Jayson Labrador has played a solid second base this season for Immaculata.
Sophomore Jayson Labrador and junior Troy Rabosky steered a 15-hit attack and junior Sean Henry closed out a wild 15-12 victory with three effective innings of relief as Immaculata edged Skyland Conference rival Montgomery on a warm and breezy May afternoon in Skillman.
But do not include the word breezy in describing a game that would cause a lot of late dinners throughout Hunterdon and Somerset counties.
Immaculata, perhaps the youngest team in the Skyland Conference, scored all 15 of its runs in the second, third and fourth innings. Montgomery, meanwhile, scored at least one run in each of its seven frames and used a five-run bottom of the fourth inning to climb out of a 15-4 hole and give itself a chance.
The Cougars crept to within 15-11 of Immaculata courtesy of single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Reliever Aiden Inoue also gets credit for keeping Montgomery close as he shut out the Spartans over the final three innings of his four innings of work.
But Henry, who permitted three runs, two of which were earned, on three hits, struck out five and walked two, gritted through a stubborn Montgomery lineup with a hard fastball and nasty curveball. Henry had gotten himself in deep trouble immediately upon entering at the start of the fifth inning.
Jeremy Wacker greeted Henry with a single to right field, then the Immaculata hurler walked both John Donahue (2-for-4, run, RBI) and Justin Swerdlow to load the bases with no outs. Wacker then scored from third base on Henry’s second balk of the inning.
The balk call, however, seemed to heighten Henry’s intensity as he retired the next three batters in order, two on strikeouts, to keep his team’s lead at 15-10.
“I think it got me in a groove,” said Henry, who was not coming to a complete stop in the stretch. “The last time I pitched was late April.”
Immaculata coach Kevin Cust could see the change in Henry’s demeanor after the balk cost him a run.
“I think it lit a fire in him,” said Cust. “I think he got a little hot and we saw that in the way he battled and competed.”
Immaculata, with just one senior on its roster, has won three straight games and five of its last six to pretty up its record to 7-12. Montgomery, guided by veteran mentor Pete Mueller, fell to 10-10 on the season.
“We are definitely trending up,” said Cust. “Our guys are getting better and better.”
That was clearly seen in the Spartans’ bats.
Labrador, Immaculata’s No. 3 hitter since opening day of his freshman season, delivered a pair of two-run singles during a six-run second inning and a four-run third inning that staked the Spartans to a 10-3 lead.
“Not a bad day,” said Labrador. “My approach has been to sit middle-away and shoot gaps. I’ve been hitting fastballs and adjusting to the curveball.” He has the look of a hitter who not only has an idea, but appears quite comfortable in the batter’s box.
“Jay’s been great all year,” said Cust. “Even when we were down, we knew we could expect a good day out of Jay. He knows what he’s doing.”
Labrador had plenty of help at the plate on Tuesday, particularly teammate Troy Rabosky, who hit a two-run home run, singled, doubled and scored three runs. Rabosky rocked a shot over the fence in left-center field in the third inning. Colin Kassai, Dan Ferguson, Josh Thompson and Connor Quinn chipped in with two hits apiece. Henry added a two-run single and Daniel Brea knocked in two runs with a sac fly and a single.
Every Spartan, in fact, got on base as eight of their nine batters had at least one hit and seven scored at least one run.
“We swung the bats well and this infield is like a pinball machine,” said Cust of Montgomery’s dry, hard grass infield that caused problems all afternoon for both teams’ infielders.
The Cougars weren’t exactly misers when it came to dishing out hits in their lineup. Wacker, Donahue, Inoue and Lucas Heines each had two hits. And every Montgomery batter either had a hit, drove in a run or scored a run.
The sophomore Donahue, who leads Montgomery with a .412 batting average, limited Hightstown to one hit over six innings, struck out 12 and walked four in Montgomery’s 5-1 victory on Monday. Labrador has 23 hits and leads Immaculata with 18 RBI.
Ferguson, Immaculata’s No. 5 batter, showed he’d be a pretty solid leadoff batter. The junior catcher singled leading off the second and third innings and scored two runs. Ferguson, in fact, led off the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, lining out hard to left field and center field in his other two leadoff at bats.