Giordano, Busanic steer gritty Pascack Hills to Group 2 crown

By Bob Behre | June 11, 2023

This is the moment before Sean Busanic’s decisive RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Good baseball and Pascack Hills have been synonyms for decades, but the school from Montvale in Bergen County will remember this particular era as, perhaps, its finest.

Lefthander Joey Giordano pitched a three-hit shutout and teammate Sean Busanic delivered, yes, Giordano, with the only run of the game on a two-out single in the bottom of the sixth as the Broncos defeated Rumson-Fair Haven, 1-0, on Saturday in Hamilton.

The victory at Bob Demeo Field gave Pascack Hills its third Group 2 championship in five seasons. The Broncos won back-to-back Group 2 titles in 2018 and ‘19.

Giordano struck out eight and walked three in a tidy 98-pitch effort completed in a brisk 1:34. Giordano needed every bit of his efficiency to outduel Rumson-Fair Haven’s righty Jackson Hinchliffe, who was almost as unforgiving to the Pascack Hills lineup.

Hinchliffe allowed one run on six hits over six innings, striking out seven, walking none and hitting a batter. He was one out away from closing the sixth inning with a shutout.

But Busanic, the Broncos’ left fielder who had singled in the second inning, made sure his team went home a champion.

Pascack Hills has won three NJSIAA Group 2 titles in five seasons.

Giordano, Pascack Hills’ No. 2 hitter, started the winning rally with a one-out single to left field. “He threw me a changeup,” said Giordano. “I don’t think it was a strike.” Nonetheless, Giordano drove it into left field, giving the 0-0 game a sudden jolt of electricity.

Dom Musco didn’t waste any time putting Rumson-Fair Haven on its heels when he followed with a single into left-center field. Giordano raced like a fleeing bank robber to third base. Hinchliffe then plunked Ryan Belcolle with a 1-1 pitch to load the bases.

Hinchliffe, however, got Matt Tortora to pop out to the catcher for the second out as the energy seemed to flip to the visiting dugout. But lefty-hitting Busanic stepped in with his emotions in check.

“I wasn’t really nervous,” said Busanic about his at bat in a 0-0 state final in the bottom of the sixth inning with the go-ahead run 90 feet away. The tension in the public schools opener at Veterans Park likely had the food truck operators in pause mode.

“My approach all day was to put the ball in play,” said Busanic. “I looked at it like it was my turn with two outs in a close game.”

Busanic got a fastball away from Hinchliffe and drove it that way, into left field, as Giordano charged home with the game’s first run. Musco turned third and his head coach, Nick Evans, rightly got greedy at the opportunity and sent him. But left fielder Jack Riva fired a strike to catcher Owen Kenny, who applied the tag for the third out.

Owen Kenney of Rumson-Fair Haven draws a walk in a tense top of the sixth inning.

“I was looking for something I could drive,” added Busanic. “A hit’s a hit, a run’s a run and we win.” Plato, take a powder.

Evans shook his head about Busanic.

“Sean’s a flatliner,” said Evans. “He’s not going to get too excited in that spot.”

Busanic, in fact, kept himself so busy during Pascack Hills at bats, he didn’t have time to rue potential pressure situations. “Sean could have gotten the ball in this game. He was in the bullpen keeping his arm fresh between innings. Then he steps up in the biggest moment of the game.”

Giordano and Pascack Hills had to survive a threat by Rumson-Fair Haven in the top of the sixth to preserve the shutout. It would be the only inning the Bulldogs got two runners on base.

Rumson-Fair Haven, like Pascack Hills in the bottom of the inning, had flipped to the top of its batting order. Leadoff hitter Parker Shenman started the trouble with a single to center field. Giordano, as had been his wont all game, struck out the next two hitters. He, in fact, had permitted the leadoff batter to reach in five of his seven innings, perhaps looking to get coach Evans on beta blockers.

Shenman, meanwhile, ratcheted up the heat on Pascack Hills by stealing second with one out and reaching third on a wild pitch with cleanup hitter Owen Kenney at the plate. Kenney worked a gritty eight-pitch walk to bring up Brayden Dill with the possible go-ahead run 90 feet away.

But Giordano got Dill to bounce a 1-1 pitch right back to him for a 1-3 groundout that squelched the rally.

Giordano and a tight Pascack Hills defense put the Broncos in position to squeak out a 1-0 victory in the biggest game of the season. The junior committed to Richmond worked around leadoff walks in the first and second innings, a leadoff double by Griffin Shenman in the third and Kenney’s leadoff single in the fourth.

“If you let the leadoff batter on, it gets things started for the other team,” Giordano said. “I knew I had to lock in at those points. They are a tough team with a lot of speed. I had to pitch carefully. I pitched backward at times. My curveball and changeup were working well.”

Evans gave his pitcher credit for getting through those rough spots.

“The amount of focus Joey has for a 17 year-old is amazing,” said Evans, “especially against that team. They have a lot of good hitters and they run the bases really well.”

NJSIAA Baseball Director Tony Maselli presents Group 2 championship trophy to Pascack Hills.

Giordano closed out his complete game gem with a 1-2-3 top of the seventh in which he struck out the last two batters he faced to ignite the celebration.

Busanic and Giordano, who doubled with one out in the first inning, accounted for four of Pascack Hills’ six hits. Musco’s big hit in the sixth and leadoff hitter Kyle Wenckus’ single in the third were the others.

NOTES: The group championship was Pascack Hills’ fifth. It also won Group 3 titles in 1987 and ‘88. It was the Broncos eighth appearance in a group final. They were state runners-up in Group 3 in 1979 and ‘90 and in Group 1 in 2006.

Rumson-Fair Haven, which also won the Central Jersey, Group 2 title a year ago, was making its first-ever group championship game appearance.

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