Baseball – Koblos’s Grand Slam, Crotchfelt’s Dominance Inch Jackson Memorial Closer to Title
JACKSON TWP. -- Jackson Memorial junior outfielder Matt Koblos spent seven innings playing behind a senior teammate who may, one day, pitch in the Major Leagues.
When he went up to the plate, however, he had a different Major Leaguer on his mind -- one who played his last game in 1974 and died when Koblos was in kindergarten.
"My favorite player: Ron Santo. All-time," Koblos said, referring to the Hall-of-Fame third baseman who spent 14 of his 15 Big-League seasons with the Chicago Cubs. "He is my big inspiration. He is my mom's favorite player, so he became my favorite player. I envision his swing when I hit, that's what I did and it was the best moment of my life right there."
The moment to which Koblos was referring was also, perhaps, the biggest moment of Jackson Memorial's season. Thursday against Brick Memorial, the junior leftfielder hit a tiebreaking grand slam with two out in the bottom of the sixth inning to deliver Jaguars ace Zach Crotchfelt and his team a 5-0 win over the Mustangs.
The victory gives Jackson Memorial no worse than a share of the Shore Conference Class A South division championship for the fourth straight season.
Jackson Memorial entered the bottom of the sixth inning without a hit, which was due to the work of Brick Memorial junior right-hander Brady Leach. After 91 pitches in five innings, however, Leach gave way to junior left-hander Ryan Mulcahey and Jackson Memorial senior third baseman J.R. Osmond greeted him with a line-drive single to left on the second pitch of the sixth inning.
With one out, junior catcher Aidan O'Donnell and Crotchfelt hit back-to-back singles to lead the bases, but Mulcahey bounced back to induce a shallow flyout to centerfield, which did not allow Osmond to tag up and score.
That left the inning up to Koblos, who hit a game-winning two-run single in a 12-inning win over Toms River South as his defining moment of the season prior to Thursday. On the second pitch he saw in the sixth inning, Koblos -- hitting out of the No. 9 spot in the order -- squared up a 1-0 pitch and crushed it over the head of leftfielder Declan Sheehan.
"In my earlier at-bats, I was out ahead of the fastball and I was rolling over," Koblos said. "I was more anxious so I had to stay calm and relax. The fastball was there, so I swung at it."
"Matty puts the ball in play and everything is hard contact," Jackson Memorial coach Pat George said. "He is the guy who wants to get on base. He's not afraid to swing it, he'll do a job when he is asked. You couldn't ask for anything better in the nine hole. He is like another leadoff hitter. You can do so much with him."
It was clear Sheehan would not be able to get to it, but Koblos was not convinced it would carry over the fence, even after it did. The ball dropped on the other side of the fence for a grand slam, his teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate and Koblos paused between second and third base when he saw the runner ahead of him hold up briefly.
"Off the bat, I didn't think it was perfect perfect," Koblos said. "But the ball just kept going and I saw it go over and I was like, alright. (Courtesy runner) Brady Wendell stopped at third base, so I thought maybe it was a ground-rule double. Then coach was waving us, so I got a little excited right there."
After double-checking, it was no double. Koblos indeed hit a grand slam and finished his trip around the bases, arriving at the plate for a 4-0 Jackson Memorial lead and a celebration.
Senior rightfielder Tommy Kendrick made it back-to-back home runs by crushing a towering solo shot well into the trees beyond the fence in left.
The sixth-inning outburst at the plate ensured that Jackson Memorial would not waste a dominant performance by its ace. Crotchfelt finished off a one-hit shutout by striking out the side in order in the bottom of the seventh and hitting 93 miles-per-hour on the radar gun with the third strike of his 13th strikeout.
"I knew I only had 14 pitches to work with, so I was trying to get ahead and get through it," Crotchfelt said. "It was a relief to get those runs to give us a chance to close it out, but I knew I still had to go out there and finish. I just tried to use my 14 pitches as best I could and get us out of here with a win."
"He is dialed in every start, but I think today, he had a lot more to work with," Crotchfelt said. "His offspeed was working and that's one thing he has definitely been working on and that stood out today. He had only one walk and that was really close, so he was around the zone today."
Crotchfelt came up just shy of a no-hitter in his own right, allowing a third-inning single to Mustangs sophomore Nico Maribo on a 0-2 changeup when he was one strike away from striking out the side on nine consecutive pitches.
With a championship on the line and pitching with the minimum four days of rest between a full pitch-count workload, Crotchfelt was on top of his game, with a fastball that sat between 89 and 92 miles-per-hour most of the afternoon, a sharp curveball that he was spotting throughout the game, and a changeup that continued to improve after Maribo took advantage of one in the third.
"It was a good changeup, but the kid got a hit on it," Crotchfelt said. "In most situations, I think I would beat myself up more for that one pitch where I gave up a hit, but I was completely fine with it. Prior to that changeup, most of my changeups were spiked in the dirt and that changeup was in the zone. I was okay giving up a hit there, because for the rest of the game, I knew what my changeup was supposed to feel like."
Crotchfelt opened the year by throwing 65 pitches in a loss to Bishop Eustace and after six days off in between, the Auburn-bound left-hander pitched a no-hitter against Toms River Easy. Eleven days past between starts and Crotchfelt returned to the mound and beat Central Regional and Cam Leiter, although he did walk a season-high six.
"I was feeling kind of tired a couple of weeks ago, so I tried to change things up a little and I started throwing with more intensity on my days off," Crotchfelt said. "It's becoming easier, but of course, we are going to start playing better teams, so I have to establish myself early and get deeper into games. I'm starting to make the adjustment to going to the max number of pitches every time."
Since the Central win, Crotchfelt has been on-point with his command and has been so while pitching on four-days rest in back-to-back starts. He walked just one on Thursday, which came after he struck out 14 with only two walks in a win over Williamstown.
"I think pitching more has helped him," George said. "His endurance is there. The last three or four games, he has gone to his pitch limit, but he is up for it. Early on in the year, we went east with him: he only threw 65 pitches against Bishop Eustace (on April 2) and he had some long breaks between starts. I think the schedule right now works perfect for him, especially with what he wants to do at the next level."
Brick Memorial's four baserunners on Thursday came on a hit-by-pitch, a single, an error and a walk on a 3-2 pitch. None of those baserunners made it safely to second base, with O'Donnell throwing out one of them attempting to steal second.
On the other side, Leach kept Jackson Memorial off the board for five innings in both the run and hit columns. The Jaguars loaded the bases with one out in both the second and fifth innings, only for Leach to get out of both jams unscathed.
"Brady kept us off-balance for a while," George said. "Brady works quick: that's his M.O. We have an approach to hit the ball hard early in counts and we weren't really doing that. As the game went on, we started to hit it hard and started to get on base a little bit more. Our approach had to work at some point and it did in the sixth."
Jackson Memorial can win the outright Class A South title for the third consecutive season by either beating Brick Memorial on Monday or getting a Central Regional loss at Southern.
Jackson Memorial 5, Brick Memorial 0
|Brick Mem (10-7, 7-6)||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||2|
|Jackson (11-6, 10-3)||0||0||0||0||0||5||X||5||5||1|
|Ryan Mulcahey (L, 0-3)||1||5||5||5||0||1||26|
|Zach Crotchfelt (W, 5-1)||7||1||0||0||1||14||111|
|Brick Memorial||Game Stats|
|Nico Maribo||1-2, BB|
|Jackson Memorial||Game Stats|
|Matt Koblos||1-3, grand slam, R, 4 RBI|
|Tommy Kendrick||1-3, HR, BB, R, RBI|
|J.R. Osmond||1-2, BB, R|
|Aidan O’Donnell||1-3, R|
|Zach Crotchfelt||1-2, BB|