Baseball – Bats Back Dombroski as Wall Wins First Group 3 Title Since 2004
HAMILTON TWP. - Trey Dombroski had watched more times than he would like to remember his Wall baseball team losing an elimination game while he was in the dugout, unable to impact the game on the mound.
This year, he got a taste of losing a tournament game when his team could not score a run for him.
So even when he was not feeling 100 percent leading up to the NJSIAA Group III championship game Saturday at DeMeo Field, there was nothing that was going to stop him from taking the mound for his team.
And this time, Dombroski's teammates had his back.
Wall scored six runs in the first two innings, pounded out 14 hits and let its workhorse do the rest as the Crimson Knights handled West Morris, 10-2, to win the program's fourth overall Group III championship and first since 2004.
"It's an amazing feeling," Dombroski said. "This is our first time here and we're one-for-one, so I can't complain. We have a state championship under our belt and even though it's our last season here, we went out on a high note.
The early six-run lead was more than enough for a pitcher who allowed four earned runs over the course of the entire season and the two first-inning runs might have been enough if not for four errors committed by the Crimson Knights defense. Dombroski allowed two unearned runs on five hits - two of them softly-struck infield hits - while striking out eight and walking none.
"It felt good to go out there with the game in my hands," Dombroski said. "The game was in my control and that's always a good feeling to have because you get to control the tempo of the game and do everything you can to keep the other team off the board."
Dombroski finishes his senior season 11-1 with a 0.37 ERA and 126 strikeouts against only five walks in 76 innings. He issued zero walks in nine of his 12 appearances on the mound this season and gave up two over his last 69 innings after walking three on opening day.
"He is, in my opinion, definitely the best pitcher in the state," senior third baseman Grant Shulman said of Dombroski. "He just proved that today, especially on such short rest. He just went out and dominated today. We just wanted to put up hits for him. He doesn't need many but we put up a lot."
He also finished his career as Wall's all-time leader in strikeouts with 228. The previous record was 226 and Dombroski tied and broke the mark with consecutive strikeouts to end the sixth inning.
Dombroski said he experienced shoulder stiffness between his last start on Monday against Cherry Hill West and Saturday. He got the shoulder massaged during the week and eventually settled in with his usual three-pitch mix and pinpoint location. Of the 86 pitches Dombroski threw on Saturday, 65 (75.6 percent) were strikes.
"After (warming up) I was a little tight but then I just worked it out," Dombroski said. "I trusted myself and I knew today I wasn't going to let these guys down.
"It took me a little while to get warm down in the bullpen. I was just working on my pitches just getting good sweat going. I was just competing."
"You never like to hear that your pitcher isn't feeling 100 percent but Trey's 50 percent is better than most kid's 100 percent," senior catcher Dave Howarth said. "Trey came out and did what he had to do today and so did everybody. He didn't have his cleanest game but he did the job."
While Dombroski might not have felt as physically comfortable as usual, he had the peace-of-mind that comes with a large lead from the outset. The Crimson Knights pushed two runs across before Dombroski ever took to the rubber and added four more in the top of the second to build an insurmountable lead considering the pitcher West Morris - playing in its first ever group final - had to overcome.
Senior Johnny Volpe was the catalyst in both innings, leading off the first with a single and crushing a one-out double off the left-field wall to ignite the second-inning rally. Shulman (3-for-5, double, two runs, two RBI) and Howarth (3-for-3, two RBI) also picked up a hit in each rally and both seniors finished with three hits for the game.
"We said before the game started, 'If we are (the) away (team), we have to get on them in the first inning,'" Shulman said. "John got us going and he just doesn't stop. We got those two runs, which was good for us and then we put up four in the second. It felt really good to come out in our last game and swing the bats like that behind."
After Volpe led the game off with a single down the third-base line, he stole second and held up at third on a line-drive single to left field by Shulman. Sophomore designated hitter Jay Bant then opened the scoring by flipping an RBI single into left field to chase home Volpe.
"Ever since sophomore year, this is all we have dreamed about so it was absolutely incredible to have it finally happen for us today," Volpe said. "I was seeing the ball better today and this was my last high school game, so I had to coming out firing."
Junior left fielder Sean Nocera was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Howarth ripped a single into right field, allowing Shulman to trot home with the second run. Considering he still faced a bases-loaded, one-out scenario after the Howarth hit, West Morris senior starter Connor Staine did well to escape the first inning with only two runs allowed.
Wall would not let Staine off the hook in the sixth. Volpe again started the rally with his long double with one out and junior center field Teddy Sharkey followed by reaching on a mishandled ground ball to shortstop.
Shulman stepped in a scorched a two-run double to deep right-center field, with Sharkey sliding in just under the tag at home plate to make the score 4-0.
Two batters later, Nocera split the right-center gap to plate Shulman with an RBI double for Wall's fifth run. Howarth then blooped a single into left field with two out to score Nocera with the fourth and final run of the frame.
After Dombroski retired the first six in order, West Morris scratched a run across against the Wall ace in the third. A dropped fly ball put the leadoff man on, but Dombroski erased him when he gloved a comebacker and got Jackson Yeatts attempting to advance to third base.
After a wild pitch the runner up to second, center fielder Nick Masi followed by beating out an infield single, winning a race to the bag against Dombroski after first baseman Tanner Powers fielded the slow ground ball.
Dombroski still nearly got out of the jam by inducing a potential double-play ground ball to shortstop but Powers came off the bag on the throw to first, allowing the first Wolfpack run to score.
Wall got two runs back for Dombroski in the top of the fourth, with Bant smoking a double to right-center to lead it off and courtesy runner Sean Brannon scoring from second on a wild pitch when Staine and catcher Matt Blount got crossed up and the ball ricocheted off Blount's wrist and all the way to the dugout.
Nocera then walks, Howarth singled for his third hit of the game to set up another threat, but Blount picked off Nocera at second after Powers pulled back a bunt attempt.
Courtesy runner Matt Croson stole second and took third on a wild pitch, which set up senior second baseman Dylan Richey for a two-out RBI single to left.
West Morris pestered Dombroski for another unearned run in the fifth after the Monmouth University commit retired the first two batters of the inning. Back-to-back errors extended the inning and junior third baseman Matt Gluck lined a clean single to right field to chase home the Wolfpack's second run.
Howarth then ended the inning by throwing out left fielder Nick Calabrese at third on the front-end of a double steal with West Morris trailing by six runs.
Wall scored its ninth run on an RBI fielder's choice ground out by Richey in the sixth and added another run in the seventh when junior center fielder Alfredo DiPaola doubled deep down the left-field line and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bant.
DiPaola replaced Sharkey in the bottom of the third inning after Sharkey began to feel ill. Sharkey would return to center field for the final half-inning.
West Morris started the bottom of the seventh with two singles off Dombroski, but the Wall ace responded by coaxing a flyout to left and firing his eighth strikeout for the second out. On his 86th pitch, Calabrese grounded the ball to Richey at second, who flipped to Powers for the game's final out.
Saturday's win gives head coach Todd Schmitt his second championship as head coach at Wall and ended a 15-year wait. Schmitt suffered an injury while at work in the school during the fall and was uncertain if he would be able to coach the team as recently as March. As it turned out, he made it back to the dugout to guide his team to another memorable season.
"We wanted to get him a championship," Dombroski said of Schmitt, the 22nd-year skipper of the Crimson Knights. "It's awesome to see those tears in his eyes. All we have worked for over these past three years has paid off and we finally got him a state championship. We love our coaches, everyone was together and we had so much fun."
That 2004 team was the first of two teams in the history of the Shore Conference to win every title possible: a division championship, a county championship, the Shore Conference Tournament and an NJSIAA Group championship.
"You have to be perfect to win everything," Howarth said. "It makes us appreciate the 2004 team that went 5-for-5. These guys we'll be the brothers for the rest of my life."
Over the past three seasons, Wall has been among the wins leaders in the Shore each season and leads all Shore teams with 68 in that span. Despite that success, it was not until its 10-2 win over Northern Burlington on May 31 that Wall won a tournament championship, capturing the program's first Central Jersey Group III title since 2008.
Wall was upset by 14th-seeded Neptune in the opening round of the 2017 Central Group III Playoffs, lost as the top seed to No. 16 Colts Neck in the 2018 Monmouth County Tournament round of 16, then lost in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals to Central and to Allentown in the Central Group III final in a span of three days to close out its 2018 season.
The tournament struggles continued into this season when Dombroski lost, 1-0, to Christian Brothers Academy in the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals and the Crimson Knights again lost in the SCT semifinals - this time to Manalapan.
This year, however, Wall's senior-led team rose to the occasion on its home field with the convincing win over Northern Burlington in the only game of the NJSIAA Tournament in which Dombroski did not pitch.
This past Monday, Dombroski shook off a season-high two earned-runs-allowed and a career-high nine hits allowed to beat Cherry Hill West, 4-3, to get Wall to the home stretch on Saturday. Even if Dombroski internally felt like he might be limping to the finish line, he appeared to the rest of the crowd at Veterans Park on Saturday to be sprinting to the finish line after running one of the great three-year races ever run by a Shore Conference pitcher.
Over the last three years, Dombroski went 25-2 with a cumulative ERA of 0.45, 100 hits allowed and 228 strikeouts to just 21 walks.
While his numbers from the Group III final are part of that nearly-unparalleled body of work, the state championship he helped Wall win was the biggest addition to Dombroski's sparkling resume from Saturday.
"It's hitting me right now how good I did," Dombroski said. "Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to do any of this - without my coaches, my parents as well. We came out here today and we knew if we put up some runs early, we were going to win a state championship and that's what we did."
Wall 10, West Morris 2
|West Morris (26-7)||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||2||5||2|
|Trey Dombroski (W, 11-1)||7||5||2||0||0||8||86|
|Connor Staine (L, 6-2)||4.2||12||8||5||3||4||110|
|Johnny Volpe||2-4, 2B, 2 R, SB|
|Grant Shulman||3-5, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI|
|Jay Bant||2-4, 2B, 2 RBI|
|Sean Nocera||2-3, 2B, 2 R, RBI|
|Dave Howarth||3-3, 2 RBI|
|Dylan Richey||1-4, 2 RBI|
|Matt Gluck||1-3, RBI|