Baseball – Loaded Pitching Staff Has Rumson Ready to Challenge for First Group 2 Title
NJSIAA Group II Championship
Saturday, June 10, 2023
At DeMeo Field, Veterans Park, Hamilton
Rumson-Fair Haven (22-5) vs. Pascack Hills (21-7), 10 a.m.
Rumson-Fair Haven at a Glance
Head Coach: Owen Stewart
Last Group Championship: None
Last Group Championship Appearance: None
Probable Starting Pitcher
Jackson Hinchcliffe, Sr., RHP (6-1, 43 IP, 0.98 ERA, 28 H, 9 BB, 56 K)
Notable Relief Pitchers
John Goodes, Sr., RHP (4-0, 39 IP, 2.51 ERA, 39 IP, 24 H, 30 BB, 32 K)
Owen O’Toole, So., RHP (2-1, 22.1 IP, 0.31 ERA, 10 H, 7 BB, 28 K)
Matt Bruno, Sr., RHP (3-0, 2 Saves, 18.2 IP, 2.25 ERA, 15 H, 10 BB, 26 K)
Cal Champeau, Sr., RHP (3-2, 26 IP, 2.69 ERA, 21 H, 5 BB, 34 K)
Parker Shenman, So., CF (.333, 6 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 15 R, 18 RBI, 7 SB)
Reece Moroney, Sr., SS (.366, 5 2B, 3 HR, 26 R, 14 RBI, 10 SB)
Jack Riva, Jr., LF (.406, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 21 R, 21 RBI)
Owen Kenney, Sr., C (.282, 5 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 9 R, 17 RBI, 10 SB)
Brayden Dill, Sr., DH (.222, 6 2B, 11 R, 17 RBI, 6 SB)
Spencer Hobson, Sr., 1B (.179, 3 2B, 2 HR, 10 R, 12 RBI)
Aaron Del Tin, Jr., 3B (.221, 4 2B, 13 R, 3 RBI)
Cade LaGrassa, Sr., RF (.246, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 9 R, 16 RBI)
Griffin Shenman, Sr., 2B (.217, 1 2B, 1 HR, 13 R, 6 RBI)
Road to the Final
First Round: Senior and Richmond-bound right-hander Jackson Hinchliffe pitched a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts and one walk in a 1-0 Rumson win over No. 16 Nottingham. Jack Riva took care of the game’s lone run with an RBI single in the third inning.
Sectional Quarterfinal: The Bulldogs bats got the job done in a 7-2 win over No. 8 Bordentown, with Riva going 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI and senior Owen Kenney driving in three in a 2-for-3 game at the plate. Senior starter John Goodes lasted three innings, but the bullpen picked him up, with Owen O’Toole, Cal Champeau and Matt Bruno covering the final four innings.
Sectional Semifinal: Owen Kenney and Spencer Hobson roped first-inning RBI doubles and Hinchcliffe combined with O’Toole and Bruno to quiet a hot-hitting No. 12 seed in Ocean, with the Bulldogs holding on for a 2-1 win. Hinchcliffe struck out five in five innings while throwing only 67 pitches, keeping him eligible for up to 83 pitches in the sectional final on Friday.
Sectional Final: Parker Shenman went 4-for-4 with a double, triple, two runs scored and an RBI and Rumson scored in all six of its turns at-bat in an 8-3 win over No. 3 Spotswood that clinched the Bulldogs their second straight sectional championship. Hinchcliffe kicked off a dominant outing by the Rumson bullpen behind Goodes by striking out three of the five batters he faced – all of whom he retired. O’Toole followed with an impressive one-two-three sixth and Bruno finished it off in the seventh.
Group Semifinal: Griffin Shenman capped a seven-run first inning by Rumson with a grand slam and the Bulldogs rolled to a 9-0 win over South Jersey champion Seneca. Hinchcliffe pitched five scoreless frames with seven strikeouts against just four hits and one walk allowed before Cal Champeau completed the shutout with two innings and three strikeouts, sending Rumson to its first ever state final.
Pascack Hills at a Glance
Head Coach: Nick Evans
Last Group Championship: 2019
Last Group Championship Appearance: 2019
Group Championships: 4
Probable Starting Pitcher
Sean Busanic, Sr., LHP (10-1, 1 Save, 56.2 IP, 1.11 ERA, 27 H, 21 BB, 90 K)
Notable Relief Pitchers
Joey Giordano, Jr., LHP (3-1, 1 Save, 50 IP, 1.82 ERA, 37 H, 17 BB, 65 K)
Kyle Wenckus, Fr., RHP (5-1, 3 Saves, 39.1 IP, 1.25 ERA, 38 H, 18 BB, 50 K)
Kyle Wenckus, Fr., 2B (.418, 7 2B, 1 3B, 18 R, 10 RBI)
Joey Giordano, Jr., CF (.403, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 20 R, 13 RBI)
Dominick Musco, Sr., C (.451, 5 2B, 3 HR, 22 R, 22 RBI, 8 SB)
Ryan Belcolle, Sr., 1B (.297, 5 2B, 15 R, 12 RBI)
Matt Tortora, Jr., SS (.345, 3 2B, 1 HR, 18 R, 17 RBI)
Sean Busanic, Sr., P (.300, 5 2B, 9 R, 12 RBI)
Will Aschenbrand, Sr., DH (.289, 1 HR, 18 R, 11 RBI)
Arion Stern, Jr., 3B (.279, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 10 R, 19 RBI)
Ronin Stern, Jr., RF (.298, 3 2B, 2 3B, 11 R, 15 RBI)
Road to the Final
First Round: Sean Busanic (six innings, nine strikeouts) and freshman Kyle Wenckus combined on a two-hit shutout and the Cowboys blanked No. 14 Newton, 7-0. Joey Giordano (3-for-4) and Arion Stern (2-for-3) each doubled and drove in a run to key the offense.
Sectional Quarterfinal: Arion Stern belted a solo homer and Matt Tortora went 2-for-3 with an RBI double to back 6 2/3 solid innings from Giordano as Pascack Hills held off No. 6 Westwood, 3-1. Wenckus came on in relief to close out the game for the second straight round.
Sectional Semifinal: Giordano went 2-for-4 with three RBI and keyed a late-inning push by the Cowboys that was the difference in a 7-4 road win over rival and No. 2 Pascack Valley. Pascack Hills scored the go-ahead run in the top of the fifth to break a 4-4 tied and added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Busanic allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts to hold on long enough for the win before Wenckus again came on to close out third straight game while earning a save for a second consecutive game.
Sectional Final: Giordano pitched a four-hit complete game with eight strikeouts and Ronin Stern and Busanic delivered the big hits that gave Pascack Hills a 3-1 win over No. 5 Ramsay to clinch the program’s third sectional championship in the last six years. Stern gave the Cowboys a 2-0 lead with a two-run double in the bottom of the second and Busanic made it 3-1 with an RBI single in the third.
Group Semifinal: Sean Busanic pitched a three-hitter with five strikeouts and went 2-for-3 with a first-inning RBI at the plate to lead the Cowboys over North Section 2 champion Hanover Park, 4-1, and back into the state final for the third time in six years and first since 2019. Matt Tortora was also 2-for-4 and delivered the big swing in the form of a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to extend the lead to 3-0. Wenckus (2-for-3) capped the scoring with an RBI double in the fifth.
Rumson vs. Pascack Hills: The Breakdown
Most championships are won on the mound and based on what Rumson and Pascack Hills have put on their respective résumés so far, the 2023 Group II champion is going to be a pitching-heavy team. While the two sides possess a similar strength, they do it a little differently from one another.
Rumson’s best pitcher at the moment is its projected Saturday starter, senior right-hander and University of Richmond commit Jackson Hinchcliffe, but the most unique part of its club and the one that has separated Rumson from other teams is its bullpen. Sophomore Owen O’Toole has posted a dominant season appearing mostly as a reliever, while seniors Matt Bruno and Cal Champeau have been steady when it comes to protecting late-game leads and closing out victories. A trio of pitchers like that who pitch almost exclusively in relief is rare at the high-school level, let alone in Group II and it has given Rumson a major edge over most opponents.
On the Cowboys side, the attack is more conventional but no less effective. A trio of pitchers has carried the load for Pascack Valley, led by Saturday’s likely starter, Sean Busanic. The senior left-hander is not a physically-imposing presence on the mound, but his stuff and ability to make pitches has made him a dominant No. 1 for the perennial Group II championship contender.
Fellow senior left-hander Joey Giordano will be one of the arms backing him up and with more than 50 innings on his ledger this season, he has been a steady senior presence who can get big outs should Busanic have to come out. The same can be said for freshman Kyle Wenckus, who has saved each of the last two games for the Cowboys – part of a strong debut season in which the rookie has fired 39 quality innings.
While the pitching staffs of both teams have been similarly effective, the offenses have been almost identical in production. Pascack Hills is averaging 5.79 runs in 28 games while Rumson enters Saturday at 5.78 in 28. Both have been comfortable in low-scoring battles with a few breakout days at the plate along the way during this tournament.
Rumson has more home run power in its lineup, with a 13-9 advantage from top-to-bottom, as well as a 56-51 advantage in extra-base hits for the season from the nine players who will be starting on each side on Saturday. The Bulldogs also enter Saturday with a few hitters who seem to be heating up in brothers Parker and Griffin Shenman, as well as a junior No. 3 hitter in Jack Riva who has been a steady run-producer and .400 hitter throughout the season.
The two players to watch at the plate for Rumson are shortstop Reece Moroney and catcher Owen Kenney – two players who have been starting in each of the past three seasons and have performed in big games during their entire Rumson careers. Both also carry key defensive and leadership roles as well, so it would certainly be fitting to see either or both of them leave an imprint on Saturday’s game.
Speaking of defensive roles, the field is where the Bulldogs may be able to find an advantage. Pascack Hills has given up 25 more runs than Rumson has this season despite an impressive ERA numbers from its top three starters in part because the Cowboys have been more error-prone. There is always the question for a team like Rumson moving from its home turf field to a natural surface for a championship game, but the Bulldogs’ defense should have minimal issues adjusting to a Veterans Park field that is one of the better fields you will find in the state.
The history of both programs favors Pascack Hills, with the Cowboys winning back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019 at the expense of two other Shore Conference teams in Raritan (2018) and Point Pleasant Boro (2019). Both of those games were started by current Kansas City Royals farmhand and former University of Maryland standout Ryan Ramsey, who was dominant in back-to-back Group II championship games.
Busanic is another quality high-school left-hander, but Ramsey was on another level, so Rumson’s offense should have a better chance to put up runs than their Shore brethren had while also giving Hinchcliffe some breathing room.
Whether or not the Bulldogs have a big day at the plate, Hinchcliffe figures to do his part. The senior has been dominant during the tail-end of the season. It will be interesting to watch how Bulldogs coach Owen Stewart handles the late innings if Hinchcliffe is cruising. Stewart has been quick to go to his bullpen, but with Saturday being the final game, there is no incentive to conserve pitches and nothing for which Hinchcliffe will be saving his energy.
In the event that Hinchcliffe cruises through five or six innings while pushing his pitch count into the 90’s – perhaps even toward 100 – will Stewart be aggressive in using his bullpen or let his senior ace sprint through the finish line with a potential championship on the other side? Either way, Rumson is flush with pitching options that should give the Bulldogs a golden opportunity to bring a baseball state championship trophy back to Rumson for the first time.
Prediction: Rumson, 3-2