Morris County Cubs edge NE Pride in Super 17 opener

By Bob Behre | June 28, 2021

Logan Gossett of the Morris County Cubs draws a walk on this pitch in the fifth inning.

The Morris County Cubs struck for seven runs in the first two innings then hung on for dear life to defeat Northeast Pride 22 Prime, 7-6, as the second week of the Super 17 Invitational got underway at Diamond Nation in Flemington on Monday.

The Cubs accumulated six hits in the five-inning game ended by time limit and were aided by four Northeast Pride errors. In fact, all seven of the Cubs’ runs were unearned.

Cubs starter Nick Rappa, a rising senior from St. Peter’s Prep, battled the difficult Pride lineup gamely. He carried a 7-2 lead into the Pride’s final at bat having surrendered just two runs on five hits.

“Nick did a good job,” said Cubs coach Chris Bates. “He competed. We got him the lead early and that helped. They have some good bats over there. It was tough to get that last out.”

Rappa permitted six runs, only two of which were earned, on seven hits, struck out four, walked one and hit two batters.

Joey Maloney singled to left field leading off the bottom of the fifth for the Pride and Mark Ortiz reached on a sac bunt when the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Rappa induced a force out at second base and struck out the next batter to draw within one out of closing out the victory.

But the righty Rappa hit Rafael Gonzalez with a pitch to load the bases. He then uncorked a wild pitch with Cameron Krugel at the plate to allow Maloney to score and shave the deficit to 7-3. Krugel, hidden in the No. 12 spot in the order clearly not for his ability, then launched a long three-run home run to left field that drew the Pride to within 7-6.

Bates pulled Rappa and righty reliever Logan Gossett got leadoff batter Kevin Wittekind on a not-so-comfortable deep fly to right field. Brian Bienus chased down Wittekind’s shot two steps from the right field fence.

It turned out, Jared Maher’s two-out pop fly single to shallow right field in the second inning was ultimately the decisive blow to the Pride. The Cubs already had three runs cross the plate in the inning when the lefty-hitting Maher pulled the ball to right field. Three fielders converged on the fly but no one could come up with it as pinch-runner Joe Abrusci raced home for a 7-0 lead.

Joseph Abrusci of the Morris County Cubs fouls off a pitch in the fifth inning of his team’s victory over NE Pride on Monday.

“It was an inside fastball and I was able to get my hands through it,” said Maher, a rising junior at Pequannock High School.

The Cubs built a 7-0 lead courtesy of some live bats and Northeast Pride miscues in the first two innings.

The lefty-hitting Abrusci led off the top of the first inning with a shot to deep right-center. Center fielder Wittekind chased it down but the ball glanced off his glove, allowing Abrusci to steam into second base. Bienus followed with a single through the left side as Abrusci stopped at third. Bienus stole second then catcher Gabe Caso singled to left field, scoring both runners for a 2-0 lead. And Caso raced all the way to third base as the ball got past the left fielder. Maher cashed that in with a fielder’s choice grounder to the right side that scored Caso for a 3-0 lead.

Nick Tether, the Cubs’ No. 9 hitter, started things in the second with a one-out walk. Bienus reached with two outs when the first baseman couldn’t hang on to a throw from third base. Both runners moved up on a passed ball before Nick Struble made the Pride pay for the miscue by driving a two-run single through the middle. Maher’s pop fly single brought home the fourth run of the inning for a 7-0 lead.

“We came out swinging the bats,” said Bates, an assistant coach at Mount Olive High School.

Northeast Pride got two runs back in the third inning when Garrett Backus drew a leadoff walk and Alex Brinkman followed with an opposite field blast to right field that went for a two-run home run.

Maher, who batted over .400 in the first week of the Super 17 Invitational, is off to a good start this week as well, going 2-for-3 with a grounds rule double and two RBI. He had plenty of company in the Cubs’ lineup as Caso had two singles, knocked in three runs and scored twice. Bienus was on base all four trips to the plate, going 2-for-3, was hit by a pitch and scored twice.

Righty Andrew Albright, the Pride starter, permitted seven runs, all unearned, on seven hits over four innings, struck out four and walked three.

The Morris County Cubs next face Santos Baseball at 8 a.m. on Tuesday at Raritan Valley Community College. Northeast Pride tangles with Baseball Warehouse 2022 at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, also at RVCC.

Michael Fahy of Northeast Pride takes a cut during his fourth inning at bat against the Morris County Cubs.

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