Locked In Baseball’s Dennis McCaffery hit a walk-off bases-loaded double in the sixth.
By Rich Bevensee
When Dennis McCaffery tapped his bat on the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning, he was facing perhaps the biggest pressure at-bats of his young career.
His team, Locked In Expos 16U Blue, trailed Raleigh Baseball Institute by two runs with the bases loaded and two outs, and the Diamond Nation scoreboard clock was at 0:00.
Give McCaffery credit for clearing his mind in that spot, because instead of dreading the pressure situation, or stewing about giving up five runs in two innings of relief, he was thinking about the next pitch.
That pitch, a middle-in fastball, was all McCaffery needed to erase the memory of a frustrating evening on the mound. The 6-foot, 180-pound cleanup hitter cleared the bases with a towering, three-run double to left center and propelled the Expos to a 6-5 walk-off victory in the 17U/18U Blue Chip Prospects showcase on Wednesday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“I was thinking, just swing at the first good one I get, that’s all,” said McCaffery, a rising junior at Cranford High who had some big at bats in the NJSIAA tournament this spring. “I kind of inside-outed it a little bit. I was just trying to hit it hard, put it in play, and give us a chance to win. It definitely made me feel better about today.”
The dramatic win gave the Expos their second victory in as many games in the Blue Chip. On Tuesday they opened with a resounding 13-5 win over Canes Northeast 17U.
Locked In will try to ride the wave of its comeback triumph in two more Blue Chip games this week. The Expos face SM River Rats Elite on Thursday at 12:15 p.m., and play Time To Sign Scout on Friday at 8 a.m.
Ithaca, N.Y.-based Raleigh Baseball (RBI on their uniforms) fell to 0-2 this week, after opening with an 8-0 loss to Upstate Academy 17U Blue on Tuesday. RBI will look to jump into the win column in games against Baseball U PA Central on Thursday at 12:15 p.m., and against the Rochester Brewers on Friday at 8 a.m.
Count Expos coach Todd Leathers as one observer who knew McCaffery would not be overwhelmed by the late-game situation for two reasons – his lineage and his experience at one of the best baseball programs in the state.
McCaffery plays for his dad, veteran Cranford High coach Dennis McCaffery, who is a Union County Baseball Hall of Famer, has won three state Group 3 championships (and the Last Dance World Series two summers ago) and 472 games in 24 years with the Cougars.
“Everybody knows where Dennis comes from. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Leathers said. “He’s one of the ones where there’s not going to be a moment that’s too big. He’s played in big games his whole life. In a moment like that he did a good job of sweeping one bad moment away and focusing on the next.”
The Expos entered the bottom of the sixth trailing 5-3. Chris Moglia led off with a single against Raleigh reliever John McIntyre. Robbie Costello walked and pinch hitter Zach Hume laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position.
After Nick Rossi walked to load the bases, McIntyre got a strikeout for the second out and it was McCaffery’s turn at bat. He swung at the first pitch and lofted a high drive into left center where the RBI left fielder backpedaled at the warning track and nearly tracked it down before he stumbled and the ball caromed off his glove. Moglia and Costello scored easily and Rossi raced around the bases to score the winning run.
“This is a really resilient group,” Leathers said. “We’ve had injuries and guys playing out of position. It’s been frustrating at times because there are plays that are normally made, but because of that, they haven’t been.
“Dennis did a good job coming in and throwing. He ran into some bad luck with guys playing out of position and doing certain things, but coming up with the big hit was great.”
McCaffery likened his Diamond Nation heroics to a pressure at-bat, which came this past spring in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 championship game between Cranford and Millburn (which ironically is coached by former long-time McCaffery assistant Brian Chapman).
With two out in the bottom of the sixth and Cranford leading 8-5, the younger McCaffery ripped a two-run single to give Cranford a five-run lead. Those were crucial insurance runs because Millburn closed to within 10-8 but got no closer.
“That was big because it was the section final, but today was my biggest at bat of my career,” McCaffery said.
The Expos carried a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning on the strength of four scoreless innings from starter Zach Hume, who allowed just two hits and two walks with three strikeouts before handing the ball over to McCaffery.
RBI immediately roughed up McCaffery when Aidan McBride and McIntyre cranked back-to-back doubles and Cade Raleigh (son of RBI founder and renowned hitting instructor Matt Raleigh) slapped a run-scoring single to bring their team within 3-2.
In the top of the sixth Raleigh jostled McCaffery some more, as the first three batters reached base and scored for a 5-3 lead. Mikey Ferranti laid down a bunt single, Danny Crowley singled through the hole at short and Jay Pipher singled into shallow right to push Ferranti across with the tying run.
Anthony Policare singled to center to plate Crowley with the go-ahead run, and Aidan McBride knocked in an insurance run with an RBI sacrifice fly for a 5-3 lead.
“Balls were getting through, a couple calls didn’t go my way, but I knew I had to keep going, throwing strikes,” McCaffery said. “It was frustrating on my part, but there’s not much I can do about it, just keep pounding the zone, throwing strikes.”
The Expos grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Trent Jenks drove in Kellen Edwards with a sacrifice fly.
That lead inflated to 3-0 in the third thanks to a couple of Raleigh errors. McCaffery reached on an outfield error, Jenks walked, and McCaffery scored when Connor Stokoe reached on an infield error. Moglia drove in Jenks with an RBI groundout.
RBI starter Peyton Farrell pitched 3⅔ innings and allowed three runs on three hits and four walks with five strikeouts. McIntyre surrendered three runs on four hits and two walks with one strikeout in his 2⅓ innings of relief.
NOTE: The elder McCaffery was a star at Roselle Park before moving on to Brookdale Community College in Lincroft where he earned All-America honors and the 1989 New Jersey Player of the Year. In 1990 he was the Big East Player of the Year for Villanova, and he posted a career batting average of .373 which still ranks sixth all-time there, and he was drafted by and played in the California Angels system.