Tyler Weeks did the heavy lifting in relief and Nick Masi delivered the decisive run as West Morris defeated Roxbury, 5-4, in a wildly entertaining NJSIAA Group 3 semifinal on Monday in Lyndhurst.
Weeks’ and Masi’s efforts were critical to West Morris’ victory but it seemed every member of this Wolfpack team contributed in some way to what is – to this point – the most historically significant victory in the history of the Long Valley school’s baseball program.
West Morris (26-6) advances for the first time to the Group 3 championship game where it will encounter red-hot Wall (26-4), which defeated Cherry Hill West, 4-3, in the other semifinal. The four public group championship games are Saturday at Veteran’s Park in Hamilton. The Group 3 game is the third game of the day, at 4 p.m.
The lefty hitting No. 9 hitter, Masi, jumped on a first pitch fastball and drove it just out of the reach of a leaping Roxbury shortstop Justin Bosland and into left field. The single scored Jackson Yeatts from third and gave West Morris a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Weeks would make that lead stand into perpetuity.
“Going to the plate in a big situation, I’m trying to make sure I get the barrel on the ball, keep it on a line and not pop it up,” said Masi. “I got a fastball right where I like it, low middle, and drove it the other way.”
The rally began with two outs and no one on base. Yeatts was hit by a 1-0 offering from Roxbury reliever T.J. Shuman and Matt Blount, the No. 8 hitter, followed with a single to center field. Yeatts raced all the way to third on the hit.
“For Nick to get a first pitch he could handle was great,” said West Morris coach Tom Reindel. “It shows our depth and collective effort. He works so hard. He hit well last year, so we know he’s capable. He’s had an injury and he’s battled a bit this year.”
Masi had scored the tying run in the fourth in typical pain-in-the-neck West Morris fashion. He drew a leadoff walk, stole second and took off for third on a ball in the dirt. The catcher’s throw to third was wild, allowing Masi to score.
The right-handed Weeks became West Morris’ third pitcher in the game when the usually lights out reliever Nick Calabrese, who had just pitched a 1-2-3 third inning, issued four walks and would be charged with three runs in the top of the fourth. That turned a 3-1 West Morris lead into a 4-3 deficit.
Weeks entered with the bases loaded and one out but wasn’t much better, at least for the first two batters. He walked Jared Schimenti to force in a run, hit Brian Dachowski with a pitch to force in another run before Will Findlay’s sac fly to center gave Roxbury (16-11) its first lead at 4-3.
But Weeks would get Bosland on a fly ball to right field to end the inning and he’d put Roxbury away in order the fifth and sixth.
“It’s a tough spot, one out and the bases loaded,” said Weeks, West Morris’ No. 3 pitcher most of the season. “I haven’t pitched much in relief. I’m about hitting my spots and making guys miss. I got confident and was good from there.”
West Morris has been all about stepping up for each other and the Wolfpack certainly has had to of late with its pitching staff. Ace Connor Staine pitched 8.2 innings and threw 114 pitches on Friday as West Morris won its first-ever sectional title, so was unavailable against Roxbury. Yeatts, the team’s No. 2 pitcher, is 7-0 with a 1.80 ERA but a shoulder ailment has left him unavailable in the state tournament.
“We’ve made it a bullpen day without him,” said Reindel. You heard that correctly. Reindel has navigated West Morris’ non-Staine outings in the state tournament with a fearless bullpen. Its formula for the Group 3 semifinal had an abundance of baseball nerve.
Lefty Braden Willsey got the start and went two innings, permitting one run on five hits, striking out one and walking none. It wasn’t tidy, although Willsey did throw just 27 pitches as he had Roxbury taking hacks early in the count. He stranded runners on second and third in the first after Findlay singled and Anthony Tye doubled with two outs. Landon Monro singled home Ryan DiTrolio in the second to tie the game at 1-1.
“Willsey throws the slowest but is the most competitive,” said Reindel. “He can close, too.” Hold that thought.
When Calabrese faltered, Weeks stepped up for his teammate and delivered three innings of scoreless relief in which he permitted two hits, struck out none, walked one and hit a batter. That took West Morris to one out in the seventh and just two outs from its first group championship game.
But Findlay (2-for-3, RBI) was on first; having led off with a single, and Reindel wasn’t done tinkering with his bullpen day. So he called on Willsey again, this time to close it out.
Willsey threw three pitches to Bosland; the third come right back to the box. Willsey snared it, turned and fired to his shortstop Healy at second, who turned and fired to first baseman Anthony Grauso for a game-ending double play.
Grauso was playing first base because Reindel had pulled Staine when he made the pitching change to warm up his ace just in case Willsey got in trouble.
West Morris scored the game’s first run in the first with its leadoff batter Calabrese the catalyst. The lefty hitting left fielder beat out an infield single, stole second and third and scored on a grounder by Aiden Healy. The Wolfpack lifted the lead to 3-1 in the third when Matt Gluck led off with a single to left, Kevin Kennedy tripled him home and Staine followed with an RBI single.
Kennedy (2-for-3, walk, run, RBI) delivered once again at the plate and had a bit of personal retribution in the right field, too. He let Monro’s shallow pop up drop in front of him for an RBI single in the second inning. But he would make a diving catch toward the line on a drive by Schimenti in the sixth.
“I tripped up early,” said Kennedy. “But I wasn’t going to let that decide the game. Sometimes you have three or four guys go off and you win big. Other times you’re in a dogfight and everyone chips in.”
That certainly was the case this time. Roxbury’s Dachowski followed Schimenti’s shot to right in the sixth with a hard hit grounder over third base. This time, Gluck dove toward the line, backhanded the ball on a hop, hopped up and fired a low worm-burner across the diamond. Staine went low and dug it out for the third out of the inning.
Healy had flashed the leather at shortstop in the third. Findlay hit a long looper toward shallow left field but Healy raced back with his back to the infield and made a beautiful diving grab.
“They made huge plays defensively,” said Roxbury coach Greg Trotter. “It came down to that. They made one or two more plays than we did.”
NOTES: The Wolfpack had nine hits to Roxbury’s seven and every West Morris batter reached base at least once. …Tye went 2-for-4 with a double and single. … Roxbury started its No. 2, righthander Nick Danna, who flashed quality stuff but West Morris dragged 70 pitches out of him in three innings, forcing Trotter to go to his bullpen early.
(Above photo courtesy of WMC_Baseball on Instagram).
NJSIAA GROUP FINALS
Saturday, Veteran’s Park, Hamilton
Glassboro vs. Emerson Boro, 10 a.m.
Pascack Hills vs. Point Pleasant Boro, 1 p.m.
Wall vs. West Morris, 4 p.m.
Ridgewood vs. Eastern, 7 p.m.