Defending champion Immaculata and fifth-seeded Ridge each cruised to an 8-1 victory in the Somerset County Tournament semifinals last night at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater.
Junior righty Ryan Kabus threw a gem in his first varsity start to guide second-seeded Immaculata (11-5) past third-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan (12-10) in the doubleheader opener at the home of the Somerset Patriots.
Ridge (13-7) used its top two pitchers to scatter seven hits on the way to its 8-1 victory over top-seeded Hillsborough (13-3) in the nightcap. Immaculata and Ridge square off for the SCT championship on Monday back at TD Bank Park. The rain date is Friday, May 17.
Ridge is seeking its first county title since 2011.
Kabus, a deadly reliable reliever the past two seasons for Immaculata, pitched a four-hitter, striking out six and walking two and never seemed to miss a beat along the way.
“Coach (Kevin) Cust told me almost a week ago I was going to start,” said Kabus. “I was a little surprised but I wanted to start. I hadn’t gotten a start since I pitched for my 14U team.”
If the change in environment of pitching at the start of a game affected Kabus it seemed it was all for the good. “I mixed it up pretty good with my fastball and slider,” said Kabus.
If that wasn’t enough, Kabus contributed to Immaculata’s prodigious 15-hit attack with a 3-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 run, 1 walk performance out of the nine hole. “I was looking for fastballs early in the count and got them,” said Kabus.” Yes he did.
But it was Kabus’ performance on the mound that got his coach’s attention.
“Ryan was a big part of our success last year,” said Cust. “He’d come in and close out two, three, sometimes four innings for us.” Kabus has the ability to pound the strike zone and keep batters off balance while maintaining a brisk pace on the mound.
“He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t get flustered,” said Cust. “He goes out there and gives you a chance to win.”
Peter Gallo (3-for-4, 2 RBI, 2 runs) and Derek Von Horn (3-for-4, RBI, 2 runs) also had three hits for Immaculata and Justin Pinckert and Mike McGee chipped in with a pair of hits apiece.
“We jumped out early and got a lead,” said Gallo, who had one of four two-out hits that delivered three runs in the bottom of the first for the Spartans. “We just came ready to hit. We wanted to make a statement.”
Immaculata followed its four hits in the first inning with three hits in the second, third and fourth innings. When the dust settled, the Spartans had all of their eight runs and an 8-1 lead.
“We’ve been working on a line drive approach in practice,” said Cust, who won four SCT titles as a player at Immaculata and is seeking his second as the team’s coach. Immaculata has won a record 13 Somerset County titles in the 46-year old tournament.
Immaculata had also beaten Bridgewater-Raritan, 5-3 on May 2, and 7-6 on April 8 in Skyland Conference play. The Spartans now face a Ridge team that defeated them, 4-0, on April 22.
Bobowicz, Love deliver 1-2 knockout punch for Ridge
Hillsborough’s ace lefthander Cooper Bobowicz entered his team’s Somerset County Tournament semifinal opposite top-seeded Hillsborough with just 67 pitches remaining in his arsenal. But Ridge coach Tom Blackwell was good with that. He had another loaded weapon in righthander Jack Love ready to take care of business wherever Bobowicz left off.
That combination proved lethal for Hillsborough, which could neither solve Bobowicz and Love nor find a remedy for some atypical sloppy play that included five errors and the issuance of seven walks and two hit batsmen.
Figure some coordinated combination of Bobowicz and Love to attack the rugged Immaculata lineup in the championship game on Monday.
Bobowicz permitted one run – his only earned run in 44 innings this season – on five hits, struck out six and walked one over four-plus innings. He used every bit of his 67-pitch limit, which gave him the NJSIAA maximum of 150 pitches over five days. The big lefty had thrown 83 pitches in a 4-0 shutout over Somerville in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Jason Wolff’s two-out infield single in the third scored Mike Swetz (3-for-3) from third to give Hillsborough a 1-0 lead and brought home the first earned run against Bobowicz this season.
Bobowicz (7-0) left with a 4-1 lead after Swetz led off the bottom of the fifth with a single and Luke Crawford drew a walk. The three run lead was suddenly precarious and Love had some work to keep Ridge above water.
“When I saw Cooper on Monday I told him he had a 67-pitch limit,” said Blackwell. “He said he was ready to go.”
Bobowicz’s off-speed pitches were on point from the start as he retired the first six Hillsborough batters, the last four of those by strikeout. But Swetz and Aidan Bremer singled in the third to set up Wolff. A quick fourth inning got Bobowicz to the fifth and in a comfortable Love zone.
“Cooper had nine pitches to work with in the fifth, so Jack was ready to go,” said Blackwell, in his 14th year at Ridge and a member of the Red Devil’s 1989 SCT championship team.
Love went strikeout, comebacker, strikeout to strand Bobowicz’s two runners in the fifth and pitched around Vince Gambardella’s single in the sixth and Swetz’s double in the seventh to close it out. He permitted no runs on the two hits over three innings, striking out five and walking none.
“Jack entered in a tight spot,” said Blackwell. “But he throws strikes and keeps it low in the zone. He got it done.”
Lefthander Nick Scerbo started for Hillsborough and allowed two runs on two hits over four innings. He struck out three and walked four. He carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning but two walks and Ridge’s first hit, an infield dribbler by Jayden Hylton, loaded the bases with one out.
Love brought the tying run home on a bouncer that was mishandled behind second base. Then Bobowicz singled to score Greg Bozzo with the go-ahead run.
Ridge scored two runs in the fifth and four runs in the sixth off of four Hillsborough relievers. Bozzo’s long fly ball to center field was dropped, allowing Chris Packer score, and Love singled home another run in the fifth. Ridge scored all four of its runs in the sixth without the benefit of a hit. Three walks, a hit batsman, an error and a sac bunt triggered that ugly uprising.