Thompson’s bat, Kozak’s relief send Whitehouse to Fall League comeback

By DN WRITING STAFF | September 29, 2023

Anthony Rossi of Go The Distance, who was 2-for-2 with a walk, scores on single by Ryder Leckie. 

By Sean Reilly 

Whitehouse Post 284 has been a dominant team in recent years at the Diamond Nation Fall League. 

The Hunterdon County squad entered Thursday’s game against Go The Distance Baseball with a 5-0 season record, on the heels of a 15-1 championship-winning campaign in 2022. 

Whitehouse didn’t capture a title, but reached the semifinals in 2021, after winning the league with a 14-2-1 record in 2020. 

The local boys clearly know how to win at ‘The Nation,’ usually in convincing fashion.

Thursday was not one of those nights. Whitehouse Post 284 did remain perfect with a 7-5 victory, but had to come back from a three-run deficit to make it happen. 

Two players played crucial roles for Whitehouse Post 284, which has now outscored its six opponents by a 59-13 total. 

Winning pitcher C.C. Kozak struck out eight and allowed one run while working the final three innings.

Most notably, he recorded three quick strikeouts with the 1:50 time clock about to expire after allowing a leadoff single and a stolen base in the bottom of the fifth. That enabled the game to continue into a sixth and final inning with the score even at 4-4.

“I just wanted to get us in quick to let us hit again,” said Kozak, a sophomore at Middlesex High.

Once in the sixth inning, Whitehouse Post 284 scored three runs, highlighted by a go-ahead two-run triple by Josh Thompson with nobody out. Thompson ended the game 3-for-3 with a walk. 

“It was exciting,” Thompson, a senior at Immaculata High, said. “The energy was a little slow at the start, but piece-by-piece, we strung it together. It was a good team win. Everyone here is a gamer.” 

The top of the sixth began with a walk to pinch hitter Dillon Gallagher, who stole second before a single by leadoff man Wyatt DeMeo (2-for-3) sent him to third.

DeMeo stole second with Thompson at the plate. Thompson then crushed a 1-1 offering for a triple to left-center field for a 6-4 lead, the team’s first of the contest.

The at-bat duplicated what he had been working on in the batting cage prior to the game. 

“My thought process was to take it the other way,” Thompson explained. “I said ‘Lord, let me rise to the occasion.’ Today before the game, I was in the cage hitting the fastball away. There it was, and I took a fastball away. It was exactly what I had been working on.”

Thompson scored when next-batter Kaleb McGann doubled to right field. 

McGann, a senior from Hunterdon Central, finished 3-for-4, meaning the top three hitters in the Whitehouse order went a combined 8-for-10. The team had 12 hits overall.

Dillon Gallagher scores tying run in fifth inning for Whitehouse Post 284.

In the bottom of the sixth, the first Go The Distance batter struck out, before singles by Kris Wilson, Chase Amaral and Ryan Nelson loaded the bases. 

Ryan Turner followed with a sacrifice fly to center field, but with runners now on first and second, Kozak got a strikeout to end the game. 

Having to work quickly in fifth to extend the game was no problem for Kozak, who maintained that pace even while pitching with a three-run lead in the sixth.

“I like pitching with a quick tempo,” said Kozak, who credited his cutter, curve and two-seam fastball. “It messes up hitters. It was fun.” 

The Chester-based Go The Distance, which entered with a 2-0 record and 23-0 run difference, scored twice in the bottom of the first for a 2-0 lead. 

Jackson Reeps and Anthony Rossi began the inning by drawing walks, and they moved to second and third on a double steal. Kenny Wilson also walked to load the bases with nobody out. 

Will Warman was up next, and hit a one-run single to center field. After a line out to shortstop, Ryder Leckie hit an RBI single to right field. 

Whitehouse Post 284 got one of those runs back in the second inning, on a sacrifice fly to center by Kozak. 

Go The Distance increased its lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the second on a two-out RBI double to left field by Rossi, a Mendham High School senior who went 2-for-2 with a walk. 

 Go The Distance maintained the lead in the top of the third, despite Whitehouse loading the bases with nobody out. That’s when a line drive was caught by third baseman Warman, who stepped on the base for an unassisted double play that short-circuited the rally. 

Go The Distance added another run in the bottom of the inning. Warman was a courtesy runner on second with two out when he broke for third, and a throw from the pitcher got past the third baseman, allowing him to score. 

Whitehouse closed to 4-2 in the fourth, on an RBI single by DeMeo with two out. Thompson was up next with runners on first and second, and he singled to left field. The lead runner tried to score, but was out at the plate on a strong throw to the plate from Rossi in the outfield. 

Whitehouse was able to tie it in the fifth. The frame began with two singles to third base, the first by McGann on a slow roller and the next on a hard shot by Dennis McCaffery. Troy Rabosky was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Brayden Fry hit a ball in front of the plate on the third base side, but courtesy runner Gallagher avoided a tag and scored. After a strikeout, Anthony Petino hit a sacrifice fly to center to score McCaffery with the tying run. 

The Whitehouse Post 284 players appreciated the test, and the way in which they responded.

“Most of the games we go up early,” Kozak said. “This one, we had to fight through.”

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