Dylan Brunetti breaks for home as a throw to third gets away in Hunterdon Central’s 2-0 victory.
Lefthander Kyle McCoy added precision and urgency to a repertoire that already included a high 80s fastball, nasty slider and a beguiling changeup as he shut down the Montgomery bats yesterday at Hunterdon Central in Flemington.
The junior bound for Maryland pitched his second straight complete game shutout, limiting Montgomery to three hits, striking out 12 and walking none in a tidy 82 pitches to guide Hunterdon Central to a 2-0 victory.
McCoy outdueled Rutgers commit Cole Hansen, who was terrific as well. The right-handed Hansen limited the potent Hunterdon Central lineup to two hits over six innings, striking out six, walking one and hitting two batters. Neither run Hansen permitted was earned. He was also economical, throwing 90 pitches. Montgomery fell to 3-2.
“As advertised,” said Montgomery coach Pete Mueller of the attractive early season encounter of two Big Ten-bound aces.
McCoy had tossed a four-hitter in a 1-0 opening day victory over Ridge on April 19. He struck out nine and walked one in that 87-pitch effort. Hansen pitched a four-hitter that day, as well, in Montgomery’s 6-0 opening day win over Hillsborough. He struck out seven and walked one, throwing 95 pitches.
“I definitely had my A-Day today,” said McCoy. “I was better today than opening day, statistically and the fact that I felt better. And, as usual, my defense was great behind me.”
McCoy’s efficiency was easily reflected is his ability to repeatedly pepper the strike zone. His 82 pitches included 66 strikes and a paltry 16 balls. “Kyle is so locked in,” said Cuozzi. “He was great last week when he got his feet wet, but he was more comfortable today. He’s something special. He’s so consistent.”
Arguably, the McCoy-Hansen matchup turned out even better than advertised, considering the dominance and efficiency of each pitcher on a perfectly comfortable spring afternoon that saw temps creep into the low 70s.
Hunterdon Central (3-0) scored both of its runs, in the second and fifth innings, on errant throws to third base. The Red Devils, aware of the force they were facing on the mound, pushed the envelope with aggressive base running.
Ryan Facinelli triggered the rally in the second when latched onto a Hansen breaking ball and drove it the other way for a leadoff double. The shot, certainly the hardest hit ball of the afternoon by either team, slammed off the right field wall, a few feet inside the foul line and about two feet shy of a home run.
“I knew something off-speed was coming,” said Facinelli. “He was tying to blow it by me early in the count then got a slider on the outer half.”
Nick Ferri was at the plate with one out when he waved at a breaking ball in the dirt for strike three. Facinelli held his lead as catcher Liam Kendall checked him and fired to first for the strikeout-2-3 out.
“I knew I had to be aggressive in that spot,” said Facinelli. “I saw the ball skip in front of the catcher and waited for his throw to first.”
Facinelli broke for third, drawing the first baseman’s throw across the diamond. He had the throw to third beat and, when the ball got past the third baseman, raced home with the game’s first run. Facinelli’s double would be the last hit Hansen allowed.
“Our base running has been outstanding in our first three games,” said Hunterdon Central coach Kevin Cuozzi. “Our bats haven’t come around yet but we are doing what we can by taking control of the tangibles. We’ve had great pitching and played phenomenal defense as well.”
It was that pitching and an anticipated thunderous lineup that earned the Red Devils a preseason No. 6 ranking in the NJ.com Top 20. Hunterdon Central had to settle for good at bats and good swings against Hansen, if not the results they wished for.
“No doubt, he was exceptional,” said Cuozzi of Hansen. “He has a hard slider and a live fastball and he got better as the game went on. But we did extend some at bats. Our bats are coming.”
Hunterdon Central’s second run scored in similar fashion to its first. Senior third baseman Dylan Brunetti drew a four-pitch walk leading off the fifth inning. It was the only walk issued in the game by either pitcher. Brunetti took second on a passed ball with Ferri at the plate. Brunetti then reacted well, as Facinelli had, to a ball in the dirt as Ferri barely checked his swing on an 0-2 pitch.
Brunetti bolted to third as Kendall recovered quickly and fired to the bag. But the throw was wide and got away as Brunetti raced home with Hunterdon Central’s second run.
The second run loomed large as McCoy, who would face just two batters over the minimum, was churning.
McCoy leaned on his electric fastball early, striking out eight of the first 10 batters he faced. The Cougars’ Steven Paul lofted a single into left field with two outs in the first inning before Hansen grounded out to second on a 2-2 pitch to end the inning.
McCoy would strike out the side in order in the second and third innings and permit just two more base runners the rest of the game. Hansen reached with two outs in the fourth when he beat out a chopper to the right side for an infield single. Amogh Vellore then singled to center field with one out in the fifth, the Cougars’ most well hit ball of the afternoon. But McCoy promptly picked him off first base.
McCoy finished his outing with a tidy 25 pitches over the final three innings, retiring the last seven batters in order.
“I definitely went with my fastball early,” said McCoy. “They were late on it, so I just stayed with it. I didn’t throw much off-speed stuff.” He did flash some sliders and changeups in the later innings.
“I got them to roll over on a few sliders,” he said. “That helped me get a few quick innings.”
Game Notes: Christian Petino led off the bottom of the first by hitting a chopper to third base. Hunterdon Central’s center fielder beat it out for an infield hit. He moved to second on a ground out by Brandon Padre and tagged and took third on Logan Mason’s fly out to right field. But Petino was stranded at third when Hansen got cleanup hitter Chase Fischer to bounce out to shortstop. … Hansen retired nine in a row after Facinelli’s double leading off the second.
Facinelli’s double actually hit the large baseball-shaped sign that contains the retired number 12 of former Red Devil Kevin Gilbert, who died in a car crash prior to his senior season in 2012. “I heard Kevin was a good kid,” said Facinelli. Gilbert’s impact still resonates, too, in the form of several local scholarships that benefit athletes in several sports at Hunterdon Central and annually Diamond Nation.
Thank you to Jerome Ferri and Marc and Rodina Padre for the excellent photos.