Entering its fourth at bat of the High School Fall League championship game, Whitehouse Post 284 found itself in a 4-0 hole and still looking for its first hit of the game. This wasn’t how coach Steve Farsiou had drawn up his plan in the pre-game.
But Whitehouse hadn’t reached the Fall League final without exhibiting some prowess on the field and evidencing more than a fair amount of grit in difficult situations. The top-seeded Bucks County Generals, meanwhile, were doing everything right, as the Pennsylvania club had all fall season in carrying a 7-0 record into the championship game last night at Diamond Nation.
Third-seeded Whitehouse (14-2-1), however, finally broke through with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning to shave the deficit in half, a mere harbinger of what was to come in the fifth when the Flemington club simply wrested control of the game on the way to nailing down a 9-5 championship game victory.
“Everyone contributed and that’s a good thing,” said Farsiou. “It was a big win for us. Everyone played their A-game.” Whitehouse was eliminated in the Fall League semifinals a year ago.
Whitehouse had to survive a wild charge by Hillsborough Sr. in the semifinals before winning 9-7 and stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth and last inning. Buck County knocked off Hustle Baseball, 12-2, in its semifinal game.
The bottom of the Whitehouse order triggered the rally in the fifth and the contributions would be many in an inning that had to resemble the relentless drip of a leaky faucet to the Generals. Whitehouse didn’t club the Generals into submission as much as they bled them dry due to a scraped knee.
Ryan Vollmer drew a walk to force home Christian Petino with the go-ahead run. Danilo Perdomo followed with a two-run single that, we’ll just say, goes into the scorebook as a lined drive to center field. But Perdomo’s shot glanced off pitcher David Rodriguez, barely slipped inside second base and into center field as Ryan Facinelli and Chase Fischer raced home with two insurance runs.
The rally began innocently with a soft single to right field by No. 9 hitter Nick Czarnecki before reliever Brandon Purdy walked No. 10 hitter Andrew Nguyen. That put Whitehouse in business as the lineup flipped to the top. Czarnecki scored the first run on a wild pitch with leadoff hitter Petino at the plate. Petino, who we would hear from later in a very loud way, singled to right field to score Nguyen and tie the game at 4-4. Brandon Padre, the Whitehouse catcher, kept the heat on with a single through the left side. The Generals finally got an out when Facinelli bounced into a force out. But dangerous cleanup hitter Chase Fisher drew a walk to load the bases. That’s when Vollmer and Perdomo came through with their huge at bats.
“Danilo is a great kid and he’s come up big for us so many times,” said Farsiou of Perdomo.
Petino would deliver the final dagger when he launched a two-run home run to left-center field with one out in the sixth. The lefty-hitting Czarnecki had beat out a pretty bunt single down the third base side leading off the inning. Nguyen bunted him to second before Petino got all of a Rodriguez fastball.
“It was a 3-1 count and I was sitting fastball,” said Petino. “It was right down the middle. It’s my first home run on the big field.”
Righthander Jake Stollar put forth a heck of a competitive complete game effort on the mound, particularly in shaking off a ragged third inning when Bucks County reached him for three runs to take a 4-0 lead. In the middle of what appeared to be a make or break inning, the Whitehouse bullpen remained barren. Farsiou was staying with his No. 1 horse.
“I knew my team would come back and hit the ball and that’s exactly what they did,” said Stollar. But Stollar, who surrendered three hits and walked a batter in the third, rewarded his coach’s confidence by registering quick scoreless innings in the fourth and fifth when his teammates were mounting rallies. Stollar, who would be named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, surrendered five runs on six hits, struck out six and walked two against a Generals lineup that has manhandled pitchers all fall.
“Everything was working for me,” said Stollar. “My changeup and slider mostly.” Two of his strikeouts came in the sixth and last inning when, it appeared, Stollar’s heart had taken over. Noah Lackman did launch a two-out RBI triple down the right field line to draw the Generals to within 9-5. But, after getting Rodriguez swinging through a fastball earlier in the inning, Stollar fanned the next batter with a nasty slider to end the game.
“My adrenaline was going at that point. I was fired up,” said Stollar.
Farsiou had reason to trust in Stollar, a junior at Hunterdon Central.
“Jake has almost always done that for us,” said Farsiou, “coming up big in a big spot. This is the developmental process for him. You can see where he’s come from late August to tonight.”
Lefthander Max McGlone pitched a very solid four innings for the Generals despite losing his command a bit in the fourth when he walked three and surrendered the only two hits and two runs he allowed. McGlone, just a sophomore at Central Bucks West in Pa., struck out three and had a commanding, all business presence on the mound.
Jack Mislan led off the bottom of the first for the Generals with a booming opposite field triple into the right-center field gap. He would score the game’s first run on Nick Nush’s sac fly to right-center field. Vollmer had to race over from center to make the difficult grab on a dead run as Mislan raced home.
The Generals appeared to take command in the third during a rally keyed by Nush’s two-out RBI single to left-center and Joe Purcell’s subsequent two-run single to right. Tim Mastrogiovanni triggered the rally with a leadoff infield single and Mislan drew a one-out walk.
Whitehouse’s two-run rally in the fourth got the team back in the game. Petino drew a leadoff walk and Padre followed by lofting a high pop in no-man’s land along the foul line in shallow right field. The ball fell for a single as Petino (2-for-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 runs) took second. Fischer drew a one-out walk to load the bases and Vollmer, like he would do in the fifth, walked to force in Whitehouse’s first run of the game. Perdomo (2-for-3, 3 RBI) then singled through the right side to score Facinelli. McGlone, to his credit, limited the damage by getting the next two batters on a strikeout and a fly out.
“It was a night where we had to weather a few storms,” said Farsiou. “Hey, we finished the season 1-2-1, so we hadn’t played well and had to overcome that, too.”
The first storm Farsiou referred to occurred in nearly squandering a 9-2 lead in the semifinals against No. 2 seed Hillsborough Sr., an always game squad coached by Dylan Zebro. The second storm was the early four-run deficit to the Generals. Apparently Whitehouse had prepared for adversity and all the sandbags were in place.
Semifinals: Whitehouse Post 284 (9), Hillsborough Sr. (7)
It was pretty clear by how the teams had played toward the end of the season that the four squads still standing in the semifinals were the hottest and, arguably, the best the High School Fall League had to offer.
That the Whitehouse Post 284 entanglement with Hillsborough Sr. would be a tense, closely fought affair wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was how long it took Hillsborough to fully engage. But engage it did.
The teams exchanged blows in the first inning as Whitehouse struck for three runs in the top of the first and Hillsborough Sr. answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Chase Fischer unloaded a booming two-run double and later scored on an infield error. Brandon Padre ignited the rally with a one-out single into right-center field. Padre would go 4-for-8 in the two games. Jayden Bloch shot a double down the left field line to score the two early runs for Hillsborough Sr.
Whitehouse tacked on two more runs in the second to take a 5-2 lead. Ryan Facinelli unleashed an RBI triple to right-center and scored on a Fischer single. The lead ballooned to 9-2 thanks to a four-run third by Whitehouse. The extra-base bonanza continued for the Flemington club as Christian Petino laced a triple to right-center to bring home two runs. Padre delivered Petino with a single to left field and later scored himself on Facinelli’s fielder’s choice grounder that capped the rally.
The righty Fischer got the start and settled in nicely after the rocky first inning. He actually retired nine of 10 batters before running into trouble in the fourth. He struck out the side in order in the third to give him five straight strikeouts.
Though Hillsborough Sr. appeared backed into a corner, it responded with a run in the fourth on Jack Roteman’s RBI single and picked up two more in the fifth to shave the deficit to 9-5. Vinny Versaci, Bloch and Owen Bartolomeo each singled to load the bases with one out. Reliever Steven Young struck out the next batter looking at a curveball and appeared to escape the jam cleanly on a grounder to the right side. But the ball was booted and two runs scored.
Hillsborough Sr. got it going again in the sixth, it’s last at bat, loading the bases with no outs. Roteman singled, Evan Adinolfe drew a walk, as Hillsborough flipped the order back to the top, and Ryan Hvozdovic beat out a slow bouncer to the left side to load the bases. Young walked Veraci to force in a run but then induced a comebacker and got the lead runner at the plate for the first out. Bloch drew a walk that brought Hvozdovic home to trim the lead to 9-7. The tying run was now on second and the potential winning run was on first. And still there was just one out.
Young refocused and got Bartolomeo on a hard liner to third base for the second out, then closed it by getting the next batter swinging at a strike three curveball.
Diamond Nation High School Fall League Playoffs
Whitehouse Post 284 9, Bucks County Generals 5
Bucks County Generals 12, Hustle Baseball 2
Whitehouse Post 284 9, Hillsborough Sr. 7