Woodstown secures Group 1, Ramsey snares Group 2 crown

By Bob Behre | June 22, 2022

Woodstown celebrates its 6-2 victory over New Providence in the Group 1 championship game.

Jack Knorr delivered the big hit for Woodstown and sophomore lefthander Will Kirk had the pitching performance of the day for Ramsey to lead their teams to the Group 1 and Group 2 championships, respectively, on Saturday in Hamilton.

Knorr delivered a two-run double with two outs in the top of the fifth inning to give Woodstown a 3-1 lead it would not relinquish on the way to a 6-2 triumph over New Providence and its first group championship in school history.

Ramsey became the fourth first-time group champion of championship week when Kirk tossed a four-hitter and struck out 13 Haddon Heights batters in a come-from-behind 5-2 victory at Bob DeMeo Field in Veterans Park.

New Providence pitcher, righty James Pazdera, flirted with danger over the first four innings, all scoreless, despite striking out six Woodstown batters. He stranded six runners, three in scoring position. But Woodstown (19-9), trailing 1-0, would break through in the fifth.

Woodstown’s productive leadoff batter Andrew Pedrick (3-for-4, run, 3 stolen bases) ignited the rally with a single to right field. Pedrick stole second and scored the tying run on Ben Woodruff’s RBI single to center field. Pazdera plunked Lucas Prendergast with a pitch before striking out Brent Williams for the second out.

Pazdera had Knorr in a 1-2 hole when his fastball got a bit too much of the strike zone.

“I was looking to do damage,” said Knorr. “There were people on base and I got a fastball.”

Knorr drove that fastball to the wall in left-center field for a double that chased both runners home for a 3-1 Woodstown lead.

“I was thinking it was going out,” said Knorr. “But I’ll take the double.”

New Providence (20-9) had taken its 1-0 lead in the fourth on a long home run over the fence in left-center field by No. 3 hitter Dean Licari. But Woodstown extended its lead to 4-1 when it scored an unearned run in the top of the sixth. Mark Banff led off and reached second on a throwing error. He moved to third on a Pedrick’s one-out infield hit to the right side and kept coming home when the throw to first got away.

New Providence drew within 4-2 of Woodstown in the bottom of the sixth on a clutch two-out RBI single past third base by Nick Bisaccia. The single scored Luca Vitale, who had singled to center field with one out, reached second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Pazdera’s fielder’s choice grounder. The Pioneers’ rally didn’t end there.

Reliever Williams would get in deep trouble by walking Ryan Grill and Nick Santacross to load the bases with two outs. But the righty got Andrew Kowantz to bounce a 2-2 pitch to second baseman Prendergast to end the threat.

New Providence would rally again in the seventh, but, by then, Woodstown had added two insurance runs, one of which was earned, in the top of the inning.

Woodstown had been working the small-ball game all day and it paid off in the seventh. Prendergast drew a leadoff walk and Knorr reached on a fielding error with one out. Prendergast and Knorr then pulled off a double steal. Woodstown coach Marc DeCastro then signaled Rich Burger to bunt and Burger dropped a pretty safety squeeze down the left side. Prendergast scored easily and Knorr scored, too, when the throw to first got away. Suddenly, Woodstown was up 6-2 and three outs away from its first group championship since 1991.

“We did play some small ball when we had to,” said DeCastro. “But the two biggest hits were Jack’s double off the wall and Ben’s RBI single in the fifth.”

New Providence would not go quietly, but that four-run lead sure made things more manageable for Woodstown in the Pioneers’ final at bat.

Zach DeGeorge reached on an infield error to lead off the seventh, but was erased when second baseman Prendergast snared Matt Demareski’s hard liner and turned it into a 4-3 double play. Williams pitched carefully to the dangerous Licari and walked him on four pitches. Vitale then singled to put runners on the corners.

But Williams closed out the championship with a strikeout and he was quickly besieged on the mound by his teammates.

Woodstown saved a spot for its ring finger on the way to its first NJSIAA group championship since 1991.

“We made a mistake in the seventh but those two runs in our last at bats were huge,” said DeCastro. “It made all the difference in regard to pressure. We had some critical breathing room.”

It was a difficult pill to swallow for a talented New Providence squad that had reached the Group 1 final a year ago, as well, but fell in heartbreaking fashion, 4-3 in 13 innings, to Middlesex. The group of 11 seniors on the Pioneers roster experienced a lot of winning, 37 games in all over the past two seasons.

“We’re definitely going to miss these guys,” said New Providence coach Chris Brodeur. “We had one or two mistakes too many and, to Woodstown’s credit, they capitalized on them.”

The Pioneers are always state tournament ready courtesy of a strong schedule that includes the top programs in Union County. Their 20-win season included victories over Group 3 finalist Cranford, ranked No. 8 in the Final Top 20, Group 2 power Gov. Livingston (twice) and perennial Group 4 power Westfield.

Woodstown’s only other group championship came in 1991 when legendary coach Lee Ware led his squad to the Group 2 title. Ware posted a 671-414 (.618) career record, eighth on New Jersey’s All-Time Victories List, and remains a South Jersey legend.

New Providence was chasing its third group title, having won Group 2 in 1976 and Group 1 in 1998. It was the Pioneers’ sixth appearance in a group final. New Providence also fell in the Group 2 final in 1975 and in the 1990 and 2021 championship games.

Ramsey 5, Haddon Heights 2

Sophomore lefthander Will Kirk was terrific in holding serve while his teammates rallied from a two-run deficit to defeat Haddon Heights, 5-2, and nail down the NJSIAA Group 2 championship on Saturday in Hamilton.

Kirk rolled a perfect 13 in a sense, striking out the Haddon Heights side in order in the top of the seventh to register his 13th strikeout in the game and precipitate a wild victory celebration.

Kirk pitched a four-hitter, walked three and threw a career-high 106 pitches on an oddly chilly June 18 evening at Bob DeMeo Field in Veterans Park. The strangest sight of the evening was watching the Ramsey and Haddon Heights faithful arrive for the final game of the state tournament slate dressed for a fall football game. The game began after 7:30 p.m.

The group championship was Ramsey’s first-ever and it elevated the  Rams (28-4) from No. 10 in the NJ.com Top 20 to No. 4 in the online entity’s final poll.

Haddon Heights (22-8) struck first when Cadine Bodine launched a solo home run off Kirk in the top of the first. John DiCostanzo’s RBI double extended the South Jersey school’s lead to 2-0 in the third. But Ramsey answered in the bottom of the inning with a little help from Haddon Heights.

Ramsey would strike for four runs in the bottom of the third with the benefit of a single hit – a clutch two-run single by Connor O’Hara that put Ramsey in front, 4-2 – and a couple Haddon Heights miscues.

Haddon Heights got the prescribed and wished for combined effort out of four pitchers, Drew Costello, DiCostanzo, Mason Dobbs and Timmy Shell, who permitted five runs, none of which were earned, on two hits, struck out four and walked three.

Mike Featherstone had the other hit for Ramsey, which tacked on an insurance run in the fifth to lift the lead to 5-2 as Kirk continued to churn.

Haddon Heights was aiming at its first-ever group championship as well.

Ranney (NP-B), Howell (Group 4), Middletown North (Group 3) and Ramsey (Group 2) each won its first-ever NJSIAA group title.

NJSIAA Tournament Results

SECTIONAL FINALS

North 1

Group 4

Livingston 4, Passaic Tech 2

Group 3

Ramapo 3, Montville 2

Group 2

Ramsey 6, Westwood 0

Group 1

Waldwick 13, Wood-Ridge 10

North 2

Group 4

Hunterdon Central 5, Woodbridge 1

Group 3

Cranford 10, Millburn 8

Group 2

Caldwell 6, Hanover Park 3

Group 1

New Providence 8, Brearley 3

Central

Group 4

Howell 8, East Brunswick 2

Group 3

Middletown North 14, Colts Neck 11

Group 2

Rumson-Fair Haven 4, Wall 3

Group 1

Pt. Pleasant Beach 6, Middlesex 4

South

Group 4

Cherokee 2, Kingsway 1

Group 3

Delsea 4, Ocean City 0

Group 2

Haddon Heights 4, Cedar Creek 3

Group 1

Woodstown 4, Paulsboro 2

GROUP SEMIFINALS

Group 4

Hunterdon Central 2, Livingston 1

Howell 2, Cherokee 1

Group 3

Cranford 12, Ramapo 1

Middletown North 6, Delsea 1

Group 2

Ramsey 7, Caldwell 2

Haddon Heights 4, Rumson 2

Group 1

New Providence 8, Waldwick 2

Woodstown 4, Pt. Pleasant Beach 0

GROUP FINALS

Non-Public A

Don Bosco Prep 5, St. Augustine Prep 0

Non-Public B

Ranney 10, Immaculata 1

Group 4

Howell 9, Hunterdon Central 8

Group 3

Middletown North 5, Cranford 4

Group 2

Ramsey 5, Haddon Heights 2

Group 1

Woodstown 6, New Providence 2

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