Baseball: DiPiazza Leads Central to OCT Final
BAYVILLE - Central senior ace Andrew DiPiazza showed something in Saturday's Ocean County Tournament semifinal at Al Kunzman Field that couldn't be measured with a radar gun.
A pitcher's makeup can be a difficult trait to assess, but DiPiazza deserves a high grade in that area after battling his way to a complete-game win on a season-high 119 pitches in a 5-2 victory over defending OCT champion Toms River North. The Golden Eagles (12-5) will now face Class B South rival Barnegat, which is playing in its first OCT final, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Toms River East in search of their first OCT title since 1986.
DiPiazza struggled with the grip on his fastball and curveball during the first hot day of the spring and also weathered a pair of unearned runs and eight hits by the Mariners to improve to 4-0. With a handful of major-league scouts watching the Alabama recruit, he showed he can adjust on the fly when he doesn't have his best stuff and grind out a victory against a quality team. He did not allow an earned run on eight hits, striking out six, walking two and hitting a batter, to remain undefeated since his sophomore year.
"I think last year it took me a little longer to calm down and find a way to get through it, and this year I feel like the first inning is rough, but after that I'm learning faster and cruising through,'' DiPiazza said. "After the first inning, I was still looking at a couple scouts over there and trying to blow the ball by everybody, and I realized that wasn't happening today. I didn't have my best stuff, but I settled down and was just hitting spots."
Central put together all the runs it would need with a four-run second inning highlighted by a two-out, two-run single by centerfielder Rich Galati that snapped a 2-2 tie.
"Drew is always a good teammate to everybody,'' Galati said. "He's always picking everybody up, so when we have to return the favor to him, somebody has to step up and do it, so I was just doing everything I can to get him those runs."
DiPiazza started the second-inning burst when he laced a leadoff single to right field for the first of his two hits off Mariners starter Brett Hyers. Catcher Ken Beyrouty followed by ripping a single to center field, and then rightfielder Javon Hardy dropped a bunt single to the third base side to load the bases with no outs. Second baseman Jake Dominguez cut the lead to 2-1 with an RBI sacrifice fly to left field, and then an error on a grounder to third loaded the bases again with one out.
An RBI groundout to shortstop by Dan Viscel tied the game at two, and then Galati smacked a first-pitch fastball into center field for a clutch two-run single and a 4-2 lead that would be all DiPiazza needed.
"(Hyers) threw me a lot of fastballs my first at-bat, so I was just sitting fastball and trying to shoot it up the middle,'' Galati said.
The Golden Eagles added an insurance run in the sixth when DiPiazza led off with a single and courtesy runner Joe Firetto stole second and then went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Beyrouty. Firetto then scored when Hardy dropped down a perfectly-executed squeeze bunt for a 5-2 advantage.
DiPiazza weathered a 36-pitch first inning in which the Mariners nicked him for a pair of unearned runs to take a quick 2-0 lead. Shortstop Joey Rose reached on an error on a grounder to third to start the game, went to third on a single by third baseman Julian Feliz after an eight-pitch at-bat and then scored on a groundout to second by first baseman Anthony Ferlise. Designated hitter Mike Tiplady reached on a fielder's choice after DiPiazza fielded a comebacker to the mound and caught Feliz in a rundown, and then Tiplady went to second on a single by leftfielder Joe Venditto.
Rightfielder Jeff Ciervo, who went 3-for-4 in the loss, made it 2-0 with an RBI single to center field for the third hit of the inning off a pitcher who usually gives up about that many in an entire game.
"I've never seen a player that has more composure than him,'' Central coach John Scran said. "He definitely could've gotten rattled that first inning. He composed himself nicely, and you saw the results."
DiPiazza was struggling with the grip on his fastball and curveball, picking up dirt frequently to try to get more control. He also admittedly got caught up in radar gun-watching initially.
"After the first inning, I was still looking at a couple scouts over there and trying to blow the ball by everybody, and I realized that wasn't happening today,'' he said. "They're here every start. They always say, 'Don't throw to the gun,' but then again, why are they holding it? After the first inning, I said, 'Screw it, hit locations, bring it down. If I have to go into the mid-80s, upper 80s and not try to hit 105 every time, that's what I've got to be doing.' Sometimes that's better."
"Here and there he might try to rear back, but I think he does a great job of taking control of the game and not letting the scouts influence his game,'' Scran said.
He got more efficient as the game went on after throwing 69 pitches through the first three innings. Struggling with a four-seam fastball he was leaving up in the zone along with a flat curveball, he adjusted on the fly.
"I never throw a two-seam (fastball), (and) I never throw a slider, but those were my two biggest pitches today,'' DiPiazza said. "In situations like this you have to make up stuff and do whatever you can to get the win."
DiPiazza settled in during the middle innings, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced from the fourth through sixth on a combined 30 pitches. He had not thrown more than 100 pitches in any start all season, but Scran told him if he was under 100 going into the seventh, he could go out there. He was at 99 pitches going into the final inning.
"We did not want to go that far with him,'' Scran said. "He wanted to stay in the game. He told me he was feeling good. Once we got those quick innings, I was going to give him the ball. We had to ride him to our OCT championship (game). He didn't have his stuff today, but he managed to get outs, and our defense came up big."
Central also did not panic in the least bit when getting behind early with a quality pitcher on the mound for the other side. Hyers (2-3) took the hard-luck loss in allowing one earned run on six hits in 5-plus innings, striking out two and walking one.
"This team has never given up,'' Scran said. "We've had a lot of wins where we've come back in games late, and we've manufactured runs anyway we can. It was nice to see (DiPiazza) today pitch with a comfortable lead. It's not very often that he does that. For some reason, I don't know if we rely on him too much with our offense, but we got to make sure we score more runs when he's on the mound like today."
DiPiazza needed 20 pitches in the seventh inning to wrap up the win after allowing a walk and a single, but he finished it emphatically by striking out Ciervo swinging on a full-count fastball to send the Golden Eagles to their first OCT final since the early 1990s.
"The way this team has come together, it's just an awesome feeling,'' DiPiazza said. "We're excited about Tuesday."
Central 5, Toms River North 2
TR North (11-7) 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 2 8 1
Central (12-5) 0 4 0 0 0 1 x - 5 6 1
Doubles: (T) Rose. WP: DiPiazza (4-0); LP: Hyers (2-3).