When Cooper Bobowicz singled home courtesy runner Tommy Ramazzotto with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to knot Ridge in a 5-5 tie with Immaculata, no one could imagine where this 46th edition of the Somerset County Tournament championship game was headed.
The righthanded Bobowicz, Ridge’s ace, had been knocked out of the game in the fifth inning, leaving his team in a 5-2 hole to the defending champion Spartans. His contribution at the plate, however, changed the course of the game and would indirectly create opportunities for new heroes to emerge.
Before it was all said and done, Immaculata’s reliever Ryan Kabus would shut down Ridge over more than seven eventful relief innings and deliver a two-out walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th inning to score Justin Pinckert with the winning run in a wild 6-5 Immaculata victory. The clutch hit also ended a 4-hour and 10-minute marathon.
Before we dissect the particulars in this epic contest, here’s some basics. The victory gave second-seeded Immaculata (12-8) its second straight SCT championship and 14th overall. Fifth-seeded Ridge (15-9) was seeking its seventh SCT crown and first since 2011.
Kabus relieved Dan Johnson in the fifth after Greg Bozzo and Jayden Hylton singled with two outs. Johnson had been difficult on the Ridge batters and gritty to that point but his pitch count had inched up to 86 pitches. Immaculata coach Kevin Cust admitted the decision to lift Johnson at that point, “wasn’t an easy one.”
“I felt good the first four innings,” said Johnson. “Then I started losing control.”
Kabus went 3-2 on his first batter, Jack Love, before the Ridge right fielder and No. 2 pitcher laced a double into right-center field to score both runners and draw Ridge to within 5-4. Kabus got out of further trouble in the inning and would allow only the run in the seventh the rest of the way.
Kabus would, in fact, permit one run on seven hits, strike out eight, walked one and hit a batter in a 106-pitch effort that saw him strand 11 Ridge runners. He battled with at least one runner on base in every inning.
“I felt like Ryan got better as he went along,” said Cust. “It was a tough situation for him, a tough matchup with their hitters. I have to give Ridge credit. They kept the pressure on. But Ryan kept getting us back in the dugout.”
Love relieved Bobowicz with one out in the fifth and was even better than Kabus for 7.2 innings. He permitted one run on five hits, struck out four and walked two, one of which was intentional. Three of those hits came in the 12th. Love was the presumptive starter in Ridge’s NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2 opener on Monday before he was forced into a relieve role in which he threw 94 pitches.
Pinckert opened the bottom of the 12th for Immaculata by hitting a bouncer to the left side that shortstop Jason Arrigo snared in the hole. Pinckert, however, beat it out for an infield single. Peter Gallo followed with a liner to center field for the first out. Catcher Mike McGee, 0-for-5 to that point, singled to right field to chase Pinckert to third.
Johnson, who had delivered a momentum changing three-run triple in the fourth, was intentionally walked. Love then struck out Alex Antigua on a 2-2 fastball for the second out. Up stepped Kabus, the spunky shortstop who had already capped the four-run fourth inning with an RBI single and pitched with guile and guts for 7.1 innings.
“I was trying to look for a fastball,” said Kabus, who four-hit Bridgewater-Raritan in the semifinals. “A lot of times in games like this you just go on adrenaline.”
That adrenaline helped Kabus to hit a soft liner to right field on an 1-0 pitch from Love, just out of the reach of leaping second baseman Chris Parker, as Pinckert raced across the plate with the winning run. Kabus was mobbed at first base by his jubilant teammates.
“I wasn’t sure where the ball went at first,” said Kabus, “then saw him run back for it and the ball fall.”
Kabus was a large hero in this one but just one of several players who put forth incredible performances in this 12-inning grinder.
In fact, had Kabus gotten that last out of the seventh, Johnson would have had the win and surely the headline having delivered that huge hit in the fourth. Johnson had been in the lineup just three times this season and had implored Cust to be inserted to get some swings on Friday night.
“I’ve had a back injury this season and have been held out, but I’ve felt better and I begged coach to let me hit tonight,” said Johnson, a recent Scranton University commit.
Johnson came up with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth and his team trailing 2-0. Derek Von Horn had started the rally with a leadoff single before Pinckert leaned into a curveball and was hit by the pitch. Gallo followed with a bunt that he popped up to the left side. Bobowicz broke from the mound but slipped as the ball fell beyond him for an infield single.
Johnson got a high and tight fastball on the first pitch from Bobowicz and fought it off, lining it just inside the right field foul line. The ball rolled to the wall as Johnson raced to third and all three runners scored to give Immaculata a sudden 3-2 lead.
“Dan begged me to put him in the lineup,” said Cust. “He had a good BP at Branchburg Sports Complex before the game. It was his turn to hit. I know he’s wanted to hit all season. He’s had that pulled muscle in his back. He’s a tough kid.”
The most recent extra inning game in an SCT final came in 2007 when Immaculata defeated Hillsborough, 12-11, in an epic 10-inning battle, but the 2019 game will go down as the longest of the long in SCT history.
NOTES: Ridge catcher Greg Bozzo was 3-for-6 and his courtesy runner scored three runs. It was Bozzo who led off the seventh with a single that eventually led to Bobowicz’s game-tying single later in the inning. … Freshman first baseman Jayden Hylton shined, too, for Ridge. Hylton went 3-for-6 and scored a run.
… Parker reached on infield single in the top of the first inning and scored from third later in the inning when Johnson balked. Ridge’s lead was boosted to 2-0 in the fourth when Johnson intentionally walked Arrigo to lead the bases with two outs then plunked No. 9 hitter Lukas Goodman to force home the run.
… Every Immaculata batter had six at bats in the 12-inning game. Ridge’s first three hitters batted seven times. … Ryan Giacobello and Von Horn had two hits apiece for Immaculata.