Baseball – Huge First Inning Powers Ranney to First Ever Sectional Final
TINTON FALLS -- Monday's South Jersey Non-Public B semifinal was a chance for Ranney to redeem itself in the same round in which its 2021 season came to an end.
Now, the Panthers are hoping to redeem themselves against the team that knocked them out of last year's final, but first they will celebrate a program first and wait to see which team will actually oppose them in Friday's championship game.
Ranney clubbed three home runs during a 10-run first inning and closed out a 16-8 win over defending Non-Public B champion Holy Spirit to advance to the sectional final round for the first time in program history.
Bishop Eustace will play at Gloucester Catholic Tuesday in the other semifinal, with the winner traveling to top-seeded Ranney to play in Friday's sectional championship game. Gloucester Catholic is the No. 2 seed and the team that eliminated Ranney in last year's South Non-Public B championship games, which the Rams did in a back-and-forth, 9-8 game.
"That was probably the toughest loss I've had as a coach and I've had a few rough ones going back to when I was at Monroe," Ranney coach Pat Geroni said. "I really wanted our guys to get a chance to play Gloucester Catholic again because that one has been sitting with us for about a year now. If it's Bishop Eustace, that's fine too; we're playing for a championship and that's what we wanted."
Holy Spirit jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a two-run home run by third baseman Ryan Spina in the top of the first, but Ranney quickly responded with an eruption.
Junior A.J. Gracia immediately got the Panthers on the board with a leadoff home run and Ranney overtook the Spartans with an RBI double by junior second baseman Jack Tallent and back-to-back squeeze bunts by juniors Glen Cantalupo and Diego Tavarez to make the score 4-2.
Junior catcher Lou Spadafora then crushed a three-run home run down the leftfield line to balloon the Ranney lead to 7-2 and junior Ricky Nagy then reached on an error to make it eight straight Panthers hitters to reach base to start the inning.
After Holy Spirit left-hander Van Patten retired the next two batters, Ranney junior shortstop Brett Wehringer battled back from a 0-2 count to draw a walk and senior Charlie Chropuvka belted the next pitch over the fence in right-centerfield for a 10-2 Ranney lead.
Panthers starter Marcello Mastroianni pitched a scoreless second inning and Ranney scored two more runs on an RBI single by Nagy and a sacrifice fly by freshman Curtis Chropuvka to put the host team ahead, 12-2.
Holy Spirit got out of a 10-run predicament with a three-run third inning, highlighted by an RBI double by Spina that ran his RBI total for the day to four.
Geroni turned the ball over to Gracia on the mound after Mastroianni issued a leadoff walk in the fourth and the Duke-bound left-hander pitched scoreless frames in the fifth and sixth innings.
Ranney scored its 13th run in the fifth when junior first baseman Glen Cantalupo touched home plate just before Spina tagged out runner caught in a rundown for the final out of the inning.
Ranney had a chance to end the game early with two runs in the bottom of the fifth and settled for one on a sacrifice fly by Charlie Chropuvka to make it 14-5.
Rutgers commit and Spartans centerfielder Trevor Cohen drilled a two-run home run as part of a three-run sixth for Holy Spirit to increase the likelihood of a full, seven-inning game.
Cantalupo walked and scored on a wild pitch while junior Diego Tavarez doubled and scored on a bunt base hit by Nagy to make it 16-8.
Gracia then mowed down the side in order in the top of the seventh, closing out the win with a strikeout.
Charlie Chropuvka finished 3-for-3 with four RBI, Spadafora was 2-for-3 with three RBI, Tavarez was 2-for-3 with a double with three runs, and Gracia was 1-for-3 with his 11th home run and 33rd stolen base on the season.
Next up, Ranney will try to advance to the Non-Public B championship in Hamilton on June 15 by winning Friday's sectional final on its home field. By playing on Monday, Ranney will have all of its pitchers eligible to pitch, with Mastroianni (76 pitches on Monday) good for up to 74, Gracia (55 on Monday) up to 95 and the rest of the staff at the full 110 limit.
Junior right-hander Nick Coniglio threw a 64-pitch, five-inning no-hitter in Ranney's win over Holy Cross Prep Friday and, although eligible for 82 pitches on Monday, did not appear in the game. He is among the Ranney pitchers available for the full 110 on Friday.
In last year's sectional semifinal against Ranney, Gracia hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh inning, putting the Panthers up, 8-7, and on the cusp of advancing to the sectional final. Ranney came within one strike of finishing off the win and got strike three on a ball in the dirt, but could not complete the throw to first base. Gloucester Catholic took advantage of the new life by tying the game in the seventh and winning it in the bottom of the eighth.
"I couldn't even think about baseball for five days after that game," Geroni said of last year's final. "That's how hard that loss was. I'm around baseball all the time, but it just stung so much, I had to take a break and I think that's how our guys felt. Once they got back at it though, I think they have been extremely motivated and now they're going to get their shot to win a championship after coming really, really close last year."
Ranney 16, Holy Spirit 8
|Holy Spirit (10-17)||2||0||3||0||0||3||0||8||11||3|
|Van Patten (L, 5-4)||0.2||7||10||7||1||0||36|
|A.J. Gracia (W, 3-3)||4||4||3||3||1||3||55|
|Holy Spirit||Game Stats|
|Ryan Spina||2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI|
|Trevor Cohen||3-4, HR, 3 R, 3 RBI|
|Torrance Cooper||3-4, RBI|
|Jake Lodgek||1-2, BB, R, SB|
|Trevor Smith||1-4, RBI|
|Charlie Chropuvka||3-3, HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, SB|
|Lou Spadafora||2-3, HR, R, 3 RBI|
|Diego Tavarez||2-3, 2B, BB, 3 R, RBI|
|A.J. Gracia||1-3, HR, HBP, 2 R, RBI, SB|
|Ricky Nagy||2-4, R, 2 RBI, SB|
|Jack Tallent||1-4, 2B, R, RBI|
|Brett Wehringer||1-3, BB, 2 R|
|Glen Cantalupo||0-1, 2 BB, 3 R, RBI|
|Curtis Chropuvka||0-2, 2 RBI|