Baseball – Bats Come Alive, Bullpen Dominates Again as Rumson Repeats in Central Group 2
RUMSON -- As one of Rumson-Fair Haven's senior standouts on the mound, Jackson Hinchcliffe has passed the ball to his team's lockdown bullpen on multiple occasions this season, but he has rarely ever been asked to be a part of that lockdown bullpen.
In Friday's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game against third-seeded Spotswood, Hinchcliffe made a cameo appearance as a dominant stopper out of the bullpen so that he can have a chance to pitch the top-seeded Bulldogs to two more wins and the program's first state championship.
Hinchcliffe bridged the gap from starter John Goodes to Rumson's overpowering back-end bullpen with an electric 1 2/3 innings and Rumson's offense scored in every inning it batted to hammer out an 8-3 win over the Chargers that clinches the Bulldogs their second consecutive Central Group II title.
Hinchcliffe threw 68 pitches in Tuesday's 2-1 win over Ocean in the sectional semifinals and he is slated to be the starter in Rumson's Group II semifinal Monday against South Jersey champion Seneca in Rumson, but Bulldogs coach Owen Stewart was prepared to call upon his ace if the team needed a steady hand and Hinchcliffe felt up to the task.
"I knew I was live and I knew I was probably going to stay under 50 so I could come back and throw Monday," Hinchcliffe said.
That situation came to pass and Hinchcliffe eagerly answered the call.
"I just wanted to bridge it to O’Toole and then to Bruno, so I only had to get five outs," Hinchcliffe said. "I don’t have to go the full seven. I can go five or four and I know my bullpen’s got my back. They have been lights-out all year."
"He has been champing at the bit to be in this position to where he can throw every game," Stewart said. "And he throws it with a chip on his shoulder. Out of the three guys we have had over the past three years – Charlie Jones, Johnny Goodes and him – he has been the guy who has been overshadowed and he really wants to prove himself. He is an excellent pitcher and he is going to the University of Richmond for a reason. He’s no slouch. He has had the experience, so to see him really come through and to be thriving has been awesome."
Spotswood scored only one run in the first six innings, but made the Chargers made senior starter John Goodes work during his 3 1/3 innings of work. Goodes stranded five runners over the first three innings, recording the final two outs of the third on a 6-4-3 double play. The double play came after Goodes got the first out of the third by picking off Seton Hall commit and senior shortstop Casey Cuminskey at second base after Cuminskey led off the inning with a ground-rule double.
In the top of the fourth, Goodes surrendered infield singles to Chris Bottiglieri and Sebby Saracino around a groundout, with Saracino's single plating Spotswood's first run. A four-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Shawn Lennan prompted Bulldogs coach Owen Stewart to call upon Hinchcliffe to work out of the first-and-second jam with one out and the top of the order coming up.
"The plan was John for seven," Stewart said. "Our plan is always our starter for seven, and then we’ll see what they present as the game goes on – especially those two guys.
"When he got through the third with that double-play, I was hoping that he’d ride that momentum into the next inning and he doesn’t didn’t have it out of the dugout right away. When he didn’t have it, having Jackson in our back pocket was something we were ready to take advantage of."
Hinchliffe immediately notched a strikeout for the first out and induced Cuminskey into an inning-ending groundout. The Richmond-bound right-hander came back out for the fifth inning and carved through the middle of the Spotswood order on 12 pitches, picking up two more strikeouts.
"He came in and got a big strikeout and then he was able to get that second out and just keep it rolling through the fifth," senior catcher Owen Kenney said. "That spot he came in was huge."
In all, Hinchcliffe needed just 20 pitches to retire five consecutive batters between the fourth and fifth innings. It was only his second relief appearance of the past two seasons and his first relief appearance in a game that was actually close since he did so on one occasion as a sophomore in 2021.
"He’s always been a guy who is very honest when it comes to his arm," Kenney said. "If he is not feeling 100 percent, he’ll tell us. He’ll just say ‘I’m dying right now, you might want to go to the bullpen.’ If he wasn’t feeling great about it, he would definitely say something, but he felt great, he was moving and he set our bullpen up perfectly for that sixth and seventh."
Sophomore right-hander Owen O'Toole took over and fired a dominant sixth inning, needing 10 pitches to record two strikeouts. Senior right-hander Matt Bruno surrendered a two-run homer to Cuminskey, but still managed to strikeout the side in closing out Rumson's second straight sectional title.
O'Toole, Bruno and senior Cal Champeau have been Rumson's trio of relievers at the end of the game all season and that trio has given the Bulldogs an end-game formula that is rare in the high-school game -- never mind for a team playing in Group II.
"Last year, we had a really good pen too and I think they set a standard for this year," Kenney said. "All our pitchers came into the season knowing they had to be ready and they have really stepped up to the plate."
With Rumson's ability to shut down the last three innings with three pitchers, it allowed Stewart to used Hinchcliffe to put out a fire without wearing him out ahead of a huge start coming up on Monday.
"If the score was tighter, maybe a one-run game, it might have been a little different, but Owen, Matty and Cal have been doing it for us in one-run games all year," Stewart said. "It’s not like there is a lot of hesitation to go to that bullpen when it’s tight."
On the other side of the inning, Rumson's offense turned in its best performance of the season by hit total, with the Bulldogs knocking around a season-high 12 hits.
After Goodes worked through the top of the first inning, Rumson went right to work getting its senior right-hander a comfortable lead, with sophomore Parker Shenman serving as the catalyst in four of the six rallies.
Shenman sparked the offensive breakthrough a 4-for-4 game at the plate, checking off the first three legs of the cycle with two singles, a double and two triples.
The sophomore centerfielder got right to work in the bottom of the first: Shenman singled and stole second, then scored the first run on the first of two RBI singles by junior leftfielder Jack Riva. Senior Brayden Dill made it 2-0 with an RBI single through the left side and fielder's choice RBI by senior first baseman Spencer Hobson capped the first-inning rally.
From there, Rumson scored a single run in each of the next five innings to continue to add to its lead. Riva's infield single off the end of his bat gave Shenman a chance to score from third after he tripled to start the inning.
Shenman then picked up his lone RBI of the game with a two-out RBI single through the right side to score Hobson, who led off the bottom of the third with a jam-shot single into centerfield.
Senior catcher Owen Kenney made it 6-1 in the fourth with an RBI single to shallow left-center to score Riva. Rumson capped its scoring with sacrifice flies by senior shortstop Reece Moroney and Dill in the fifth and sixth, respectively.
"These last few games, coach Stewart has really focused on our hitting approach – not so much mechanics but our mentality in the box," Kenney said. "Over the last couple of games, it has really started to show working against pitchers with two-pitch mixes. We held our approach much better and it has progressed throughout the season."
"We talked all day about just being ready when you get up there," Stewart said. "Don’t get too focused in on just one pitch. Just go up there ready to hit. We don’t need guys mashing big home runs right now; we need balls like Owen Kenney hit – off the cap of his bat that fall just in front of the outfielders. That really was the difference today."
The postgame celebration was spirited, but subdued compared to last year's bonanza that erupted after Rumson defeated Wall, 4-3, with a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning. That game-winning rally gave Rumson's its first sectional title in 18 years, but the celebration ended at the beginning of the following week, when Haddon Heights ended Rumson's season in the Group II semifinals.
With Hinchcliffe ready pitch for the fourth time during this tournament and eligible to pitch in a potential Group II final on June 10, Rumson has its sights set on its first ever group championship after coming up short a year ago.
"I feel ready to go," Hinchcliffe said. "I want to get us to Saturday. We didn’t finish the job last year so we’re coming back to win today, then Monday and Saturday and we’re state champs."
Rumson-Fair Haven 8, Spotswood 3
|Jackson Walsh (L, 8-2)||3||7||5||5||2||4||79|
|Jackson Hinchcliffe (W, 5-1)||1.2||0||0||0||0||3||20|
|Casey Cuminskey||3-4, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI|
|Sebby Saracino||1-3, RBI|
|Chris Bottiglieri||1-2, BB, R|
|Shawn Lennan||1-2, BB, R|
|Rumson-Fair Haven||Game Stats|
|Parker Shenman||4-4, 2B, 3B, 2 R, RBI, SB|
|Jack Riva||2-3, BB, 2 R, 2 RBI, SB|
|Owen Kenney||2-4, 2B, R, RBI, 2 SB|
|Brayden Dill||1-3, 2 RBI|
|Spencer Hobson||1-4, R, RBI|
|Cade LaGrassa||1-2, BB, R|
|Reece Moroney||0-1, BB, HBP, R, RBI, SB|
|Roman Sakele||1-1, 2B|