There is not much that senior Zack Johnston does not do on a baseball field for the Raritan baseball team, and while baserunning is not foremost among his tools, the senior showed Friday in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final that he has an extra gear when he and his team needs it.

Johnston slid in just before the tag on a wild pitch with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning to enable senior Dan VanMeerbeke to close out a four-hit shutout and a 1-0 win over fourth-seeded Metuchen that gave the seventh-seeded Rockets their first NJSIAA sectional title since 2012 and fifth in program history.

Photo provided by Raritan Athletic Dept.
Photo provided by Raritan Athletic Dept.

The win is the 20th of the season for Raritan, the first time the Rockets have reached the 20-win plateau since 2004.

After Johnston walked with one out, Tyler Bruno singled and both runners moved up on a fielder's choice ground out. With two out and a 1-2 count, Matt Volpe's pitch got away just far enough away from Bulldogs catcher Evan Derector and allowed Johnston to race home with the lone run of the game.

VanMeerbeke struck out six and walked two in winning his second game of the tournament and improving to 6-1 for the season. After Johnston mad dash in the top of the inning, the senior right-hander retired the side in order in the seventh to close out his championship performance.

Bruno struck out in his first three plate appearances prior to his single in the seventh, but turned in two standout plays with his glove in center field - one on a diving play to rob a potential extra-base hit and another with a running catch on a deep drive to dead center.

Raritan advances to play South Jersey Group II champion Haddonfield Tuesday, 4 p.m. at East Brunswick Tech High School in the Group II semifinal. The Bulldogs defeated Point Pleasant Boro, 2-1, in the South Jersey II final with some late-inning magic of their own.

Johnston will likely not be running the bases in that game because he is lined up to be the Raritan starting pitcher. For the season, Johnston is 7-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 57 innings and in two NJSIAA Tournament starts, he is 2-0 with a 0.44 ERA. He opened the tournament with a nine-inning shutout against Rumson-Fair Haven and limited No. 3 Voorhees to one run over seven innings in the sectional semifinals.


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