Baseball – Jackson Rallies to Win Last Dance South Jersey Championship
LAKEWOOD - Every high school baseball player in New Jersey lost a chance to play their senior season on the diamond because of the cancellation of the spring scholastic season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the seniors on Jackson Memorial, they lost more than just a chance to play - they lost a chance at redemption.
The 2018 NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV champions brought back a core of juniors around some key seniors and won 20 games, but exited earlier than expected in each of the three postseason tournaments in which they played.
The Last Dance World Series, presented by RWJBarnabas Health, restored that chance at redemption the Jackson Memorial players thought they lost this past spring and - perhaps unlike during last season when they were juniors - the 2020 Jaguars seniors have not taken it for granted.
Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Park, for the first time in the tournament, Jackson trailed beyond the bottom of the first inning, but the Jags rallied to capture the LDWS South Jersey championship by beating Bishop Eustace's Sader Baseball Club, 4-3.
Last Dance - Jackson vs. Bishop Eustace
"We're dogs - that's it," senior first baseman Carmine Petosa said of his team's come-from-behind mentality. "That was a fight tonight and we love fights."
Petosa and Rhode-Island-bound catcher Tom Cartnick starred at the plate for Jackson while senior Dan Greenwood and sophomore left-hander Zach Crotchfelt combined for 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to keep the Jags in position to win the game.
Petosa drove in three of Jackson's four runs during his 2-for-2 game at the plate, including the go-ahead RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. The left-handed-swinging first baseman got a run back for his team in the bottom of the first inning with an RBI single that made the score 3-1 and later cut the Jags deficit to 3-2 with a sacrifice fly in the third.
His first-inning RBI single marked Petosa's second straight night with an RBI hit in the first inning. He hit an RBI double to open the scoring in Tuesday's 6-1 win over the SJ Falcons of St. Joseph of Metuchen - also off a left-hander.
"My approach: opposite field," Petosa said. "Go the other way. Take it the other way, take it for a ride and good things will happen."
Cartnick, meanwhile, turned in another standout game in the batter's box by going 3-for-3 with two doubles, including the game-tying, two-out RBI double in the bottom of the fifth. With his perfect night at the plate Wednesday night, Cartnick is now hitting 9-for-16 with four doubles, a triple, two home runs, six walks and 12 RBI - good for an eye-popping triple-slash line of .562/.652/1.312.
"Tommy Cartnick continues to do what he does, Carmine Petosa had a huge knock, Ryan Lasko running the bases - that's the fun stuff in all this," Jackson coach Frank Malta said.
Jackson found itself in an early 3-0 hole after Sader's fast start. For his second straight start, Jags senior left-hander Nick Beetel struggled to find the strikezone during the first two batters of the game, but unlike against Washington Township last week, Sader made Beetel pay.
After drawing back-to-back walks to open the game, Sader took the lead on a two-run double into the left-field corner by St. John's commit Chuck Sanzio. Eric Sabato followed with a one-out RBI single to right to plate Sanzio and give left-handed starter Joe Mascio a three-run cushion before he even had to take the mound.
Cartnick sparked the first-inning rally that got Jackson a run right back, with the power-hitting backstop smashing a double to the gap in left-center with two out. Petosa then followed by flipping a single into left-center to chase home courtesy-runner Austin Parikh.
Beetel issued another walk with one out in the second but struck out the next two Sader batters. In the third, however, right fielder Joe Pence smashed a one-out double to the warning track in right-centerfield and Malta took the ball from his veteran senior starter - who was a star in Jackson Memorial's run to a sectional title as sophomore and threw five no-hit innings in his start vs. Washington last week.
Fellow senior Dan Greenwood came on and retired the next two batters on a fly out and pop out, then pitched around a single and a walk to post a scoreless fourth.
Jackson got a run back in the bottom of the third, with Cartnick and Petosa again in the middle of the rally. Senior second baseman Christian Pellone led off the frame with a single to left-center and stole second base. With one out, Cartnick popped the ball up down the right-field line and it found green, allowing Pellone to move to third and Cartnick to reach second on the throw to third.
Petosa then whacked the second pitch he saw to left-center field to plate Pellone with Jackson's second run.
Sader threatened to build on its lead in the fifth with a walk and single to start the inning, prompting Malta to call on Crotchfelt to get out of the jam. The left-hander and Auburn commit struck out Sabato and finished off the inning by inducing a pair of fly outs to keep the score 3-2.
Jackson made its move with two outs in the fifth, with Rutgers-bound centerfielder Ryan Lasko drawing a two-out walk to bring up Cartnick. The Jags catcher hit a high fly ball down the left-field line and Sabato's diving attempt came up just short. Running on contact, Lasko raced home and Cartnick darted to second with a game-tying two-run double - his 12th RBI of the LDWS.
On the very next pitch, Petosa ripped a single into right field to score Parikh with what proved to be the winning run.
"I was looking for that first-pitch fastball," Petosa said. "He gave me that first-pitch fastball in the last two at-bats and I sat on it. Third time up, I knew I could hit it and I just took it for a ride."
Crotchfelt was dominant in his three innings of work, striking out six while allowing three baserunners, but still faced trouble in the sixth. Danny Obermeir's infield single led off the inning and Crotchfelt responded with back-to-back strikeouts. He then lost a seven-pitch battle with Nick Senior, who took a 3-2 pitch out of the zone for ball four to bring up Sanzio.
A wild pitch during the Sanzio at-bat put the tying run on third and go-ahead run in scoring position at second, but Crotchfelt broke off a 3-2 breaking ball that fooled Sanzio for the inning-ending strikeout.
"As a pitcher, sometimes I don't have the most confidence in all my stuff," Crotchfelt said. "Tonight, the fastball was working, the changeup not so much and the curveball was kind of there. It's just (pitching) coach (Nick) Koman having confidence in me, knowing I could get that curveball over. If he hit it, it's on to the next guy, but we wanted to change it up and see what he could do."
Crotchfelt overpowered the first two batters of the seventh before Dave Alleva - who blasted a three-run home run in his team's 3-0 win over Brooklawn on Tuesday - ripped a two-out single through the right side to keep the game going.
Crotchfelt bounced right back and coaxed a first-pitch pop-up in foul territory that senior third baseman Jake Wendell squeezed for the final out.
"As baseball players, that's what we live for," Crotchfelt said of his outing. "Personally, I love those big situations because high-risk situations have high rewards."
Wednesday's relief appearance was a bounceback effort by Crotchfelt, who could not get the last two outs last Wednesday's win over Washington Township. Greenwood saved that game and on Wednesday, it was Crotchfelt who backed up Greenwood and Beetel by finishing the job and pitching his team to a South Jersey championship.
"I'm not used to the reliever role, but I'm enjoying the experience because I think it's important to learn," Crotchfelt said. "The adrenaline and the crowd and my team on the bench really contributed to the ball coming out of my hand the way it did."
Jackson's Last Dance run will end in the overall state championship Friday night at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, where the Jags will take on North Jersey champion Cougars Baseball of Cranford. The Cougars are coming off lopsided wins over Prep powers Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic by scores of 12-0 and 10-0.
Jackson, meanwhile, used most of its Last Dance pitching staff to get through both Tuesday and Wendesday and is likely to have to call upon at least one pitcher who has not yet appeared in the tournament. Joe Santoriello, Devin Foderaro and Rocco LaVista each pitched during the first week of the tournament, but Malta said LaVista's availability is up in the air due to an injury.
Malta also reiterated that none of the pitchers who threw this week will be options to pitch, regardless of their interest in pitching. Ace Matt Potok expressed his interest in pitching twice this week, Crotchfelt said he would make himself available following Wednesday's performance, Beetel threw 55 pitches on Wednesday and Greenwood 34.
"I don't think it's smart to do," Malta said of using any of the pitchers from Tuesday or Wednesday in Friday's game. "I'm not going to do that to the kids, especially with all the time they had off (before the tournament). That's something we talked about before this tournament got going. It's going to be an opportunity for other guys and I think that's a great thing for them."
Whomever gets the ball for Jackson on Friday in Trenton, the Jags will conclude their extended 2020 season together by playing the maximum number of games possible in the tournament. Those eight games represent one last chance to show how special the spring of 2020 could have been for the Jaguars. Those eight games - with the last still to come - have also made for a special summer.
"This is everything," Petosa said. "This is the last time playing with these boys and I'm ecstatic. This is a real tournament and it's given me a chance to play with my boys, so we're all happy. This feels like nothing less than a regular high-school season."
Jackson Jags 4, Sader Baseball Club 3
|Sader Baseball (6-1)||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||7||1|
|Jackson Jags (7-0)||1||0||1||0||2||0||X||4||7||0|
|Joe Mascio (L)||6||7||4||4||1||6||91|
|Zach Crotchfelt (W, 2-0)||3||2||0||0||1||6||60|
|Sader Baseball||Game Stats|
|Chuck Sanzio||1-3, 2B, BB, R, 2 RBI|
|Eric Sabato||1-4, RBI, SB|
|Joe Pence||2-4, 2B|
|Jackson Jags||Game Stats|
|Tom Cartnick||3-3, 2 2B, RBI|
|Carmine Petosa||2-2, 3 RBI|
|Christian Pellone||1-3, R, SB|