HAMILTON TWP. - Point Pleasant Boro baseball coach Dave Drew did what most coaches do to help their team prepare to face a pitcher the caliber of Pascack Hills senior left-handed ace Ryan Ramsey: turn to the pitching machine.

They turned the velocity all the way up. They hit left-handed curveballs. They talked about their approach against Ramsey's repertoire.

On Saturday at DeMeo Field in Hamilton in the NJSIAA Group II championship game, however, there was nothing like the real thing and little extra Drew and his Panthers could do to prepare for a special pitcher pitching a special game.

Ramsey - a University of Maryland commit and a 36th-round selection of the Cleveland Indians in this past week's MLB First-year Player Draft - allowed a leadoff single to Point Boro senior shortstop Sam Collins and did not allow a hit the rest of the way, pitching a one-hitter with nine strikeouts and one walk on 81 pitches as Pascack Hills edged the Panthers, 2-0, to win its second straight Group II championship.

"What a great, great run," Drew said of Point Boro's first ever trip to an NJSIAA Group championship game. "Totally unfortunate ending but credit to Pascack Hills. What a great pitcher, what a great team. We put up a great fight, but credit to Pascack Hills."

According to Ramsey, Saturday's 81 pitches was the fewest it has taken him to complete a game and with his propensity to strike hitters out, it should not come as a surprise. He rang up 18 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings in the North Jersey Section I, Group II championship game and for the tournament, the Cowboys left-hander struck out 40 while walking only three and giving up six hits in 21 1/3 shutout innings.

When asked if Ramsey was as good as advertised, Drew did not mince words.

"Yes," he replied quickly, replacing further clarification with a wry smile.

Ramsey is one year removed from lasting only four innings of a 3-2, eight-inning Group II final win over Raritan. In that game, Ramsey allowed two runs and four walks in an abbreviated outing and after Collins tagged him with a hit on the game's first batter, he showed he was a different pitcher this time around.

"(The difference) from last year to this year was having that extra pitch," Ramsey said. "I didn't have the changeup last year and now I have it this year. Being able to throw it against righties is definitely huge. Even the curveball too. Being able to throw the curveball for strikes to righties and lefties gave me that three-pitch mix and helps me out a lot."

Point Boro advanced Collins to third base with a sacrifice bunt by junior second baseman Nick Zbikowski and a ground out to the right side by junior starting pitcher Nick Guzzi, but Ramsey notched his first strikeout to end the threat.

Guzzi led off the top of the fourth with a five-pitch walk and gave way to courtesy runner Joey Piccoli. Again, the Panthers opted for small ball, with senior Paul Franceschini bunting Piccoli to second base and Piccoli going to third on a ground out to second by junior right fielder Sam Young. Once again, Ramsey squashed the threat with a strikeout.

Earlier, in the top of the second inning, junior catcher Ryan Jasaitis reached with one out on Pascack Hills' lone error of the game but Ramsey again shut down any hope of a threat with back-to-back strikeouts.

Point Boro's fourth and final baserunner of the afternoon came when Ramsey hit Young with a 1-0 fastball with one out in the seventh to bring the tying run to the plate for the Panthers. Ramsey responded with a strikeout and snagged a comebacker by senior center fielder Christian Aurin before flipping the ball to first base to set off the Cowboys's second celebration on DeMeo Field in as many years.

Guzzi nearly matched Ramsey for the entirety of the game but finally yielded the deciding blow in the bottom of the sixth. Up until that inning, both Ramsey and Guzzi were working on one-hitters and the lone difference was the pitch-countL Ramsey was at 69 through six and Guzzi was up to 79 through five.

"He is wearing this one on his shoulders right now," Drew said of Guzzi. "He is our guy. He is our horse. He gave a great effort. Unfortunately, we just didn't get enough hits for him today."

Junior right fielder Spencer Berson singled in the first inning for the first Pascack Hills hit and started off the bottom of the sixth with a leadoff double down the left-field line. Guzzi hit the next batter and issued his second walk of the game to load the bases with nobody out.

A grim situation got a little more hopeful for Point Boro when Guzzi coaxed a pop-up in foul territory that Jasaitis squeezed for the first out. Next up, however, was Pascack Hills senior third baseman Mike Rodriguez, who entered the game 11-for-18 with four doubles and six RBI in his team's previous five state tournament games.

"Mike has been on fire lately so I knew he was going to pull through," said Ramsey, who watched Rodriguez's at-bat from the on-deck circle.

Rodriguez capped his memorable state tournament by pounding a ground ball up the third-base line and over the bag to chase home the only two runs of the game. With runners on first and second, Guzzi struck out the next batter and ended the inning by inducing a fly out to left field.

"I knew we needed something," Rodriguez said. "We had one out and I'm just looking for something I can drive to the outfield to get that man from third in. I just had to react. The pitch came in on me quick and I had to turn on it and hit it down the line. I wasn't looking to do much, just get the ball to the outfield."

Rodriguez wrapped up the tournament hitting 12-for-21 (.571) with eight RBI.

"I just have so much trust in the guys behind me," Rodriguez said. "It feels more comfortable when the guys you're with are all working toward the same goal."

The loss was the only defeat of the season for Guzzi, who finished 9-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 16 walks in 62 2/3 innings. Point Boro went 9-2 in games the St. John's commit started during his standout junior season.

Collins, meanwhile, fittingly accounted for the lone Point Boro hit in a tournament in which he was nearly impossible to retire. Collins finished his state tournament run 13-for-22 (.591) at the plate with three doubles, a triple, a home run, eight runs scored and seven RBI in Point Boro's six games.

"Nothing Sam Collins does surprises me," Drew said. "He has been one of the greatest players in Point Pleasant Boro history. He is a bulldogs, he's a competitor. He got that first base hit and we got him over. I just wish we came through with a base hit and let him score that one - that would have been a lot of fun."

Collins is one of three senior starters, along with Aurin and Franceschini, who will be moving on after this school year.

"Thank you to the senior class, thank you to everybody in the program and everybody in the community," Drew said, echoing his words for his team in the postgame huddle.

Point Boro will return Guzzi, Zbikowski, Jasaitis, Sam Young, Cole Young and sophomore third baseman Frankie Dominici next season, with Guzzi to lead the pitching staff for a third straight season.

"We want to win every game we play," Drew said. "Next is already starting Monday night - we've got an American Legion game. We'll be ready for next year."

Box Score

Pascack Hills 2, Point Boro 0

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Pt Boro (23-7) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Pascack Hills (29-3) 0 0 0 0 0 2 X 2 3 1

Pitching

Point Boro IP H R ER BB SO PC
Nick Guzzi (L, 9-1) 6 3 1 1 2 7 104
Pascack Hills IP H R ER BB SO PC
Ryan Ramsey (W, 8-2) 7 1 0 0 1 9 81

Top Hitters

Point Boro Stats
Sam Collins 1-3
Pascack Hills Stats
Spencer Berson 2-3, 2B, R
Mike Rodriguez 1-3, 2 RBI

 

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