Baseball – Point Boro Turns to Guzzi vs. Defending Champs in Group II Final
NJSIAA Group II Championship
At Veterans Park, Hamilton
Saturday, June 8, 2019, 1 p.m.
Point Pleasant Boro (23-6) vs. Pascack Hills (28-3)
There are few things in sports more dangerous than an underdog with the talent of a favorite and that is a fair description of Point Boro heading into Saturday’s second of four NJSIAA Group championship games. The Panthers have played the underdog role on a handful of occasions this season and have landed some knockout blows while doing so.
In the Ocean County Tournament final, against a Jackson Liberty team that beat them twice during the regular season and finished five games ahead in the Shore Conference Class B South standings, the Panthers broke out at the plate in support of junior ace Nick Guzzi and beat the Lions, 10-7, to claim their first ever OCT title. In the Central Jersey Group II championship, they had to travel to play perennial Group II contender Governor Livingston and handled the Highlanders, 6-1, behind Guzzi’s one-hitter. Finally, in the Group II semifinal against another standout Group II program in West Deptford, Point Boro rolled to an 8-4 win despite its two best pitchers – Guzzi and senior Sam Collins – being ineligible to pitch.
The two co-aces have been on their game throughout the tournament, with Collins completing eight innings in each of his two tournament starts. Collins is 1-0 with one earned run, 19 hits and no walks allowed in 16 1/3 innings this tournament and has struck out 11. Guzzi, meanwhile, has only thrown nine innings because he was pulled after two in a 17-3 blowout of A.L. Johnson in the sectional quarterfinals. He has allowed two earned runs on four hits with three walks and 11 strikeouts in the nine frames of work.
Few hitters in the state have been hotter than Collins over the past three weeks. During state tournament play, the senior shortstop is 12-for-19 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, eight runs and seven RBI – including a 5-for-5 game on Monday vs. West Deptford. Junior Sam Young has also swung a hot bat, going 6-for-12 with a home run and six RBI in the tournament, including the game-winning, walk-off RBI single in the sectional final vs. Robbinsville.
To finish off one of its best seasons ever, Point Boro will try to knock off a Pascack Hills team that is not only the defending Group II champion, but also the team that finished No. 1 in N.J. last year, according to NJ.com. On top of that, the Cowboys return a large chunk of last year’s starting roster, led by senior left-hander and reining Pitcher of the Year in the state, Ryan Ramsey. Just this past Wednesday, Ramsey was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 36th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and will decide between joining the Tribe or honoring his commitment to the University of Maryland.
On Saturday, however, Ramsey will look to complete a brilliant high school career by pitching his team to a second straight state title and completing a dominant run in the 2019 tournament. In Ramsey’s prior two starts during the Group II run, he has allowed five hits in 14 1/3 shutout innings with two walks and a whopping 31 strikeouts. Eighteen of those strikeouts cap in a 7 1/3-inning outing in the North Jersey Section 1, Group II championship win over Ramsey, which the Cowboys won when Ramsey (the pitcher, not the team) singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Should Ramsey falter in any way, Pascack Hills has another ace-level pitcher waiting in the wings in senior right-hander Brandon Siegenthaler, who is 3-0 with one unearned run allowed in 18 innings this tournament and a pristine 28-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With both teams boasting two rested, hot pitchers each, the Group II final has a chance to last well past the seventh inning.
Pascack Hills’ lineup is a balanced outfit that has some hot hitters entering play on Saturday and none hotter than senior third baseman Mike Rodriguez, who is 11-for-18 with four doubles and six RBI during his team’s five-game run to the final.
With all of those factors working to favor the defending champs, Guzzi will take the ball for Point Boro and look to end his season with his 10th victory or, at least, with an unbeaten record. The St. John’s commit has proven to have the competitive fire to match his powerful repertoire and it will take both for Point Boro to spoil the Cowboys’ plans of a second straight title celebration.
Probable Starting Pitchers
Nick Guzzi, Jr., RHP (9-0, 1.11 ERA, 56 2/3 IP, 77 K, 14 BB)
Ryan Ramsey, Sr., LHP (7-2, 0.75 ERA, 56 1/3 IP, 98 K, 10 BB)
First Out of the Bullpen
Sam Collins, Sr., RHP (6-2, 1.04 ERA, 53 2/3 IP, 57 K, 10 BB)
Brandon Siegenthaler, Sr., RHP (9-0, 0.37 ERA, 56 2/3 IP, 84 K, 10 BB)
Around the Diamond
Ryan Jasaitis, Jr., C (.370/.404/.413, 4 2B, 17 RBI)
Paul Francescini, Sr., 1B (.272/.411/.333, 5 2B, 16 R, 15 RBI)
Nick Zbikowski, Jr., 2B (.284/.410/.333, 4 2B, 23 R, 12 RBI)
Sam Collins, Sr., SS (.431/.508/.569, 5 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 32 R, 21 RBI, 8 SB)
Frankie Dominici, So., 3B (.265/.390/.412, 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 R, 10 RBI)
Cole Young, Jr., LF (.281/.388/.316, 2 2B, 21 R, 7 RBI)
Christian Aurin, Sr., CF (.273/.389/.364, 5 2B, 1 3B, 15 R, 15 RBI, 12 SB)
Sam Young, Jr., RF (.338/.442/.532, 3 2B, 4 HR, 18 R, 21 RBI)
Nick Guzzi, Jr., RHP/3B (.333/.400/.391, 3 2B, 1 3B, 11 R, 29 RBI)
Marc Hernandez, Sr., C (.329, 3 2B, 22 BB, 16 RBI, 12 SB)
Christian Kim, Jr., 1B (.272, 4 2B, 1 HR, 20 R, 21 RBI)
Julian Bolzomi, Sr., 2B (.388, 11 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 30 R, 22 RBI, 9 SB)
Chris Curcio, Sr., SS (.356, 6 2B, 1 3B, 22 R, 17 RBI, 14 SB)
Mike Rodriguez, Sr., 3B (.366, 5 2B, 1 HR, 27 R, 23 RBI, 16 SB)
Cameron Funesti, Jr., LF (.346, 1 2B, 2 HR, 12 R, 16 RBI)
Brandon Siegenthaler, Sr., CF (.319, 4 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 29 R, 31 RBI)
Spencer Berson, Jr., RF (.341, 6 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 26 R, 23 RBI, 9 SB)
Ryan Ramsey, Sr., LHP (.297, 4 2B, 18 R, 14 RBI)
Road to the Final
Central Group II First Round: Senior Sam Collins lasted 8 2/3 innings on the mound and delivered the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth to give the Panthers a nail-biting, 2-1 win over No. 12 Monmouth in extra innings. Point Boro had to deal with Monmouth University commit Dante Ciaramella for seven innings before beating the bullpen.
Sectional Quarterfinals: The Panthers hit the road and overwhelmed No. 4 Arthur L. Johnson, 17-3, with junior ace Nick Guzzi improving to 8-0 with his easiest win of the season. The game was suspended with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning and was made official by the NJSIAA the next day after Johnson conceded rather than forcing Point Boro to travel north to record two out. Collins starred in this one as well, going 3-for-3 with a double, home run and four RBI.
Sectional Semifinals: After giving up a first-inning home run to Drew Compton, Guzzi did not allow a hit the rest of the way, touching up a one-hitter with nine strikeouts and two walks to pitch the Panthers past No. 1 Governor Livingston, 6-1, and into the sectional final round for the second straight season. Guzzi also added an RBI single that stretched his lead to 4-1, which came after Point Boro took a 3-1 lead with a three-run second inning.
Sectional Final: For the second time in the tournament, Collins completed eight innings on the mound while allowing only one run, but this time he would earn the win. In the bottom of the eighth, Guzzi singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior Paul Franceschini and scored the winning run on a lined shot to left by junior Sam Young. Young’s walk-off single in the eighth gave the Panthers a 2-1 win over No. 7 Robbinsville, their third sectional championship ever and first since 2006.
Group Semifinal: With Guzzi and Collins both ineligible to pitch, senior Christian Aurin stepped up and delivered 5 2/3 quality innings and left the game with the bases loaded and an 8-0 in the sixth before the three runs scored to hang him with three earned runs in the start. Although they could not pitch, Collins and Guzzi more than made up for it at the plate. Collins stayed scorching during the tournament, going 5-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, three runs and an RBI, while Guzzi was 2-for-4 with three RBI in an 8-4 win over South Jersey champion West Deptford.
North 1, Group II First Round: Senior right-hander Brandon Siegenthaler fired six shutout innings with three hits allowed, no walks and 10 strikeouts to highlight a 9-0 win over No. 16 Sussex Tech. Four Cowboys players collected multiple hits, led by Mike Rodriguez’s 3-for-4 game with a double and two RBI. Spencer Berson, Cameron Funesti and Julian Bulzomi each went 2-for-3 and Chris Curcio tripled and drove in three in the win.
Sectional Quarterfinals: Ryan Ramsey followed Siegenthaler’s first-round start with a three-hit shutout in a quarterfinal win over No. 8 Newton that included 13 strikeouts against just one-walk. Rodriguez and Bulzomi each had three hits to lead the offense, with Rodriguez going 3-for-4 for the second straight game with two doubles and four RBI. Cameron Funesti, Christian Kim and Marc Hernandez each went 2-for-4 with an RBI, with Funesti homering and Kim doubling.
Sectional Semifinals: Siegenthaler gave up the only run allowed by Pascack Hills during the NJSIAA Tournament but still cruised through five innings with two hits and a walk allowed with 10 more strikeouts in a 4-1 win over No. 4 Dumont. Bulzomi and Funesti each picked up their third consecutive two-hit game, with Funesti leading the offense by going 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Sectional Final: Ramsey turned in perhaps the best performance of the tournament in his team’s pulse-pounding, 1-0 win over No. 6 Ramsey in eight innings. The Maryland commit and Cleveland Indians draft pick struck out 18 and walked one over 7 1/3 scoreless, two-hit innings before delivering the game-winning, walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to give the Cowboys their second straight North 1, Group II championship. Ramsey and Rodriguez each finished 2-for-4 while Curcio was 3-for-4 and scored the winning run.
Group Semifinal: Siegenthaler pitched another gem to catapult Pascack Hills past North 2, Group II champion Madison, 4-0, and into the Group II final for the second straight year. The senior right-hander struck out eight and walked none in his two-hit shutout, while Rodriguez stayed red-hot at the plate by going 2-for-3 with a double and run scored. Kim and Ramsey each went 1-for-3, with Kim knocking in two and Ramsey driving home one.