Baseball – Seniors Lead Jackson Into Last Dance Region Semis
LAKEWOOD - Jackson Memorial 2020 graduate Nick Beetel has had better bullpens and better starts to games than what he had on Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Park. In fact, he estimated he probably has never had worse.
After flashing what he described as "some of the worst stuff ever" in his pregame bullpen, throwing six straight balls to start the game and balking a Washington Township runner over to second base to start his night, it didn't look like the makings of a memorable night for the Lehigh-bound left-hander.
As it turned out, it was one of his better performances in a Jackson uniform - one that extended his Jags team's run in the Last Dance World Series, presented by RWJBarnabas Health, into the third and final week of the tournament.
Beetel fired five no-hit innings, two senior teammates - one expected source and another not so much - contributed big hits and the Jackson bullpen was good enough Wednesday for the Jags to edge Washington Township, 5-3, and advance to Tuesday's South Jersey semifinals.
Jackson's Last Dance run will continue with a showdown against St. Joseph of Metuchen in the second game of the Tuesday double-header in Lakewood, scheduled for a 7 p.m. first pitch.
"I feel like this is where we're meant to be," Beetel said. "I feel like we're definitely a top-eight team in the state and we were able to prove ourselves by getting through the first two weeks. Now, every game from here on out is going to be a dog-fight and every team is going to have to come out and execute on all cylinders."
With the stadium scoreboard showing no Washington hits through five innings, Beetel had good reason to lobby to stay in the game for the sixth inning, but did no such thing. He finished his day with five strikeouts and three walks on 80 pitches, with another baserunner reaching on a fielder's choice that failed to yield an out.
"Maybe if it's regular-season game, I try to go out there, but we're in the playoff atmosphere," Beetel said. "The goal is to win the game, not get no-hitters. I could have gone more, but I trust Coach Malta to make the right decision for the team."
Beetel also got a sparkling play from senior third baseman Jake Wendell to momentarily preserve the no-hitter in the fifth. With one out and left-handed-hitting John Striano at the plate, Wendell made a diving stop toward the third-base bag on a hard hit ball, popped up for a long throw across the diamond and first baseman Carmine Petosa scooped it out of the dirt for the second out of the inning.
Beetel pitched four of his five innings without any help from his offense, but that changed in the top of the fifth. Wendell was hit on the foot to lead off the inning, sophomore Chris Cartnick singled to left and senior Andrew Sefick bunted into a fielder's choice at third to set the stage for right fielder Bill Petrina.
The senior No. 9 hitter got to a 3-2 count with one out and, recalling a 3-2 curveball he took for strike three in his previous at-bat, was ready for the hook from Washington starter Sam Kaschak once again. Petrina stayed back on it long enough to skip a ground ball through the left side that scored Cartnick from second base with the game's first run.
"He threw me a curveball in a full count the first time up and I took it for strike three and he came with a fastball to set up the full count the second time," Petrina said. "It was a similar situation, so I thought he might go to the curveball again, so I was ready for it, I got it, and I just took it and put it right through the hole."
Petrina was making his first start of the tournament on Wednesday night and he paid off the decision by Malta to give a new senior a chance to start the game.
"I knew that I had to show up," Petrina said. "Every at-bat matters, one-through-nine. There is no at-bat you can just take off and it showed tonight. Even the nine-hitter can do damage."
Jackson added two more runs on wild pitches in the inning and in the top of the seventh, senior catcher Tom Cartnick tacked on two more runs with a ringing two-run double to left-center that made the score, 5-1, in favor of the Jags.
"With the bottom of their order up and Crotch on the mound, I wasn't feeling too worried," Cartnick said of his at-bat. "My previous at-bats, I was not happy with my results. I had two guys on base, it was an RBI spot so I just put a good swing on the ball."
Sophomore left-hander and Auburn commit Zach Crotchfelt took over for Beetel in the bottom of the sixth and struck out the first batter he faced, but Cartnick could not handle the ball and Colson Gonzalez reached first base on the passed ball.
Washington shortstop Greg Rossi then fought off a pitch on the hands for a bloop single over the head of second baseman Christian Pellone and in front of centerfielder Ryan Lasko - the Minutemen's first hit of the game. A wild pitch set Washington up with runners on second and third with none out and Crotchfelt responded with a strikeout.
A sacrifice fly by Dylan Sharkey broke up the shutout by Crotchfelt notched another strikeout to end the inning with Jackson still leading by two runs.
Tom Cartnick's eighth and ninth RBI of the tournament gave Jackson some extra cushion that would prove imperative in the wake of Washington's rally in the bottom of the seventh vs. Crotchfelt. Ryan Hansbury led off with a walk, moved to second on a groundout back to Crotchfelt and scored on an RBI single by No. 9 hitter Mark Colligan.
Crotchfelt struck out leadoff man Christian Rice on three pitches for the second out, but balked the runner to second and surrendered back-to-back singles to Gonzalez and Rossi - the second of which plated the third run and brought up clean-up man Nick Hammer as the winning run.
Jackson turned to senior Dan Greenwood to pitch to Hammer and after nearly striking him out on a 2-2 foul tip that Cartnick could not quite glove, the senior right-hander induced a game-ending groundout to Wendell at third.
Each team squandered a scoring opportunity prior to Jackson's fifth-inning breakthrough, with Washington's coming right off the bat. Beetel walked Rice on four pitches to start the game, balked him to second and got a groundout to shortstop Ty Beck that moved Rice to third with one out.
Wendell tried to tag Rice out as he scrambled back to third base after a ground ball hit by Rossi and could not tag him on time, making it first and third with one out in the first. Beetel then dug in and struck out the next two hitters to escape the jam. He then fired one-two-three innings in the second and third, worked around a leadoff walk by retiring another three in a row in the fourth and overcame a two-out walk to pitch out of the fifth.
Jackson's first baserunner did not come until the top of the fourth, when Lasko ripped a grounder inside the third-base bag for a leadoff double. After a walk to Pellone, Lasko stole third to give the Jags a runner on third with none out and three chances to knock him in. Cartnick hit a ground ball to third that did not allow Lasko to advance, Petosa popped out in foul territory on a 3-1 breaking ball and Beck grounded out to shortstop to hold off Jackson one last time.
With six of the final eight teams set for Tuesday's two Region semifinal double-headers, Jackson and North Jersey semifinalist Cranford are the lone two teams remaining representing public schools. Two games in North Jersey were suspended or postponed due to rain on Wednesday night and three of the four teams playing in the two match-ups - Delbarton vs. St. Peter's Prep and Bergen Catholic vs. Millburn - are comprised of players from private-school programs.
With the distinction as one of the final public-school teams remaining, Jackson can go all-in on the underdog role, one Cartnick says his team relishes. As sophomores, the current group of seniors were instrumental in leading Jackson Memorial to a South Jersey Group IV championship. As a defending champion and favorite to repeat, the Jaguars struggled in big games during the 2019 campaign.
"The one difference I would say between this year and last year is when we went down in a game last year, we would get a little nervous. This year, we use that energy from being down. We have a chip on our shoulder - kind of like an underdog mentality."
Next week marks a chance of the Jaguars seniors - who have showed up in a big way all tournament long - to make amends for the disappointing end to last season, which would be even sweeter given the disappointment of losing their chance at redemption this past spring.
"Last year, we had an early exit in basically every (tournament), which sucked," Cartnick said. "We wanted to take full advantage of (the Last Dance) because this is a gift."
Jackson Jags 5, Washington Twp. 3
|Jackson Jags (5-0)||0||0||0||0||3||0||2||5||5||1|
|Nick Beetel (W, 2-0)||5||0||0||0||3||5||80|
|Dan Greenwood (Sv)||0.1||0||0||0||0||0||6|
|Sam Kaschak (L)||4.1||3||3||3||1||2||83|
|Jackson Jags||Game Stats|
|Tom Cartnick||1-4, 2B, 2 RBI|
|Bill Petrina||1-2, R, RBI|
|Matt Feld||1-1, R|
|Chris Cartnick||1-2, R|
|Ryan Lasko||1-4, 2B, SB|
|Christian Pellone||0-1, 3 BB, R, SB|
|Greg Rossi||2-3, BB, RBI|
|Colson Gonzalez||1-4, R|
|Mark Colligan||1-2, BB, RBI|