Andrew Hladik scrambles back to first base for Hustle Baseball.
By Rich Bevensee
As he watched his team rally in the bottom of the sixth inning, Peter Peluso began to envision what he needed to do at the plate if he got the chance to make an impact.
Eight batters into the rally, Peluso got his chance and his volume control turned to zero.
“Not much nerves and not many thoughts. I try not to think in those situations,” Peluso said. “Everything goes silent and it’s just me and the pitcher, and that’s it. I try to see his rhythm and time him up.”
On a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded and two outs, Peluso lined a ball through the left side to drive in two runs and propel Hustle Baseball Academy to a walk-off 7-6 victory over the Sussex Miners in a Diamond Nation High School Fall League contest on Tuesday evening in Flemington.
Hustle, now 3-0 in league play, trailed 6-1 in the fourth inning before making its comeback. Hustle got a Chase Tarnoff RBI double in the bottom of the fourth and an RBI triple from Andrew Hladik in the fifth before rallying with one out in the sixth.
“That’s a great part of this team is that we’re never out of a game,” Peluso said. “We always try our best. When we can fight back like that, it feels really good.”
Hustle loaded the bases with a walk, a fielding error and a hit batsman before Orlando Shin and Ryan Spaar each forced home a run with two-out walks to get their team within 6-5.
That brought up Peluso, a Seton Hall Prep senior who struck out looking and swinging in his two previous at bats. Shin got a good jump on Peluso’s hard ground ball to left and slid in safely with the winning run on a wide throw to the plate.
It was a dramatic turn of events after the Miners’ pitching limited Hustle to three runs on four hits through five innings.
“There was no quit,” Hustle coach Matt Rago said. “We got down early and they did a really good job passing the baton. I said to the kids earlier, you have a complimentary lineup, you just have to pass the baton. If the pitcher’s struggling with throwing strikes, stay with your approach and let the next guy get to him.”
Kevin Wood, Peluso’s classmate at Seton Hall Prep, was sharp through the first 2⅓ innings, holding the Miners scoreless and hitless while allowing one walk and striking out three. Wood, a 6-1, 160-pound right-hander, used a 79-miles per hour fastball and backed it up with a very crisp 74-mph curveball which dropped quickly as it did sharply.
“That’s my pitch. Freshman year I realized I should just throw it at them and it’ll break in the zone, and it’s been working pretty well,” Wood said. “Mentally I try to throw it at the batter’s hands every time, let it sweep down and hit the outside corner. It’s hard to do mentally but if you work on it it really makes a difference.”
Hustle also received two shutout innings from Millburn senior Ryan Spaar, who kept the Miners in check by not allowing a hit or a walk while notching one strikeout.
Jack Veith strokes a two-run single in the third inning for the Sussex Miners
Hustle actually drew first blood before Sussex (1-1) built its 6-1 lead, when Alex Vega followed a Hunter Force base hit with a double to the right-center field gap in the first inning.
That was all Hustle could muster against Sussex starter Reed Peterson, a High Point senior who allowed one hit and no walks over two innings and struck out five.
Another High Point senior, Matt Sabato, enjoyed similar results, permitting just one run on one hit and two walks with five strikeouts over the next two innings.
While Peterson and Sabato were silencing Hustle bats with 10 combined strikeouts through the first four innings, Sussex took a 2-1 lead in the top of the third when Jack Veith stroked a two-run single into center.
In the fourth, Sussex padded its lead by sending nine batters to the plate and scoring four runs on six hits, all with two outs. When Lawson Hawke singled into the hole at short, it loaded the bases but Hladik, the Hustle shortstop, prevented a run – at least for the time being – by smothering the grounder.
The runner who would have scored on that infield hit, Hawke’s brother, Jesse, scored a few pitches later on a passed ball. Ayden Ellis drove in two more runs with a single to left center, and Erik Wiley made it 6-1 with a single to right.
Peluso, the Hustle right fielder, prevented further damage when he threw out Nick Civitan at the plate trying to score from second on the Wiley base hit.