Immaculata had reached West Morris’ starting pitcher Declan O’Hara for one hit in each of the first five innings. But that moderate success produced nothing but zeros on the home half of the scoreboard.
An inability to string hits together had been a frustrating theme of late for the Immaculata offense. That was until Justin Pinckert led off the bottom of the sixth with a hard double down the third base line and starting pitcher Peter Gallo followed with a booming two-run home run to left field.
Gallo’s blast erased West Morris’ 2-0 lead and gave the Spartans an instant jolt of adrenaline. One inning later, Gallo ripped a hard shot past third base and into left field to score Felix Diaz from second base with the winning run.
The team that couldn’t buy a run had walked it off.
“We’re in a lot of situations where we have a chance to walk off,” said Gallo. “I got a good fastball to hit. We had a great inning with good at bats.”
Gallo had delivered all three Immaculata runs in the last two innings to defeat a West Morris team, 3-2, that had come to Diamond Nation in Flemington ranked No. 17 in the NJ.com Top 20 and boasting a 14-1 record.
“Peter wanted it,” said Immaculata coach Kevin Cust. “He was going after it. He competed today.”
Gallo stifled West Morris on the mound, too, limiting the Wolfpack to two runs on three hits over six innings. He struck out eight, walked two and hit a batter. But Gallo still trailed 2-0 having surrendered an unearned run in the second inning and a solo home run to Connor Staine in the top of the sixth.
Staine’s home run certainly appeared huge at the time, given Immaculata’s inability to generate a rally. “That’s how it’s been for us,” said Cust. “We needed to string some hits together.”
After Gallo’s home run tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, O’Hara struck out the next two batters before giving way to reliever Mike Zutell. Zutell got out of the inning from there. It was the first varsity action for both O’Hara and Zutell, a pair of junior varsity pitchers inserted to cover the West Morris pitching staff in the middle of critical Morris County Tournament games.
West Morris won MCT first round and quarterfinal round games last Saturday and Sunday and plays in an MCT semifinal opposite Morristown this Saturday. O’Hara delivered for his team, scattering seven hits over six innings to limit Immaculata to two runs. He struck out six and walked one.
Immaculata came to bat in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied at 2-2 and the top of its batting order looking to walk off with a victory.
Ryan Giacobello ignited the rally by threading a single through the middle. Felix Diaz, 3-for-3 to that point, almost registered his fourth hit but shortstop Matt Gluck dove to his right, backhanded Diaz’s hot grounder and fed second baseman James Turkus with a perfect throw for the first out. Gluck had made a similar play to end the sixth inning.
Derek Von Horn then popped out to second base to put West Morris one out away from ending the threat. But Justin Pinckert, who had doubled in his previous two at bats, ripped a single through the left side to send Diaz to second. That brought up Gallo, who had already done so much.
Gallo had one more contribution to make. “I took the first pitch in for a ball,” said Gallo. “Then I got a fastball a little up. I took a swing.” Gallo blasted a hot grounder past the West Morris third baseman and into left field. Diaz raced around third base and dived across home plate with the winning run a moment before the ball arrived.
“We had a hot start to the season and then we hit a bit of a slump,” said Gallo. “We’ve had trouble producing runs and were in a bunch of low scoring games.”
Gallo, whose fastball hit 87 against West Morris, had much better command than he had in his previous starts.
“We’ve had Peter throwing on the side between games to get him right,” said Cust. “We’ve been trying to figure it out and help him make adjustments.”
Gallo pitched with determination with his team down 1-0. “We were down in the score but not down. I was just pounding the zone trying to get outs so we can get up and get those runs back.”
West Morris was playing a bit short-handed with regular shortstop Aiden Healy and outfielder Nick Calabrese out with minor injuries. Both are expected back on Saturday when the Wolfpack meets Morristown in the Morris County Tournament semifinals.
“We went with guys down on our pitching depth chart and we had a couple guys out with injuries,” said West Morris coach Tom Reindel. O’Hara pitched great.”
Immaculata plays host to Franklin on Saturday in the Somerset County Tournament quarterfinals.
NOTES: Gallo, by the way, has been named Immaculata’s valedictorian for the Class of ’19’s graduation ceremony on May 31. … Staine was in the middle of West Morris’ rally that gave it a 1-0 lead in the second inning. He reached on an error, advanced to second on Jackson Yeatts’ single, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Turkus.