Jersey Shore Wildcats’ starter Austin Griffith delivers a pitch during School’s Out tournament.
By Steve Merrill
Mike Cugino came on in relief and tossed four scoreless innings for the 15U PA Rebels to secure a 5-2 victory in six innings over the Jersey Shore Wildcats in the School’s Out 15U pool play opener at Diamond Nation.
The Westchester Henderson High School product allowed just two hits and one walk, while striking out five Wildcats hitters. Cugino never allowed more than one base runner per-inning on his way to sealing the win.
“Mike came in and kept us right where we needed to be,” Rebels head coach Pat Dunn said.
Cugino replaced starter Sean Kelly, who went two-plus innings and allowed five hits and two runs while striking out one and walking three.
Liam Opatosky drove in the game’s first run in the top of the first for the Wildcats, singling home Jack Quinn, who reached on a walk. The visitors had three hits in the inning but left three on, scoring just the one run in the opening frame.
In the bottom half of the opening inning, the Rebels answered right back. Leadoff hitter Kevin Kingsbury singled and stole second, immediately putting himself in scoring position. After Wildcats starter Austin Griffith struck out Ethan Bojko, he gave up back-to-back walks to load the bases for Chris Mull. Mull drove in Kingsbury with a single to tie the game at 1-1.
With the bases still loaded and one out, Nick Meraglia came to the plate and drew a walk to force in a run to take a 2-1 lead. A flyout then ended the inning, leaving the bases loaded. The Rebels couldn’t capitalize on several opportunities throughout the game, leaving nine runners on base.
“We had a couple opportunities to get a couple more,” Dunn said. “We had a couple more hard-hit balls that they made plays on.”
The Rebels tacked on another run in the second. Liam Noonan led off the inning reaching on an error. His pinch runner Tyler DeFreitas stole second and reached third on a passed ball. A few batters later, Andrew Crowley laced a single to make it a 3-1 game.
The Wildcats cracked two extra base hits in the top of the third to trim the deficit to one run, 3-2. Keegan Hertel doubled leading off and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Two batters later, Quinn socked a one-out triple to plate Hertel. Cugino was able to strand him at third, retiring the next two batters and preserving the lead.
The Rebels would score the game’s final runs in the bottom of the third inning. Meraglia was hit by a pitch with one out. Tim Regan walked, Noonan struck out and then Kingsbury walked. With two outs, Bojko smacked a deep drive to center field but Hertel was unable to come up with it as it deflected off his glove and kicked away. Two runs scored and the Rebels took a 5-2 advantage.
“Always working deep counts and seeing a lot of pitches is helpful,” Dunn said. “We got their starter out of the game early. But I’d like to see us come up with some more clutch hits.”
Conor Voelkson replaced Griffith for the Wildcats and kept the Rebels off the board for the rest of the game. At the bottom of the lineup for Jersey Shore, Christian LaForge went 2-for-2 with a pair of singles.
The Rebels dropped their second game of the evening to the Diamond Studs, 5-2, and fell on Saturday, 5-3, to the Morris County Cubs White. The Wildcats dropped their two games on Saturday to the Cubs, 5-3, and Studs, 6-4.