Unranked Seton Hall Prep turned a pitchers duel into a stunning rout on the way to a 13-2 victory over Nutley, ranked No. 8 in the NJ.com Top 20, on Monday in Nutley.
Nutley’s friendly left field confines proved quite inviting for Seton Hall, which hit four home runs and struck for six runs in the fourth and sixth innings.
Seton Hall edged Nutley, 3-2 in 10 innings, in the teams’ first meeting this season on April 8. The two Essex County powers could meet again in the Greater Newark Tournament, which begins this week. Nutley is the top seed in the 87th GNT and Seton Hall is seeded No. 2.
Seton Hall’s 13-hit attack certainly made life comfortable for senior Nick Maldonado, who was limited to a strict pitch count due to a pre-season hamstring tweak, and Nick’s freshman brother, Chris. The two righthanders pulled off the combined Maldonado family victory for the first time in their careers.
“That was the plan, to split it, and yes, that was pretty cool,” said the Vanderbilt-bound Nick Maldonado, who limited Nutley (13-2) to three hits and one unearned run over four innings. He struck out five and walked none in a 57-pitch effort.
“We were keeping Nick to a 60-pitch maximum,” said Seton Hall Prep head coach Mike Sheppard, Jr. “That was nice to see them both out there. Chris is a talented kid and can be tough with that curveball and changeup. It also helped that we gave him a 7-1 lead to start.”
Big brother Nick did the heavy lifting early in what was a 1-1 pitchers duel through three innings. Nutley’s ace Josh O’Neill’s fastball and curveball were extremely effective early. O’Neill’s only blemish to that point was Jack Eichler’s long home run in the top of the first inning that landed on Franklin Street, well beyond the left-center field fence.
Nick Maldonado surrendered a run in the bottom of the first when he hit Marty Higgins with a pitch and the Nutley shortstop stole second, reached third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a two-out infield error.
“I was trying to find the zone early on,” said Maldonado, who went to three separate three-ball counts in the first inning. But he found his curveball and fastball quickly enough. “My curveball was definitely my best pitch today and my two-seam was pretty good, too.” He would, in fact, throw just nine balls out of the strike zone to the 12 batters he faced after the first inning.
Higgins and Trevor Santos singled with two outs in the third and Justin Lucia singled with two outs in the fourth, but Nick got through both innings clean.
Seton Hall would turn the game significantly in its favor in the top of the fourth, sending 11 batters to the plate before six runs crossed the plate.
One-out singles by Andrew Tuozzolo and Tommy O’Rourke started it before O’Neill hit Justin Cassella with a pitch to load the bases. Karson Harcourt, the No. 7 hitter, stepped in and delivered a two-run double to left-center. Tyler Kaufman was intentionally walked to set up the double play possibility but No. 9 hitter Justin Zyska would not comply. He singled to left to score Cassella with the third run of the inning.
Joe DeCicco, Seton Hall’s leadoff batter, had a monster game and joined the hit parade in the fourth. He bounced a shot over the fence in left-center for a grounds rule double and two more runs. Chris Maldonado followed by hitting a bouncer to third, but Zyska beat the throw home for a 7-1 lead.
Nutley scored an unearned run in the fifth, keyed by Higgins’ grounds rule double to center field, but Seton Hall would put on its own personal home run derby against the Nutley bullpen in the sixth to put the game away.
Zyska kicked off the sixth inning in style for the Pirates, blasting a home run over the fence in left-center. DeCicco (3-for-4, run, three RBI) followed with a bomb onto Franklin Street for a 9-2 lead. Chris Maldonado was hit by a pitch and Tuozzolo singled before Harcourt, the previously nondescript No. 7 hitter, stepped in.
“I really haven’t been hitting that well,” said the sophomore Harcourt. “I got a 3-1 pitch and I knew I was getting a fastball. I expected it and squared it up.”
Harcourt (2-for-4, 2 runs, 5 RBI) unloaded a three-run bomb that carried the left-center field stands and bounced onto Franklin Street. It was Harcourt’s first varsity home run and the blast gave Seton Hall a 13-2 lead. It also gave Chris Maldonado the opportunity to close out a mercy rule victory in the bottom of the sixth.
The younger Maldonado retired Nutley in order to close out his two innings of work. He permitted one unearned run on two hits, struck out four and walked none.
It was the first time anyone could remember Seton Hall Prep hitting four home runs at the Nutley Oval, a venue usually reserved over the years for such fireworks by the home team.
“We have a tendency to take too many pitches and be a bit tentative,” said Sheppard, Jr. of his hitters. “Later in the game we were looking for fastballs and to hit early in the count.”
After a busy week of Super Essex Conference games, both teams have first round GNT games on Saturday. Top-seeded Nutley faces the winner of Thursday’s prelim pitting 17th-seeded Glen Ridge at 16th-seeded Newark Academy. Seton Hall plays host to 18th-seeded Newark Tech at 2:30 p.m.