Luke Billings of Crossbridge Raiders 16U gets ready to rip in Garden State Invitational.
By Rich Bevensee
One team left its dugout exhilarated, the other exasperated.
From the Crossbridge Raiders’ perspective, getting no-hit wasn’t as important as hammering the final pitch of the game. Hustle Baseball Academy flirted with a six-inning no-hitter and still lost the game.
All three pitchers in the game – Hustle’s Shea Goel and Crossbridge’s Justin Prekop and Dillon Gallagher – performed admirably, collectively allowing just two hits for the entire contest. And they were this close to a scoreless tie, that is, until the last pitch.
Goel, who was one strike away from a no-hitter, was the tough-luck loser after Raiders No. 3 hitter Colin Chou hammered the first pitch he saw into left center field and drove in Luke Billings with the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning for a walkoff 1-0 Crossbridge victory in the 16U bracket of the Garden State Invitational on Monday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“Over the innings I was watching the pitches he was throwing and the sequence he was using,” said Chou, a rising junior at Seton Hall Prep who grounded out and struck out swinging in two prior at bats. “Going into that at bat he was calling for his curveball and it was like that for the whole game, so I was hunting curveball and I had to jump on it that one time.”
Goel, a rising right-handed junior at Montclair who faced Chou before in junior varsity ball this past spring, just missed getting a called strike three on both Billings and Deacon Bowne – both batters walked – before Chou stepped to the plate.
“(The no-hitter) crossed my mind a few times but honestly I just wanted to win the game,” Goel said. “It’s unfortunate but … Coming into that at bat I knew their No. 3 hitter was a good hitter, so I didn’t want to give him anything too good, but I think I did hang that curveball a little bit too much.
“It’s kind of mixed emotions. I’m happy with my performance but I feel we should have won the game. I carry that with me as well. It’s a sore way to lose, but I’m hoping in 24 hours I’ll be thinking about the good parts of the game.”
Goel, who allowed six walks, pitched out of trouble the previous two times the Raiders got a runner into scoring position. In the second inning he yielded a walk to Charlie Cordisco (Pennsbury) but he was left waiting at second after a ground out.
In the fifth, Nick Augusta (Hunterdon Central) earned a leadoff walk and reached second with a ground out. He, too, was left to wait when Goel got the third out with a strikeout looking.
Goel, whose fastball lingered in the mid-to-high 70s, struck out four Raiders and at one point retired seven straight in his 88-pitch performance.
“This past weekend I threw at Penn with my catcher (Nate Ullman, also from Montclair), working on spins, but then I had an outing here (at Diamond Nation) the other day and didn’t throw too well,” Goel said. “I felt like deep in counts I was leaving breakers too much, so I think I did a better job today of giving them something that looked like a strike and then it breaks out of the zone.”
For Chou, the game-winning hit was a small way to help forget his frustrations since high school baseball season began. Just a week into his JV season at Seton Hall Prep, Chou was pitching when he left the game early with soreness in his right elbow.
That inflammation in his elbow has lingered into the summer, and Chou has been relegated to designated hitter and extra hitter duties because it is still too painful to throw a baseball.
“Definitely a little frustrating over time because I love to field,” Chou said. “I’m just waiting for the inflammation to die down so I can hop back out there. I went on the mound two days ago and felt fine, but after that it was acting up again. Until it starts feeling better, I’ll just go to the plate and do my job.”
Prekop, the Raiders’ hard-throwing lefty and a rising junior at Notre Dame in Lawrenceville, matched Goel zero for zero through four innings. While topping out at 81 miles an hour with his fastball, Prekop struck out seven while allowing one hit and four walks.
And like Goel, Prekop needed to escape his own trouble after those walks.
Andrew Hladik (Seton Hall Prep) walked and advanced to third on two ground outs in the top of the first inning but moved no further after Prekop retired the side with a strikeout.
Hustle’s Brayden Peoples and Jacob Gonzalez, teammates at Wayne Valley High, got Prekop in hot water by opening the second inning with a walk and a base hit, respectively. Prekop effectively mixed his fastball with his curve and answered the bell by striking out the side.
Gallagher (South Hunterdon) took over for Prekop in the fifth inning and allowed Ryan Spaar (Millburn) to walk and reach third on a wild pitch with one out in the fifth. But Gallagher escaped that jam with a ground out and a fly out. He also pitched a perfect sixth with a strikeout.