Point Boro falls to Haddonfield in South Jersey Group 2 championship
HADDONFIELD – Point Boro’s tremendous postseason run came to an end Friday when the Panthers fell to Haddonfield, 2-1, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 championship game at Spicer Field.
The Bulldogs scored twice in the late innings, tying the game in the fifth inning and taking the lead on an RBI single by catcher John Cristino in the bottom of the sixth inning to take home the sectional crown and deny the Panthers their first title since 2006.
“We played 27 games this year and that’s incredible, and the only way you play that many games is if you’re playing well at tournament time and these guys did,” said Point Boro head coach Dave Drew. “We went 3-1 in the state tournament and 2-1 in the Shore Conference Tournament and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. You can see it on their faces right now, this one hurts and it’s going to sting but we will learn from this.”
Haddonfield senior right-handed pitcher Jacob Small, a University of Maine recruit, outdueled Point Boro sophomore Nick Guzzi by holding the Panthers to just two hits while striking out seven.
Point Boro jumped on Small early, however, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Sam Collins smacked the first pitch of the game to left field for a single and Christian Aurin then reached on a throwing error when his sacrifice bunt attempt was thrown over the first baseman’s head. With runners on first and third, Guzzi lined out hard to second base, but Paul Franceschini followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Collins and give the Panthers an early advantage.
Small settled down, though, and allowed just two baserunners heading into the seventh inning, quieting the Point Boro bats that were loud to start the game.
“Obviously he’s a great pitcher and going to the University of Maine, so hats off to him with how he battled all day,” Drew said. “I think we were a little more aggressive early in the game and kind of got away from that and got behind in the counts, and we weren’t able to recover.”
Guzzi was solid in his own right in allowing two runs on six hits while striking out seven, and he was rolling along after striking out the final two batters of the fourth inning. But Haddonfield got on the board in the bottom of the fifth inning when No. 6 hitter Chris Brown walked and moved all the way to third on a throwing error. Guzzi got Bauer Fichter to fly out to centerfield and Dylan Heine to pop out to second base, but Sam Heine was able to chop a grounder high over the head of third baseman Cole Weingarten to bring in Brown and tie the score at one.
Small set Point Boro down in order in the top of the sixth to set the stage for his teammates to take the lead in the bottom half. No. 2 hitter Steve DiTomaso led off the inning with a stinging triple that clanged off the right-field fence just inside the foul line. Cristino followed with a run-scoring single to give Haddonfield the lead.
Chris Mariani then reached on a fielder’s choice that forced Cristino at second, and Conner MacNeill ripped a double to left-center field. Point Boro caught a break when the ball bounced over the fence for an automatic double, forcing Mariani back to third when he would have scored easily. Guzzi got a strikeout for the second out and Point Boro issued an intentional walk to Fichter to load the bases and give the option of a force play at any base. Guzzi then got Dylan Heine to fly out to left field to limit the damage and give his team a chance in the top of the seventh.
“I love that guy,” Drew said. “If we had to start this game over he’d still be our guy and I’m so proud of him. He’s the reason we’re in this situation to begin with – and the pitching from Sammy Collins, as well – but Guzzi is one hell of a pitcher and he’s going to learn from this too. He pitched a great game and unfortunately, we didn’t get him some more runs.”
Franceschini hit a soft liner to first base for the first out of the seventh but Point Boro got a baserunner when Sam Young was hit by a pitch. Nick Zbikowski flied out to centerfield for the second out, but Andrew Laspina kept the Panthers alive with a single to put the tying run on second. Small was able to bear down and get the final out, however, to give Haddonfield the sectional title.
A postseason run that began with a stunning upset of top-seeded Christian Brothers Academy in the Shore Conference Tournament saw a young Point Boro team play its best baseball late in the season. They were right there in their losses, too, falling 7-6 to Toms River North in the SCT quarterfinals and also suffering a 1-0 loss to SCT finalist Central. The future certainly looks bright for the black and gold.
“We’re so young and I’m so proud of these guys to battle like this in a sectional final,” Drew said. “When we got into tournament time we talked about being so young and knowing we were going to be facing top-notch guys. My message was to compete every pitch and every at-bat and that’s exactly what they did.”
Haddonfield 2, Point Boro 1
Point Boro (18-9) 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 1 2 1
Haddonfield 0 0 0 0 1 1 X – 2 6 1
WP: Jacob Small – 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 HBP, 7 Ks, 88 pitches
LP: Nick Guzzi (7-3) – 6 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 IBB, 7Ks, 77 pitches
RBI – PB: Paul Franceschini; H: Sam Heine, John Cristino
2B – H: Conner MacNeill.
3B – H: Steve DiTomaso.
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