Baseball – Red Bank Catholic rallies past St. Joseph-Metuchen to claim first state sectional title in 26 years
RED BANK -- Standing 90 feet from home plate with the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A final deadlocked at one run apiece, Red Bank Catholic junior Sean Griggs understood that his next move could decide the fate of the Caseys' season.
The bases were loaded with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning and junior Matt Brunner facing an 0-2 count. The next pitch to the right-hander was wide and skipped off of the catcher's glove and to the backstop. There isn't a lot of room from home plate to the fence at Count Basie Park, so Griggs hesitated. But then the ball took an uncharacteristic bounce toward the first-base dugout, and that's when the Alabama commit's baseball instincts took over.
Griggs made the split-second decision to go for it, sprinting home and sliding head first to beat the tag and plate the go-ahead run to give the Caseys the lead. It was the run they needed to end a 26-year sectional championship drought.
Griggs scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball and the Caseys added two more runs to take a three-run lead into the seventh inning. Senior right-hander Alex Stanyek tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball and Ethan Marzo secured the final two outs as the Red Bank Catholic rallied to top St. Joseph (Metuchen), 4-1, and win their first sectional title since 1997 on Saturday at Count Basie Park.
"I did hesitate, absolutely," Griggs said. "Then I saw the ball kick back to the right of the cacher and he had to run a while to get there so I had to put the pressure on him. I had to beat the pitcher (to home) and get my hand in there."
"I really didn't see it well, and when you say something most of the time it's too late," said RBC head coach Buddy Hausmann, who was in the third base coaching box. "They have to use their instincts, especially here where it's not a far backstop. You have to be on it to score."
Griggs was on it, and now the Caseys are state sectional champions for the first time since winning the Non-Public South B title in 1997 when Hausmann was the starting pitcher. A supremely talented team that won its fourth straight Shore Conference Tournament title this season and is currently ranked No. 1 in New Jersey finally hoisted a state tournament trophy, and did so in front of their home crowd. It was a cleansing moment for a team that had suffered consecutive gut-wrenching defeats in the state playoffs.
Two years ago, RBC led 5-0 after the first two innings only to see that lead evaporate in a crushing 6-5 loss to St. Augustine in eight innings in the sectional title game. Last season, Shore Conference rival Christian Brothers Academy knocked them out in the quarterfinal round.
"We couldn't have scripted it any better," Stanyek said. "That loss two years ago was absolutely brutal. We lost to rival CBA last year and that was painful. We're just playing so hard for each other. I've never been a part of a group like this that plays for each other with so much heart."
"I have to say this is a lot more enjoyable, especially winning the game on our home field," Griggs said. "It's our first state championship in 26 years and it meant a lot to coach Hausmann and the coaches and it especially meant a lot to our seniors. We didn't want them walking out of here without a state championship."
The Caseys will play for the Non-Public A state championship vs. North Jersey Non-Public A champion Don Bosco Prep, which outlasted rival Bergen Catholic 2-1 in extra innings. The title game will be played at 7 p,.m. on Thursday, June 8 at Veterans Park in Hamilton.
Trailing 1-0 since the top of the first inning, RBC tied the score in the bottom of the fifth inning when Brunner was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Kopec, and scored from second on an error.
It was the breakthrough the Caseys needed against sidewinding right-hander Jimmy Mulvaney, who kept RBC off balance for much of the game with an arsenal of sweeping breaking pitches from an odd arm angle. He retired the first eight RBC hitters of the game and yielded just two baserunners in the first four innings while striking out three.
"We've had a lot of hard-throwing righties and over-the-top guys so it was funky and not something you see every day," Stanyek said. "His slider was almost rising and I haven't really seen that before in my career. It was tough to pick up but we just had to find a way."
Brunner's run in the bottom of the fifth gave the Caseys new life. In the top of the sixth, the junior centerfielder sent a thunderbolt of energy through his team with a brilliant defensive play.
Leading off the top of the sixth inning, St. Joe's No. 3 hitter Josiah Brown ripped a pitch to center that immediately started tailing to the left-centerfield gap. Brunner didn't see it well off the bat but sprinted to his right and made a headlong dive to make a spectacular catch and prevent at least a double. Stanyk retired the next two batters on four pitches to get the Caseys to the bottom of the sixth with plenty of momentum.
"Definitely, 100 percent that's the best play I've ever made," Brunner said. "I did not have a good jump on it but I went after it. I felt like that was a huge momentum changer. It was a surreal feeling."
"Huge, huge," Stanyek said. "That was probably the best play I've ever seen in my life. He's been great all year and that play was unbelievable."
"That ball was well-hit and could have been an inside-the-parker if he misses it," Hausmann said. "He's done it all year defensively and that was a tremendous play."
RBC's tying run in the fifth was a product of an error and small ball, but the Caseys finally got to Mulvaney in a more traditional manner in the sixth when Griggs singled to lead off, Frank Scrivanic reached on an error, and Dylan Passo singled to load the bases with one out. Griggs scored on the wild pitch to give RBC the lead and Brunner followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Scrivanic and make it 3-1. That chased Mulvaney from the game and St. Joe's turned to Bryan Rios out of the bullpen. Kopec then delivered an RBI single to bring home Passo and stretch the lead to 4-1.
"We started seeing it out of his hand and bringing tougher at-bats to the table," Griggs said. "We were able to put some hard-hit balls in play, make their defense work, and get a couple through."
"These guys work really well together and help each other out as a lineup, and they made adjustments," Hausmann said. (Mulvaney) is tough. He's pitched well all year and won a county championship, and he gave us fits. I knew we would grind it. I didn't know we would score four runs but I knew we weren't done."
Stanyek, who threw 32 pitches in the first inning when St. Joe's took a 1-0 lead on a booming double by Robbie Carvelli and an RBI single by Matthew Kosuda, settled down and pitched into the seventh inning. He threw 111 pitches, struck out nine, and allowed just three hits. The George Washington signee retired eight straight batters before reaching his pitch limit and giving way to Marzo, who retired the final two hitters to secure the title for RBC.
"He's just a dog," Griggs said. "You know he's going to bring his best every single time he's out there and he'll do anything for us. He really did a great job on the mound and it sparked us to get the bats going."
"It's what Alex does," Hausmann said. "He does a great job for us and when he's on the mound we really don't think we can lose. (After the 32-pitch first inning) I thought maybe four innings and we'd figure out the rest, but he figured it out."
The bullseye was squarely on the Caseys from Opening Day when they started the season ranked No. 1 in the state. They dropped their opening game to eventual Central Jersey Group 2 champion Rumson-Fair Haven, then lost games to Old Bridge and Shore Regional in late April. Ranney beat them in the Monmouth County Tournament final but RBC earned revenge in the SCT final to secure its fourth consecutive conference title. A late regular-season loss to Bergen Catholic did nothing to derail their championship plans. They beat Pingry, 4-2, in the quarterfinals, then ended St. Augustine's seven-year run as sectional champs with a dominant 8-1 victory in the semifinals. Saturday's victory was years in the making, but it's not the end of this team's journey.
"We're just playing our hearts out right now," Griggs said. "We know we're going to have to come hard to practice these next couple of days. Thursday is our last game and we're going to bring everything we have."
Red Bank Catholic 4, St. Joseph Metuchen 1
|St. Joe Met (21-10)||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||2|
|St. Joseph Metuchen||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||PC|
|Jimmy Mulvaney (L, 8-4)||6.2||3||4||0||1||4||76|
|Red Bank Catholic||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||PC|
|Alex Stanyek (W, 3-0)||6.1||3||1||1||2||9||111|
|Ethan Marzo (SV, 3)||0.2||0||0||0||0||0||6|
|St. Joseph Metuchen||Game Stats|
|Matt Kosuda||1-3, RBI|
|Robbie Carvelli||1-3, 2B, R|
|Red Bank Catholic||Game Stats|
|Brendan Kopec||1-2, RBI|
|Dylan Passo||1-3, R, RBI|
|Sean Griggs||1-3, R|