Justin Pinckert hit a home run and drove in four runs, Felix Diaz homered and doubled and Derek Von Horn went 3-for-4 as Immaculata defeated North Hunterdon, 8-5, in a Skyland Conference encounter at Diamond Nation in Flemington on Thursday.
An aggressive approach at the plate paid early dividends for Immaculata, which build a 7-2 lead through four innings. Righthander Peter Gallo pitched well but had to be pulled after four innings due to a high pitch count.
Gallo just returned from a broken bone in his thumb. He allowed North Hunterdon (0-2) two runs on just two hits over four innings, struck out six, walked four and hit a batter. Gallo, who also had a double, threw 78 pitches thanks to an inconsistent fastball. His curveball was much more effective.
“Peter has to locate that fastball,” said Immaculata coach Kevin Cust. “If he does, he’s going to win a lot of games.” Indeed, Gallo’s fastball has plenty hop, especially paired with his impressive curveball. This was the type of first outing, particularly coming off an injury that can only help the senior bound for St. Joseph University.
Gallo had plenty of help in the opener from his Immaculata teammates and the support came immediately.
Diaz, the Spartans’ third baseman, led off the bottom of the first inning by shooting a liner down the left field line for a double. Von Horn singled Diaz home one out later for a quick 1-0 lead. Alex Antigua followed with a single before Pinckert blasted a first-pitch fastball over the left field fence for a three-run home run and a 4-0 Immaculata lead.
“We’ve been working on our approach a lot in practice,” said Pinckert. “We got some good looks and had some balls hit hard. I was looking for something over the plate. I got a low inside fastball.”
Immaculata (1-0) picked up a run in the third without the benefit of a hit when Antigua walked, stole second and eventually scored on Mike McGee’s sac fly to right.
Ahead 5-0, Gallo ran into some trouble in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with one out on a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch. Raffaelle Palladino made him pay for the control issues when he stroked a two-out single into left-center field to chase home to runs and shave the deficit to 5-2.
Diaz, who homered twice when Immaculata defeated Montgomery in the Somerset County Tournament championship game last May, restored order in the bottom of the fourth. He stepped in with one out and rocked a first-pitch fastball over the fence in left for a solo home run and a 6-2 Immaculata lead.
“I was looking for that fastball, something I could handle, and got one middle-in,” said Diaz. “I’m seeing the ball great.”
The Spartans extended the lead to 7-2 later in the fourth when Von Horn doubled and came around on a single by Pinckert. Back-to-back one-out doubles by Immaculata’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, Griffin Leger and Ryan Giacobello, produced another run in the fifth to boost the lead to 8-2.
North Hunterdon, as is typical of coach Mike Kane’s charges, kept after it, striking for three runs in the sixth off the Immaculata bullpen. Connor Woods and Chris Markovich opened the inning by drawing walks. Rush Erhardt then singled to center to load the bases.
Anthony Perez, the Lions leadoff hitter, delivered an RBI single through the left side, Shawn Wilton drew a bases-loaded walk and Erhardt scored from third when Matt Wagner’s deep rainbow to the left field fence was dropped.
But Immaculata reliever Derrick Ricci-Riner, who entered the sixth inning to face Wagner, got out of further trouble when he induced a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play. Ricci-Riner then pitched a scoreless seventh around a two-out double by North’s third baseman Markovich.
“Derrick showed me something in that spot,” said Cust. “He came in and got the job done.” Ricci-Riner allowed just the one hit over 1.2 scoreless innings when Immaculata needed it most.
GAME NOTES: Righthander Dan Johnson pitched a scoreless and hitless fifth inning but had to be pulled because he’s needed likely Monday against Bridgewater-Raritan, the start of a busy week for the Spartans. … Pinckert almost had another hit in the third inning but North Hunterdon’s second baseman Palladino made a diving stop in the hole and threw him out at first base. … North Hunterdon’s Chris Markovich recovered from a pair of early strikeouts to reach on a walk and score and later doubled to right-center. … Michael Schumacher singled and was hit by a pitch in four trips to the plate.