Three pitchers with three very different styles and looks, proved to be a handful for Bluerock Baseball as the PA Shockers struck late to win a 2-1 pitchers duel in the Super Top 25 Series 17-18U championship game at Diamond Nation on Wednesday.
Bluerock Baseball failed to avenge a 7-6 tournament-opening loss to the Shockers, a game that was very different from the one the two teams put forth in the final.
Pitching was the theme in this one, but two big doubles in the bottom of the sixth by the Shockers proved the difference on the scoreboard.
Connor Flynn, Pat Mill and Joey Calabretta combined to limit Bluerock Baseball to one run on five hits, struck out five and walked just one. The pitchers duel carried a 1-1 deadlock into the bottom of the sixth, when the Shockers struck quickly.
Mike Fattore, a rising senior at Bridgewater-Raritan, opened the inning with a ringing shot down the left field line for a stand-up double that put the Shockers in business. Jaden Morgan followed with a one-out liner into left-center field that easily scored Fattore for a 2-1 lead as he churned into second base with the inning’s second two-bagger.
“I was sitting curveball because he kept throwing me curveballs today,” said Fattore, the No. 3 hitter. “He threw me one on the first pitch that I didn’t like, then he threw me another on the second pitch and I was ready for it.”
Fattore was referring to Bluerock Baseball starter Liam McGourty, who was terrific over 5.2 innings, limiting the PA Shockers to one earned run on six hits, while striking out three and walking three.
But McGourty found some barrels in the sixth and Morgan’s shot to left proved to be the decisive one. Morgan had walked with one out in the fourth inning and was on third base when Connor Flynn’s grounder to the right side was booted, allowing him to score the game’s first run.
The Shockers let Bluerock tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the fifth inning in similar fashion. R.J. Emrich launched a long grounds rule double to left field with one out and reached third on Derrick Francis’ fielder’s choice grounder to the right side. McGourty then hit a routine bouncer to third that looked like the third out, but the ball leaked through for an error as Emrich trotted home with the tying run.
Both teams had played air-tight defense the entire game except on those two occasions when they turned the routine into a costly error.
While McGourty’s effort was more than enough to win in most instances, the trio of arms Shockers coach Dan Long sent to the mound was confounding to Bluerock Baseball.
The lefty Flynn got the start and went two scoreless innings despite surrendering two hits and a walk. Shortstop Nate Lapp – the tournament’s MVP for his lethal bat – got Flynn out of potential trouble in the first inning when he started an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play following a one-out walk to Bob Hansen.
Ben Crescenzi and Emrich singled in the second for Bluerock and moved into scoring position with one out on a passed ball. But Flynn struck out Frances on an off-speed pitch and got McGourty on a liner to second baseman Matt Nunez. Flynn struck one and walked one.
Flynn turned it over to his fellow lefty Mill in the third and the Shocker’s middle man got it done over three innings, surrendering one run, which was unearned, on three hits, struck out one and walked one.
Mill, too, received an assist from the Shockers defense. After Brad Coley’s one out single through the left side in the third, Nunez started an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. In the third, Bluerock hit three straight balls to right field that the Shocker’s right fielder put away for a 1-2-3 inning. The first two fly balls to right were routine, but the last, a shot toward right-center by Crescenzi, was impressively chased down near the wall.
Mill surrendered the unearned run in the fifth but, after Grant Fitzgerald’s two-out single put two Bluerock runners aboard, he got out of further trouble.
Righthander Calabretti came in to close out the final two innings and did not disappoint, lighting up the scoreboard with an 86 mile-per-hour fastball and getting the final six outs in order. Calabretti, committed to Seton Hall University, struck out three – two looking at a curveball on the outside corner – and one swinging at a fastball to end the game.
“Our pitching staff was the difference,” said Lapp, who nonetheless contributed at least two hits in each of the Shockers (6-0) six games. “Well, that’s why we won.”
Lapp singled in his first two at bats in the championship game and sent a laser at McGourty in his third at bat. The shot knocked glove off McGourty’s hand as the ball deflected to second baseman Jacob Rodriguez, who stunningly turned it into a 4-6-3 double play.
While Long praised Lapp for terrific performance at the plate – “the MVP is well-deserved” – he, too, pointed to the three arms that stifled a gritty Bluerock Baseball squad.
“All three of them throw strikes and that’s the name of the game,” said Long, who has coached the Shockers for three years and played ball in the organization as well. “We preach that. Throw first-pitch strikes and the at bats get easier.
“It’s tough to win six games in three days. It was good to go out with a performance like that.”
The PA Shockers outscored their Super Top 25 opponents 48-15. Bluerock Baseball (3-3) held a 22-14 runs advantage on its opponents.