Nothing screamed consistency more than the 90 mile-per-hour fastball Bryce Meccage threw on his next to last pitch of the game to Rutgers Prep’s Nick Pizzie.
And nothing shouted guile more than the changeup he threw on his next pitch that Pizzie swung through to end the game and give Pennington a 2-0 victory in the New Jersey Independent Schools Prep B championship last night at Diamond Nation.
“That was the first changeup I threw all game,” said Meccage, who leaned on a devastating slider to complement his usual high octane heater before a large and enthusiastic crowd at New Jersey’s top baseball/softball facility.
That last strikeout was the Virginia-commit Meccage’s 15th of the game and capped a scintillating three-hit shutout in which the junior righthander threw 105 pitches and did not walk a batter.
“I felt pretty good,” said Meccage. “My velocity was kind of there and my fastball had good ride. I found my curveball a few times but had some trouble with it, so we leaned on the slider, which I was getting on the outside corner.” That slider was essentially unhittable, either hitting spots or diving out of the zone as Argonauts batters waved at it harmlessly.
The 6-4, 190 Meccage outdueled Rutgers Prep’s Zach Fronio, who also was outstanding. Fronio limited Pennington (16-1) to three hits, as well, permitting one earned run over his six innings of work, striking out eight and walking two.
One Meccage fastball got away from him in the fifth inning and hit Rutgers Prep’s No. 7 hitter and first baseman Max Treonze in the face. The high and inside pitch appeared to glance off the brim of Treonze’s helmet and strike him in the nose. The frightening moment stopped the game for about 30 minutes as Treonze, down on his knees, was attended to. He was eventually helped to a golf cart then taken to nearby Hunterdon Medical Center for evaluation.
“I feel terrible about that,” said Meccage. “I know Max. He’s a friend. It was just a fastball that got away.”
Treonze, who had just pitched a six-hit shutout two days early to give Rutgers Prep (10-10) a stunning 1-0 victory over 8th-ranked Ridge in the Somerset County Tournament final, had come up with one out in the fifth. Meccage showed no ill effects from the upsetting hit-by-pitch, striking out the next two batters on seven pitches to end the inning.
Meccage struck out the Rutgers Prep side in order in the first and seventh innings and got all three outs in the third via strikeout around a one-out infield error. The only trouble spot in the Rutgers Prep order for Meccage proved to be No. 3 hitter Andrew Parisi, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. Parisi, a 6-3, 210 sophomore, is batting .538 (28-for-52) on the season.
Rutgers Prep’s only other hit was Cody Rullo’s infield knock with one out in the second. But Rullo was erased on an inning-ending strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play as catcher Gavin Leeds gunned him down trying to steal second.
It was Leeds who delivered both runs for Pennington, whose only loss of the season was a 6-1 decision to North Hunterdon on April 24.
Cleanup hitter Meccage (.450) led off the bottom of the second for top-seeded Pennington with a hard single to right field. Right fielder James Jackson charged in but got caught in-between on the sinking liner and the ball scooted past him as Meccage raced to second. Leeds followed with the hardest hit ball of the evening for either squad, a laser into the right-center field gap that chased Meccage home with the game’s first run.
“He threw me a changeup on the first pitch and I took it for a strike,” said Leeds. “I was looking for a fastball, got one and took it the other way.”
Fronio got himself in deeper when he walked Caleb Hibbert, setting up Pennington with two runners on and no outs. But the sophomore lefthander Fronio, who throws in the high 80s and is already committed to Maryland, got the next hitter on a bunt pop-up and struck out the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to end the threat.
That started Fronio on a streak that saw him retire 13 straight Pennington batters before he hit Ronan Hwang with a pitch with one out in the sixth. Landon Hallett, the No. 3 hitter, followed with a single to center field before Fronio walked Meccage to load the bases. Leeds stepped in and Fronio hit him with a 1-2 pitch to force home Hwang with a critical insurance run. “That hurt,” said Leeds. “He got me right on the shin.”
To his credit, Fronio, approaching 90 pitches, reared back and struck out the next two batters to keep the deficit right there at 2-0.
But Meccage (5-0) never let Rutgers Prep up for air in the top of the seventh, picking up strikeouts No. 13, 14 and 15 to end the game with a crescendo. It was Meccage’s second straight 15-strikeout game. He struck out 15 Morristown Beard batters, walked one and permitted two-hits over 5.2 innings in a 5-0 Prep B quarterfinal victory on May 4.
“Bryce was dominating tonight,” said Leeds about his front row seat in the gem. “Like every other game he pitches. We know we can rely on him. His slider was on point.”
Meccage credited his upperclassmen for the team’s unbridled success this spring.
“Our seniors have been unbelievable,” said Meccage. “We were 7-9 last year. They’ve given us such great leadership.”
Pennington coach Steve Kowalski has watched the metamorphosis of that same 7-9 team become a 16-1 squad a year later.
“Our seniors have provided great leadership,” Kowalski said. “They didn’t like how last year went, They felt like they failed. That’s coming from them.”
The junior Meccage, meanwhile, has done some heavy lifting himself this season.
“His slider was his go-to tonight,” said Kowalski, “but sometimes it’ll be his curveball that gets you. It’s nice to know you can dominate with either pitch, matching it with his fastball, which is usually 92-93.”
NOTES: Meccage numbers reveal what has been a truly dominant 2023. He’s permitted one earned run on 10 hits over 29.2 innings, while striking out 66 and walking seven. He’s hit five batters.
…Rutgers Prep was the No. 2 seed and has gone 9-4 since a 1-6 start. The Somerset school starts just one senior, center fielder Ryan Parisi.
…Kowalski on his catcher, Leeds, a junior: “He’s a tough kid. He missed his freshman year with back issues and battled some injuries last year. It took him a while to get his arm strength back. He put in the work in the off-season to get stronger.”