Senior lefty Joey DeChiaro of Hunterdon Central did what he does this time of year. He shut down a quality team in a tournament game. But the All-Stater bound for Old Dominion had to share the stage with Voorhees freshman lefthander Truman Richter, who had one of those performances that screams, “I’ve arrived.”
DeChiaro (3-0) pitched a two-hitter, struck out a career-high 12 batters and walked two while allowing no earned runs as 12th-seeded Hunterdon Central defeated fourth-seeded Voorhees, 2-1, in a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex quarterfinal on Saturday in High Bridge. The victory was DeChiaro’s 24th in his career, tying him with Peter Woltersdorf (2017) for Hunterdon Central career victories.
The victory sends Hunterdon Central to the HWS semifinals next Saturday at top-seeded Pope John. The Lions defeated North Hunterdon, 10-1, in that quarterfinal.
Richter (1-1) took to the big stage against DeChiaro and the defending HWS and NJSIAA Group 4 champions like a calm veteran. He shut out Hunterdon Central (8-2) through five innings with a live, elusive fastball that had the Red Devils batters befuddled. But Hunterdon Central, as it has done so many times during its run of three straight Group 4 final appearances, simply found a way.
It was a familiar source that ignited the dormant Hunterdon Central offense in the top of the sixth against Richter. Senior center fielder Pete Ciuffreda drew a leadoff walk. Richter was getting close to the pitch-count limit when he struck out cleanup hitter Kenny Lombardo for the first out. Ciuffreda had taken second on a wild pitch during Lombardo’s at bat. Lefty-hitting Nick Czarnecki then delivered Ciuffreda with the tying run on a single to left field that was very nearly caught by Brady Krushinski.
Czarnecki reached second on the play when the ball wasn’t fielded cleanly.
At the pitch-count limit, Voorhees coach Cory Kent pulled Richter and replaced him with another fireballer, righty Drew Conover, who walked the first batter he faced, Ryan Godown. That brought up Tristen Spalter, the No. 7 hitter, who had a big day at the plate in a 15-0 victory over Warren Hills in the first round. Spalter delivered again, singling through the right side as Czarnecki raced around third. Initially held up by coach Kevin Cuozzi, Czarnecki re-started and scored the go-ahead run as the ball was mishandled in right field.
“He was throwing hard,” said Spalter of Richter. “I struggled early, striking out twice. But I was calm. No one panics on this team. I got an outside fastball it took it the other way. I just let the ball travel.”
DeChiaro then went about nailing this one down. He retired the Vikings in order in the sixth, finishing it with a pair of strikeouts. He picked up two more strikeouts around a one-out single by Cole McGourty in the seventh to improve his career record in the HWS tournament to 6-0. Even more impressive, DeChiaro now has a 12-1 record in career elimination games. And there’s that not so little thing about tying the school record for career wins.
“‘Dorf’ (Woltersdorf) is two-times the pitcher I am,” said DeChiaro. “To me he’s the face of Hunterdon Central baseball. It was more about getting this win and advancing in the tournament.”
DeChiaro relied upon his usual mix of fastball, curveball and changeup, the latter of which is as good you’ll see at the high school level.
“I had some issues with my curveball at the times, but it was there for me when I needed it,” DeChiaro said. “My changeup was about 50-50.” He did rear back and to get five strikeouts with a fastball that appeared in the high 80s.
Voorhees (9-3) scored its only run in the top of the first inning when Matt Kroll opened the game with a double down the third base line. Kroll stole third and scored on a passed ball while DeChiaro was striking out the next two batters.
Richter permitted two runs, only one of which was earned, on just three hits over 5.1 innings. He struck out 10 and walked four.
“It was a good pitchers duel,” said Richter. “I kept my composure. I threw about 90 percent fastballs and was hitting my spots. I guess that’s a good way to save your arm. I figured keep throwing the fastball until they can catch up with it.”
Hunterdon Central never really caught up with that fastball and Richter never appeared to tire. In fact, the NJSIAA pitch-count rule may be the only thing that did stop him in this game.
“He spotted his fastball real well,” said Ciuffreda. “And it had a real good run up.” Said Cuozzi, “He was excellent. He’s as good a pitcher we’ve seen all season.”
It was a frustrating loss for the Vikings and Kent.
“Truman went toe-to-toe with them,” said Kent. “For him to do that, you know he’s really not a freshman. I think his win against Delaware Valley was really his coming out party. We’d been using him as a closer and in other relief roles. He was lights out today but we had some tough luck.”
The opposite side of the HWS bracket had games pitting Sparta, the No. 18 seed, and 15th seed High Point and No. 10 seed Vernon at No. 3 seed Delaware Valley. The semifinals are next Saturday at the home of the higher seeded team and the championship game follows on May 11 at Phillipsburg.