Matty Wright rocked a three-run home run and drove in six runs as Somerville opened the most eagerly anticipated season in New Jersey high school baseball history by knocking off Skyland Conference rival Immaculata, 9-7, at Diamond Nation.
The Covid-19-decimated 2020 season can now slip into our subconscious with other bad memories as the 2021 Skyland Conference baseball season moved front-and-center on a balmy 70-degree Tuesday in Flemington.
This was a hard one to read in the pre-game, as so many matchups will be this spring, but it didn’t disappoint in any way.
“We were talking about it, it was like 600 days since our last regular season game,” said Somerville coach Chris Banos. ”It was fun to be out there and it was a great atmosphere. Both teams were intense and into it.”
Wright, Somerville’s lefty-hitting No. 2 hitter and center fielder, drove in a run in the third inning with a sac fly to give the Pioneers an early 2-0 advantage. But that was merely a precursor to some serious thunder provided later by the Stony Brook-bound Wright.
Somerville righthander Shawn Scott had retired the first 10 Immaculata batters with some help from the Pioneers’ terrific middle infield. But that changed quickly after Boston College-bound Chris Markovich reached on a throwing error and the Spartans’ catcher Alex Duffey stepped in. The lefty-hitting Duffey rocked an opposite field two-run home run over the fence in left field to knot the score at 2-2.
Somerville, however, got back in business quickly in the top of the fifth without much noise. Karson Wengryn (2-for-3, 3 runs), the No. 9 hitter, started it with an infield single before leadoff hitter Matt Miceli (3-for-4, 2 runs) followed with a bunt single down the third base line. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch with Wright at the plate.
“We always want to answer a team back,” said Banos. “Even when they answer us, we are ready to come right back.”
Wright, a junior, did so in a big way, latching onto a fastball and pulled it on a high line well over the fence in right field for a three-run home run and a 5-2 lead. Wright had entered the season nursing a minor injury.
“Matty hadn’t played in a week,” said Banos. “He had a little groin issue and I was just being overly cautious with him.”
Wright seemed locked in all game, guessing right on both the home run to right and a double to left in the sixth.
“I was looking fastball,” said Wright on his blast to right. “I got one middle-middle.”
Lefty-hitting freshman Josh Thompson got a run back for Immaculata in the bottom of the fifth when he singled to right field to score Timmy Cawley from third. Matthew Shakhal’s bunt single then loaded the bases with no outs and seemingly put the Spartans in position for more runs. But reliever Tim Pitucco got A.J. Johnson to bounce into a 6-2 force-out then induced Markovich to hit a bouncer in the middle of the diamond. Miceli snared it, stepped on second and fired to first base for an inning-ending double play.
Somerville then put some distance between itself and the Spartans when it struck for four runs in the sixth. Colin Saich, the Pioneers’ No. 8 hitter, and Wengryn, who combined to score five runs in the game, triggered the rally. Banos enjoyed the play of his No. 8 and 9 hitters. “I wasn’t surprised one bit,” Banos said. “They both had really good pre-seasons.”
Saich singled to center with one out and Wengryn followed with a single through the left side to set the table in the sixth. Miceli’s single to left would load the bases for Wright, who found the barrel once again, blasting a liner to left field that Cawley had played perfectly. But, at the last moment, he lost the ball in the sun as two runs scored. Miceli and Wright cruised into scoring position. They were picked up there by Tyler Stone’s single to left that boosted the lead to 9-3.
Wright show an ability to adjust to the pitcher one bat after his home run, lacing the double the opposite way on a hard line to left. “It was a curveball he left up on the outer half,” said Wright. “I took one before that pitch and I was looking to go 5-6 hole if he came back with another curveball. I was ready.”
To Immaculata’s credit, it kept pecking away.
The Elon-bound Duffey appeared to hit his second home run of the game leading off the sixth. The ball crashed off the screen above the low portion of the wall down the left field line. But the umps ruled it a double. Duffey, nonetheless, would come around to score on a pair of ground balls. The second by Aidan Rumain scored Duffey to shave the deficit to 9-4.
That run didn’t seem important until Somerville committed a pair of two-out infield errors to contribute to Immaculata’s three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh. Anthony Loffredo led off with a double and would later score on an error. Johnson singled and came around on an error and Markovich reached on an error and scored on Matt Warzeniak’s single to right.
Pitucco, who should have recorded six outs in the inning, was suddenly facing the tying run. This time he got a grounder to Miceli at shortstop to end it.
“It felt amazing to get out there,” said Wright. “It’s what we’ve been waiting for.
Game Notes: The Stony Brook-bound Miceli made two outstanding plays in the first inning, going deep in the hole to rob Johnson and charging in to his right to nail Duffey at first. … Markovich returned the favor to Miceli, robbing his Diamond Jacks teammate of a hit in the bottom of the first. … Somerville second baseman Knapp made a terrific play diving in the hole to steal a hit from Shakhal in the third. … Johnson, by the way, made two diving stops on grounders along the third base line to take hits away from Timmy Wright in the fourth and Stone in the fifth. … Immaculata turned two double plays and Somerville turned one.
… Stone unloaded a long grounds rule double to straightaway center field in the first to go with his clutch two-run single in the sixth. … Saich had a double and single and scored twice as he and Wengryn shined … The four pitchers in the game combined to issue a single walk. … Thompson appeared to reach in the third when he bunted and catcher Wengryn hit him with his throw to first. But Thompson was ruled out for being out of the baseline when the ball hit him. Replays from the HiCast camera stationed behind home plate showed the plate umpire’s call was on the money.