Baseball – Gracia, Tavarez Power Ranney Past Bishop Eustace, Into Championship Showdown
TINTON FALLS -- According to conventional baseball thinking, Ranney School seniors A.J. Gracia and Diego Tavarez should probably trade places in the Panthers' batting order.
Gracia is centerfielder and an impressive all-around hitter with prodigious power out of the leadoff spot, while Tavarez a versatile infielder who brings a high-contact, grinder mentality and advanced bunting ability to the No. 3 spot in the order. The profiles of each seem to match the spot in the order of the other, although both can run the bases exceptionally well.
On Wednesday against Bishop Eustace in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals, it did not matter who was hitting in which spot: Gracia and Tavarez both supplied the power that kept Ranney's hopes of a championship ending alive.
Gracia homered twice and Tavarez belted a go-ahead two-run home run to right-centerfield in the bottom of the fifth inning the the Panthers clawed their way past the Crusaders, 4-3, and into the South Non-Public B sectional final for the second straight season.
Tavarez's game-winning blast was the third Ranney homer of the game, with Gracia connecting on a pair of solo home runs for his ninth and 10th of the season and 26th and 27th of his career.
Gracia's first homer led off the bottom of the first inning and staked Ranney to a 1-0 lead. Bishop Eustace, however, came back with two runs in the third on a two-out, two-run single by Anthony Masculli and bumped the lead up to 3-1 on a solo home run by Vin Panvini leading off the top of the fourth.
Left-hander Marcello Mastroianni took over on the mound for starter Nick Coniglio to start the top of the fifth inning and put up a zero thanks to an outfield assist by rightfielder Glen Cantalupo, who cut down a Bishop Eustace runner attempting to tag up from second to third on a flyout.
Ranney also had a runner thrown out on the bases, with Bishop Eustace centerfielder Christian Ovecka throwing out a runner at home on Glen Cantalupo's single for the last out of the second inning.
Mastroianni's pitching and Cantalupo's laser throw sett the stage for a big Ranney rally in the bottom of the inning. Gracia cut the deficit in half with his second bomb of the day, this one sailing over the right-centerfield fence after his first-inning shot left to dead center. Ryan Costello then worked a walk, setting the stage for Taverez. The Wagner commit pounced on a low fastball from Rutgers-bound right-hander Jack Kirchner and lined it over the right-centerfield wall to catapult Ranney into the lead for the first time since just before Masculli's clutch single in the third.
Mastroianni then spun a one-two-three sixth, but encountered some pressure in the seventh when Ovecka led off with a single and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Mastroianni responded by inducing a flyout for the second out and finished the game off with his second strikeout in three innings.
Ranney moves on to the sectional final Saturday and will face Gloucester Catholic for the third time in three years in this bracket. Saturday's showdown will be at Gloucester Catholic's home field and will be a rubber match, with Gloucester Catholic winning the 2021 sectional semifinal over Ranney with a tying rally in the seventh and a walk-off win in the bottom of the eighth.
Ranney got its revenge last year, with Charlie Chropuvka's three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh delivering Ranney its first sectional title with an 8-7 win.
Although both pitched on Wednesday, both Coniglio and Mastroianni maintained their eligibility to pitch again on Saturday if needed. Gracia will be the most rested of Ranney's top three pitchers, although he has not started a game since April 20 vs. Bishop Eustace, when he moved to centerfield after one inning due to tightness in his left bicep. Gracia has since made seven appearances in relief, the last of which came in the Shore Conference Tournament championship against Red Bank Catholic -- a 2-0 Ranney loss.
Ranney 4, Bishop Eustace 3
|Bishop Eustace (21-8)||0||0||2||1||0||0||0||3||5||0|
|Jack Kirchner (L)||5||5||4||4||3||6||98|
|Marcello Mastroianni (W)||3||1||0||0||0||2||39|
|Bishop Eustace||Game Stats|
|Christian Mascuilli||1-3, 2 RBI|
|Vin Panvini||1-3, HR, R, RBI|
|A.J. Gracia||2-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI|
|Diego Tavarez||1-2, HR, R, 2 RBI|
|Ryan Costello||1-2, BB, R|