Lefthander Zach Erling was strong through 5.2 innings in Delaware Valley’s 5-2 victory on Tuesday.
If you were looking for a way to quantify Delaware Valley’s season to date, or coach Marty White’s career at the Hunterdon County school for that matter, let us help you.
The Terriers have a darn good baseball program. It’s no longer accurate to call them that pesky Group 2 program that upsets the big guys once in awhile. Delaware Valley is not just pesky and a pain in the neck. It is simply unpleasant to deal with, like all good teams.
The Terriers rode the arm of lefty Zach Erling and the timely bats of an assortment of players, including Collin Becker, Austin Piscitelli and Jack Cariddi to a 5-2 victory over North Hunterdon in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday in Annandale.
The victory sends Delaware Valley (13-2) to its third HWS semifinal berth in the last five tournaments. The fifth-seeded Terriers draw mighty No. 1 seed Hunterdon Central (14-0), which is ranked No. 2 in the state by NJ.com. The HWS semifinals will be held on Saturday at Centenary College. Second-seeded Pope John (10-3) faces third-seeded Voorhees (14-1) in the other semifinal. The championship game is May 29 at Phillipsburg.
You can bet Delaware Valley views its pairing with perennial HWS giant Hunterdon Central as an opportunity.
The sturdy and gritty performances that will be a requirement on Saturday were aplenty on the visitor’s side of the field today, but we should start with catcher Jack Cariddi. The Terriers’ backstop broke his nose on Monday in a collision at the plate during a 7-1 loss to Warren Hills. Cariddi left the game after the collision but he returned on Tuesday afternoon at North Hunterdon, put his mask on and went to work.
Cariddi not only handled all seven innings behind the plate, he went 2-for-3 from the No. 3 spot in the order and drove in a run in what can only be described as a gutty performance.
“Jack put his mask on today and said, ‘Let’s go!” said White. “And he’s a tough out, too.” Cariddi provided the example and his teammate followed in the form of an aggressive approach at the plate and stubborn performances on the mound.
Both pitchers, Delaware Valley’s Erling and North Hunterdon’s Haydn Strycharz, battled gamely with runners aboard all game. Strycharz extricated himself from bases loaded jams in the fifth and sixth innings, permitting just one run in the process. The run scored on a sacrifice fly in the fifth and put the Terriers in front, 2-1.
But Max Delia dropped down a beautiful squeeze bunt that scored Strycharz from third base and tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning for fourth-seeded North Hunterdon (8-7).
Strycharz, having thrown 82 pitches through six innings, entered the seventh needing three outs to give the Lions a shot at a walk off in the bottom of the inning. But things started badly as Strycharz walked Ryan Stephens leading off the inning. Cariddi followed with a single down the left field line that sent Stephens all the way to third. Cariddi’s courtesy runner Stoy Fohring then stole second. North Hunterdon was in trouble once again.
Strycharz got Michael Kelly to line out softly to shortstop but the wheels came off from there. Becker hit a grounder to the left side that was mishandled and everyone was safe, including Stephens, who crossed the plate with the go-ahead run.
“I was just trying to see the ball, hit it and get a run in,” said Becker, who went 2-for-4 and singled home the game’s first run in the top of the first. “I got a fastball away and just put the bat on it.”
Piscitelli stepped in and singled to center field to chase home Fohring with a critical insurance run, boosting the lead to 4-2. That was it for Strycharz, who gritted through a 102-pitch outing and skirted disaster until the seventh.
“You can only get away with that so many times,” said Strycharz, a lefthander bound for N.Y. Maritime. “I was getting first pitch strikes but I wasn’t putting guys away like I should.” Strycharz permitted five runs, four of which were earned, on nine hits, struck out five and walked three.
Piscitelli was just trying to make things difficult for the Lions.
“I was just looking to force them to make a tough play,” said Piscitelli. “I got a fastball up.” And he did get some joy in knocking off Group 4 North Hunterdon. “It’s tough to beat the big schools, but we came to their home field it did it.”
Becker scored another insurance run in the seventh on a throwing error, lifting the lead to 5-2. That left it to reliever Walker to close it out in the bottom of the seventh. The righthander had gotten the last two out of the sixth before retiring the side in the seventh around a two-out single by Jack Martin.
Erling allowed two runs on four hits over 5.2 innings, struck out two and walked one. He didn’t seem to mind throwing inside to the Lions hitters and, in fact, had five hit-by-pitches. Strycharz absorbed three of those. One of Erling’s best throws didn’t even come to the plate. After North Hunterdon put runners on second and third with no outs in the fourth, the lefty picked the runner off of third base for the first out. He would get out of the inning unscathed.
“My fastball command was not great but I was able to place my slider and get them to pop it up,” said Erling. “It wasn’t one of my best days but I was able to fight through it.”
White was more impressed than his pitcher. “He’s had two great games against Pingry and Gill, “ said White. “Zach is tough to hit. We send him out against the best teams and he has not let us down. And that pick off at third was absolutely huge.”
Little Delaware Valley, once again, moves on to the HWS semifinals.
“Being the small school we play with a chip on our shoulder in games like this,” said White. “We know we are a good program. We’ve won our conference three times in the last few years and a sectional title (2016) recently.” Delaware Valley also knocked off Pope John in a previous Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.
So, beware big dogs. The Delaware Valley dogs are on the prowl.
HUNTERDON/WARREN/SUSSEX ERA YEAR-BY-YEAR CHAMPIONS
2019: Pope John
2018: Hunterdon Central
2017: Pope John
2016: North Hunterdon
2015: North Hunterdon
2014: Hunterdon Central
2013: Hunterdon Central
2011: Pope John
2010: Hunterdon Central
HUNTERDON/WARREN ERA YEAR-BY-YEAR CHAMPIONS
2009: Hunterdon Central
2007: Hunterdon Central
2005: Warren Hills
2004: Hunterdon Central
2003: Hunterdon Central
2002: Hunterdon Central
2001: Hunterdon Central
1999: North Hunterdon
1997: Hunterdon Central
1996: North Hunterdon
1994: Delaware Valley
1992: Hunterdon Central
1991: Phillipsburg Catholic
1990: North Hunterdon
1989: Hunterdon Central
1988: South Hunterdon
1987: Hunterdon Central