Ben Schild holds up the Group 4 trophy for his Middletown South teammates to admire.
Ben Schild had options in his pitching arsenal but he also knew a good thing when he saw it.
Schild saw his fastball was highly effective against the Montclair batters, so he chose to be smart and wait to be proven wrong.
“I was going right at people,” said Schild. “Coach said throw your fastball until they show they could hit it.”
Seven innings later the sophomore righthander had pitched a two-hit shutout and he and his Middletown South teammates defeated Montclair, 6-0, two secure the school’s first NJSIAA baseball championship since 1996.
“I threw 105 pitches and I think 95 of them were fastballs,” said Schild in the middle of the Eagles’ euphoric post-game celebration. “I threw a few good sliders and changeups at the end, but that was it.”
Schild (8-0) looked sharp from the start, throwing eight straight strikes to start the game and retired the first six Montclair hitters. He struck out seven, walked one, hit a batter and would, in fact, face just three batters over the minimum at Bob DeMeo Field at Veteran’s Park in Hamilton.
Asked at what point he felt locked in against Montclair,” Schild quipped, “When I got out of bed this morning. I knew it was a big day and I was ready.”
“We knew he was going to be really good,” said Montclair coach Ron Gavazzi, whose potent lineup wreaked havoc in both the Super Essex Conference and in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4. Montclair won its first sectional title in the sport since 1964.
“We hadn’t seen that type of velocity this year,” said Gavazzi, “but it was his command that made him really good. Schild, who plays his summer ball with the Diamond Jacks program out of Diamond Nation, was clocked at 88 mph.
Schild’s teammates didn’t waste time giving him a comfortable buffer, striking for single runs in the first and second innings to build an early 2-0 lead. Joe Stanzione, the hitting hero of the Eagles’ wild 4-3 victory over Clearview in the Group 4 semifinals, delivered the game’s first run with a two out single to left field.
Middletown South (22-9) truly manufactured that first-inning run after Montclair’s starter Jeremy Sacks plunked Patrick Eagone with the first pitch of the bottom of the first. Greg Trezza bunted Eagone to second and Eagone moved to third on Matt Pontari’s fielder’s choice grounder. The brutish Stanzione then beat an 0-1 pitch into the ground not far from home plate and the hard hit ball bounded well over the third baseman’s head into left field.
Will Christopher, Middletown South’s DH, triggered the rally in the second with a leadoff single into left-center field. Tom DeMarco then dropped a bunt down and Sacks threw it over the head of first baseman Lawton Granger. Both runners moved up and the Eagles were set up with runners on second and third and no outs. Evan Wood delivered Christopher with a bouncer to the left side, but Sacks would wriggle out of further trouble from there.
Christopher, 3-for-3 with three runs scored, ignited rallies in the second, fourth and fifth innings and did so while facing three different Montclair pitchers.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” said Christopher. “I got a fastball off the first kid and I was able to work the ball the other way on the second pitcher.” And he pulled a fastball down the left field line off reliever Anthony Anzaldi in the fifth. “This feels great. We beat up a lot of great teams on the way.”
After Christopher led off the fourth inning with his single to right-center, DeMarco bunted him to second and Wood and Will Doyle drew back-to-back walks to load the bases with one out. Eagone followed with a clutch two-run single to left field to extend the Middletown South lead to 4-0. Trezza then dropped a single into right-center to score Doyle for a 5-0 lead.
“Will is only a sophomore and he did a great job,” said Middletown South coach Chris LeMore. “We had to convince him early he belongs. His approach has been so good.”
The Eagles tacked on a run in the fifth after Christopher’s one-out single. Christopher was able to race all the way to third base on a wild pick off attempt with DeMarco at the plate. After DeMarco walked, Wood lifted a fly to left and Christopher tagged and raced home for a 6-0 lead.
Melvin Matias got Montclair’s first hit when he laced a single to center field leading off the third. But Schild quickly picked Matias off of first base, short-circuiting any thoughts of a Mounties rally. Sean Brown was hit by a pitch with one out in the fourth and stole second with two outs. But Schild induced Nick Levine to bounce to third to end that threat.
Levine would be the next and last base runner for Montclair when he doubled down the left field line with two outs in the seventh. Schild then got Ethan Daddabbo to fly out to left field to end the game and begin the celebration for the Eagles.
Middletown South’s journey to the Group 4 championship was not an easy one, as the Lions had to navigate the rugged Central Jersey, Group 4 section that included a 23-3 Hunterdon Central team that Schild helped fend off 12-7.
Christopher was impressed with his classmate and friend Schild.
“Ben did an unbelievable job,” said Christopher. “To dice like that as a sophomore, in a state final, is incredible.”
LeMore was tickled by his young pitcher’s performance, as well.
“I knew Ben just had to get on the mound and be Ben,” said LeMore. “Today, he just went out and said, ‘Here’s my fastball.’”
It was a tough day for Montclair (24-7-1), which contributed to its own demise with three errors.
“Credit Middletown South,” said Gavazzi. “They were better than us in every facet of the game. But we didn’t help ourselves.
NOTES: Middletown South, as mentioned, had won its first group championship in 1996 when it defeated Bloomfield in the Group 4 final. It also fell in the 1999 Group 3 championship game and was also the Group 4 runner-up in 1979. … Montclair was playing in its first Group championship game. The NJSIAA Group championships began in 1971.
Longtime and much-admired umpire Marty Clark worked the plate in what was his 20th and last NJSIAA state final assignment. Clark is retiring. (Look for a story here this week on Clark’s retirement).