Lefthander Jack Findlay capped Diamond Nation’s seven-week Fall League season by stifling Hillsborough Senior over five innings en route to the Morris County Cubs’ 3-2 championship victory on Wednesday.
Reliever Ben Weber nailed down the save with two scoreless innings of relief, including stranding the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base in the seventh inning to secure the Fall League championship.
Findlay was lights out over five innings, limiting Hillsborough to four hits and a run that was unearned while striking out 11 and walking none.
“Jack’s done that all year,” said Morris County Cubs coach Todd Burdette. Findlay was almost as tough on himself as he was on the Hillsborough batters.
“I was getting behind in counts early and you don’t want to do that,” said Findlay. “Walks kill you.” That was the best argument Findlay could come up with to throw water on his outstanding performance. He deftly worked an impressive slider with very late break to complement his fastball.
“The slider was definitely my best secondary pitch tonight,” said Findlay, who has been working a changeup into his arsenal. “I like to compete and be able to throw a key pitch in every spot. The changeup is pretty good right now and it’s getting better.”
Findlay’s ability to work his slider off his fastball will give high school batters quite a challenge this spring and if the Roxbury High School junior and Notre Dame commit makes that changeup a viable and reliable addition to his arsenal, look out.
Hillsborough starter Liam Smith, a righthander, was terrific as well. Smith limited the Cubs to two runs on two hits over five innings while striking out nine and walking none. So the two starting pitchers combined for 20 strikeouts and zero walks over 10 innings. Wow!
The 6-2, 175-pound Findlay left the game with a 2-1 lead after striking out the Hillsborough side in the fifth around an infield single by Arex Wyatt. Wyatt’s single actually hit Findlay in the left forearm and bounced away as he beat out the hit. Burdette checked Findlay, who seemed okay, and certainly did after striking out the next two batters to end the inning.
Then the Cubs scored a critical tack on run in the bottom of the sixth.
Hillsborough reliever Vinny Versaci nearly had a clean sixth inning but Shaun Charles reached first base with one out after Versaci’s strike three pitch in the dirt got away. Charles moved to second when another Versaci strike three eluded the catcher. Morris County’s leadoff hitter, Brian Bienus, then stepped in and delivered pinch-runner Chris Langsdorf from second with a single to right field.
“Brian did a real nice job there coming back from a two-strike count,” said Burdette. “He’s the kind of player who puts pressure on a defense.”
That third run and the 3-1 lead would prove all the difference when Hillsborough rallied off Weber in the top of the seventh. Hillsborough got a great start to the inning when Jason Wolff drew a leadoff walk and cleanup hitter Mike Swetz followed with a single. Smith then stroked a one-out single to center field to load the bases. Wolff would score to shave the Cubs’ lead to 3-2 on yet another strike-three pitch that got away. Meanwhile, Swetz and Smith moved up a base and into scoring position.
Weber had two outs but it wouldn’t take much to get the tying run home from third base and a single would likely chase Swetz home from second with the go-ahead run. But Weber induced a pop-up to first base and Connor Machlachan squeezed it for the last out and the championship.
“It’s been great to see these guys grow into young men,” said Burdette, himself a Roxbury High and Rowan University grad. “They’ve played a lot of games since spring. They’ve grinded. That was a big doubleheader for us to win on Tuesday.”
The Cubs won a pair of nail biters in the Fall League playoff quarterfinals and semifinals on Tuesday. The Morris County squad first edged Hustle Baseball Academy, 7-6, then nipped In the Zone Knights, 1-0. Hillsborough stunned White House Post 284, 7-4, in the other semifinal.
The Cubs struck for two runs in the bottom of the second to take an early 2-0 lead and it was Machlachan, the Fall League playoffs Most Valuable Player, who ignited the rally with a leadoff single to left field. Tim Crum followed with a booming triple to right-center field that scored Machlachan for a 1-0 lead. Smith would strike out the Cubs side from there but Crum scored on a two-out, two-strike wild pitch with Gabe Caso at the plate.
Hillsborough shaved the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth inning when leadoff hitter Ryan Hvozdovic delivered on a sequence the Cubs would like to soon forget. Findlay uncorked a slider in the dirt for strike three but the ball got past the catcher. Hvozdovic had first base for sure but the catcher’s throw got past the first baseball and went down the right field line, all the way to the wall. Hvozdovic got on his horse and rode it all the way to a four-base error and an unlikely run.
The Cubs went 14-3 in the Fall League and outscored their opponents 103-49. Hillsborough Senior posted an 11-6 mark while holding a 123-59 runs advantage on its opponents.
NOTES: Wyatt, who had two of the four hits off Findlay, led off the third with a double to center fielder but was stranded right there. … Hillsborough’s Jayden Bloch had a sure one-out double in the second but slid past second base on the wet turf and was tagged out. … Machlachan made an incredible pick at first base on a throw from third baseman Pat Coyne in the sixth. … Cubs left fielder Ryan Steuble hauled in a monster of a major league fly ball by Bloch for the first out of the seventh.