Montgomery Superior pitcher Eddie Appollina, who fanned 14, is greeted by catcher Ryan Formica.
By Sean Reilly
Eddie Appollina has a lot of faith in his changeup, but the pitch was working beyond expectations on Tuesday night at Diamond Nation.
“My changeup was the best it’s been in a while,” he said. “It’s usually my best pitch, but tonight it was electric. There was something about it. I was getting ground balls and swings and misses.”
The other pitches in his arsenal were also on point, and the result was a 101-pitch complete-game gem for the Montgomery Superior right-hander.
Appollina, a senior from North Hunterdon High School, was brilliant in pitching a one-hitter, with 14 strikeouts and one walk (which came with two out in the seventh inning), as Montgomery Superior advanced to the semifinals of the Diamond Nation Fall League playoffs with a 5-0 victory over the Morris County Cubs 16U in Flemington.
Montgomery Superior advanced to its quarterfinal with the Cubs by defeating Hillsborough Gold, 7-6, in a first round game earlier on Tuesday night. It will play Hustle Baseball Academy 17U in the semifinals on Wednesday evening.
Appollina spent most of the game against the Cubs locked in a pitcher’s duel with counterpart Ben Nugent, a junior lefty from Mount Olive who allowed one hit over five scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts and five walks. Montgomery Superior touched the Cubs bullpen for two runs in the sixth inning before adding three more in the seventh.
The closeness of the game served to make Appollina work even harder.
“I like a game like that,” he said. “It keeps me focused. The score being zero-zero, I’m trying not to be the first one to give up a run.”
The only hit allowed by Nugent was a base hit by Montgomery’s Jackson Sgro with one out in the first inning. He moved to second on a wild pitch and went to third on a ground out, but Nugent struck out the next batter to end the inning.
Montgomery loaded the bases through three walks in the second inning, but Nugent also ended that frame with a strikeout.
Appollina, meanwhile, was in complete command for Montgomery. He retired the first 12 batters he faced, eight by strikeout and three others on ground balls.
“I hit a groove early, and took it all the way to the end of the game,” he said. “I was just pounding the zone.”
That streak ended when Nugent led off the fifth for the Cubs by hitting a sky-high pop up on the left side of the infield that was dropped for an error. He tried to steal second, but was thrown out by Montgomery catcher Ryan Formica.
Appollina struck out the next batter looking, but then allowed his only hit when Peter Zoccolillo of the Cubs hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. The first baseman ranged to his right in a bid to make a play, but the ball instead went to the second baseman. Zoccolillo successfully legged out the infield hit. The next batter struck out.
Nugent left after five innings, and his successor walked Sgro to lead off the top of the sixth. Sgro went to second on a wild pitch, and moved to third on a base hit to left field by Ty Akins. After a strikeout, a ground ball was hit to Cubs shortstop, North Carolina-commit A.J. Terry, who threw home. Catcher Ryan Johannessen tagged out the runner for the second out.
The Cubs almost got out of the inning, but Robby Wright hit a hard grounder to third base that was misplayed, allowing Akins to score the first run. Aiden Inou, the batter who reached on the fielder’s choice, scored the second run on a wild pitch.
Montgomery Superior put the game away by scoring three more times in the seventh.
Justin Swerdlow led off by being hit by a pitch, and stole second with Formica at the plate. Formica then walked on a full count. After a strikeout, Lucas Heines was safe on a bunt single down the first base line to load the bases. Sgro was hit by a pitch to score Swerdlow, Akins walked to bring in Formica, and Appollina hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Heines with the final run.
Driving in the final run was the capper on a tremendous night for Appollina.
“My fastball was also working,” he said. “I was hitting corners and spotting up well. My curveball was working early. I kind of lost it from the third through fifth inning, then I figured it out again. That was generating a lot of swings and misses, too. This is my last outing until next spring, so it was a good way to go out.”