashing out 15 hits on the way to a 15-4 victory over Skyland Conference rival Immaculata.

The season-opener for both teams, at Diamond Nation’s Field 7 in Flemington, did resemble so many of those challenging, cold early April days players and coaches in the northeast have had to navigate over the years. But both teams gladly accepted that challenge considering, thanks to COVID restrictions, there had been no April 1 baseball the past two years.

Brayden Keller, Somerville’s leadoff hitter, served notice immediately that the Pioneers bats were in mid-season form as he opened the game with a triple into the right-center field gap.

“I certainly didn’t have much to complain about offensively,” said Somerville coach Chris Banos. “We scored multiple runs four innings in a row and we had our leadoff guy on base in each of those innings.”

Immaculata was certainly up for the challenge. When the Spartans scored twice in the third inning to draw within two runs at 6-4, it appeared another one of those wild games between these neighborhood rivals was in the offing.

But Somerville stung the home side with a six-run fourth inning when they sent 10 batters to the plate and ripped five hits in the rally. Garrett Koplitz, Somerville’s No. 8 hitter, delivered a clutch two-run double to left field in the rally. The bottom three batters in the Pioneers order, in fact, contributed four hits, scored four runs, drew three walks and knocked in two runs in the game.

“It’s a good thing for your bottom guys to put the ball in play,” said Banos. “It makes things happen in a high school game.”

Another nice development for Somerville was the play of senior shortstop Devin McKinley, who went 3-for-4 and scored two runs out of the No. 5 spot in the order. “Devin was stuck behind a couple seniors last year despite being a varsity-ready player,” said Banos. “He’s a good player. We expect good things from him this season.” He lengthens an already deep lineup.

The left side of the Immaculata infield is manned by third baseman Jayson Labrador and shortstop Josh Thompson.

Somerville’s big thumpers delivered as well. Kean-bound third baseman Tyler Stone, the cleanup hitter, was 2-for-5 and rocked a solo home run to center field in the seventh to cap the scoring. Three-hitter Matty Wright, who can hurt an opponent so many ways, chipped in with an RBI-single, a double, a sac fly, drew a walk, scored twice and stole a base. Wright is committed to Stony Brook.

“The thing about Matty is he exudes such confidence and that rubs off on everyone else,” said Banos. “He’s a gamer.”

Righthander Kolbie Stellpflug’s performance was a bit lost in the barrage of hits by Somerville and the junior had to wait out long at bats by his teammates to get back out on that cold mound. Stellpflug limited Immaculata to four runs, just two earned, on two hits over five innings to earn the win. He struck out four but walked seven, the last three of which came in the fifth when he got a strikeout to escape the threat unscathed.

“Kolbie’s secondary stuff was not there but he did a good job battling through it,” said Banos. “We had some long at bats and it can be hard to sustain things.”

Immaculata had to use five pitchers to navigate the Somerville lineup through seven innings but showed plenty of promise in its young players.

Leadoff batter Jayden Capindica, one of two freshmen starting for the Spartans, began his high school career with an opposite field double to left-center field in the first, drew walks in the third and fifth and grounded out in the sixth. The lefty-hitting Capindica and third baseman Jayson Labrador were two of the many stars of the Elmora (Elizabeth) Little League team that made a run to the Little League World Series in 2019.

Capindica, a 6-1, 165 left fielder, is looking more like a man than a Little Leaguer these days and his awareness and approach at the plate are advanced for a freshman.

Labrador, who bats cleanup, had an infield hit stolen from him in his first at bat when Somerville third baseman Stone made a nice play on a hot grounder down the line. Labrador also drew a walk before singling in his final at bat in the seventh for a 1-for-3 opener. Defensively, Labrador, too, seems ahead of his years. He made a nice play moving to his left on a slow bouncer by Keller in the sixth inning, making his off-balance throw look easy.

Another Immaculata underclassman, sophomore shortstop Josh Thompson, delivered Capindica in the first on his RBI bouncer to the right side. Sophomore catcher Danny Ferguson drove home a run with a double down the right field line in the second.

NOTES: Sean Noone, Somerville’s No. 2 hitter, went 1-for-2, scored two runs and had RBIs on a bases-loaded walk and a sac fly. He also was hit by a pitch. … Parker Muratore, the No. 9 hitter, was 2-for-2 with a pair of singles and drew two walks in four productive at bats for the Pioneers. … All nine batters in the Somerville lineup scored at least one run and eight had at least one hit. … The game was moved to Diamond Nation from Somerville’s grass diamond at Torpey Field due to overnight rain that left the field unplayable. The teams meet twice, so simply swapped their home-and-home series.

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