By Rich Bevensee
It was the matchup both teams wanted for the championship of the Diamond Nation High School Fall League playoffs.
Allentown Legion lost to Whitehouse Post 284 in the first game of the season and couldn’t wait for a rematch after running the table through the rest of its schedule.
Whitehouse, hearing the murmurs from the other side, went about its business of winning every single league game while preparing to squelch any plans of revenge.
The rematch was a little more than one-sided, and the only thing more dominant than Whitehouse was the 35-degree weather which frosted the players, fans and ‘Nation’ staff members.
Ryan Lundari ignored the frigid conditions well enough to record 10 strikeouts, Brayden Fry and Nick Politi provided the firepower, and top-seeded Whitehouse brought a close to the baseball season at ‘The Nation’ with a convincing 8-0 victory over third-seeded Allentown on Thursday evening to secure its second straight Fall League title in Flemington.
“This is very satisfying,” said Whitehouse shortstop Josh Thompson, named the playoffs’ Most Valuable Player. “We knew the first time beating that team was big, and we were hoping to come back and play them again, because you want to play the best.”
“Winning the way we did is great, especially because they (Allentown) are a great team,” Lundari said. “The whole season has been fun. It’s all I looked forward to after school. You always have something to do, and everyone wanted to win.”
Diamond Nation tournament and league director Marty Clark was pleased to announce that this season’s Fall League and Garden State Scout League schedule went uninterrupted by weather and cancellations for the first time in nine years.
That’s quite a contrast to how the weekend tournaments played out, considering New Jersey was bombarded with eight straight weekends of rain in September and October, forcing Clark and operations manager Jim Rueb to play some operational gymnastics in their efforts to complete tournament schedules.
The 5,088th and final baseball game at ‘The Nation’ this year saw Whitehouse dominate the opposition like it did to open the schedule with an 8-1 victory over Allentown on Sept. 11. Whitehouse, coached by Steve Farsiou, polished off Allentown for the second time this fall as Whitehouse finished 18-0 while outscoring the opposition 141-27.
It’s the first time Whitehouse has enjoyed an unbeaten season. Last fall, Whitehouse lost a regular season game to Hustle Baseball Academy, then beat Hustle in the title game.
“And one year we were undefeated in the regular season and lost in the first round of the playoffs, so what the guys accomplished this year is fantastic,” Farsiou said. “It’s not easy, and I give all the credit to them. When people come to this program, you have to learn to buy into it. It’s about being selfless. You have to be respectful of others on the team, and the kids have to get better and get tougher. They earned everything they got this year.”
Farsiou commended Thompson, a senior at Immaculata and a Siena College (N.Y.) commit, for his leadership as well as his performance. Thompson singled, reached on an error and scored in the final. He also singled in the semifinal against Hillsborough Cardinal.
“Josh was a great leader for us. He was always positive and just so consistent the entire season,” Farsiou said.
“The MVP means a lot to me,” Thompson said. “This is my first season with Coach Farsiou and these guys and it’s been awesome. It took a little adjustment to get used to these guys but it’s an awesome group. It’s my last fall of high school baseball so I’m pretty excited.”
Josh Thompson of Whitehouse Post 284 was named MVP of the Fall League playoffs.
Kaleb McGann, who took over starting catcher duties when Joey Nolan injured his collarbone in the first game of the season, was a rock behind the plate. McGann, a senior at Hunterdon Central, batted .430 for Whitehouse.
“Kaleb kept that dugout alive and was 100 percent our captain,” Farsiou said. “The night before the final I was telling the team how proud I was of him. He came a long way and just worked.”
Before Whitehouse began to think about beating Allentown, its players had to figure out how to battle the deep freeze. Game time temperature had dropped from a daytime high of 60 to 38 degrees, and that mark sunk to 35 by the time Whitehouse’s Dillon Gallagher, a senior at South Hunterdon, singled in a run in the bottom of the sixth inning to earn his team a mercy rule conclusion.
The bundled-up fans on either side of home plate looked more like they were attending a mid-December game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay rather than a baseball game in Flemington.
“I’m in the bullpen before the game and I’m thinking, this is incredible, I’m freezing. Freezing!” Lundari said. “So I came out and I’m moving around, trying to get warm. I ended up being fine, just blocking it out. I tried to focus on pounding the zone. I knew they had a few good hitters, so I wanted to attack and mix up my pitches.”
Lundari, a junior at Hunterdon Central, mixed his four-seam and two-seam fastballs – which topped at 83 miles an hour Thursday – with a curveball and changeup to keep Allentown (9-2) off the scoreboard.
“My curveball was probably my best pitch today,” Lundari said. “It’s got a lot of action so I was using it as my wipeout pitch.”
Lundari waded in and out of trouble in the first and third innings, as Allentown went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. And in both innings, Lundari slammed the door with a pair of strikeouts.
Lundari pitched four innings and, after 85 pitches, he allowed one hit and three walks while striking out 10. Ben Linzer pitched a scoreless fifth inning with a hit, a walk and two strikeouts.
Whitehouse stunned Allentown and starter Jovani Hallinan with a six-run first inning after Allentown entered the final having allowed just 1.6 runs per game through its first 10 games.
McGann, batting third, ignited the rally with a slicing, opposite field RBI single inside the right field line. Wyatt Demo had walked and Thompson reached on a throwing, giving McGann the RBI opportunity. A Dennis McCaffery sacrifice bunt moved Thompson to third and he scored on an Anthony Petino sac fly.
Fry belted a double into the left field corner to drive in two runs. And Nick Politi, a North Hunterdon junior who drove in four runs in the semifinal game against Hillsborough Cardinal, cranked a two-run double to center to give Whitehouse a 6-0 lead.
In the fourth, Politi walked with the bases loaded to make the score 7-0. And Gallagher officially finished off Allentown with an RBI single to right in the sixth.
“Fall baseball, to me, is about trying to get it more relaxed,” Farsiou said. “It’s about trying to find out who’s going to buy in, who can help us in the summer, and who’s going to understand it’s not about them. When they do that, we’re going to win. These kids are great. My feeling on it is if they buy into it – the team concept – it’s gonna get done.”