Potok’s gem sends Jackson to Last Dance World Series South Jersey quarterfinals
TRENTON – In Matt Potok’s first outing in the Last Dance High School World Series, he was only scheduled to pitch two innings, but was so efficient he forced the hand of Jackson Jags (Jackson Memorial) head coach Frank Malta. He picked up right where he left off on Tuesday afternoon, and this time the only move Malta had to make was to hand Potok the ball to start the game.
The Jackson junior right-hander pitched a gem at Arm & Hammer Park, tossing a three-hit shutout with seven strikeouts on just 70 pitches to lead the Jags to a 4-0 victory over Middlesex. A fourth-inning, two-run double by sophomore designated hitter Chris Cartnick was the only offense Potok would need to send Jackson to the Last Dance South Jersey quarterfinals.
The Jags will play Washington Township at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.
“Seventy in seven innings is ridiculous,” Malta said. “I shot him a text early (Tuesday) and said ‘What do you got? Give me all your bullets’. He said 75, so he had five to spare.”
“Everybody has talked about guys missing out on this year and I really believe every time he touched the ball this year he was going to have an opportunity to do something special. Coastal Carolina is getting a good one in him. You see his pace, his demeanor doesn’t change. He’s a special kid, man.”
“I just let them make contact and my guys make plays for me,” Potok said. “I usually just pitch to contact; the strikeouts will come. It allows me to go deeper into the game.”
Wake Forest-bound senior Carmine Petosa banged an RBI double in the fifth inning to extend Jackson’s lead to 3-0 and senior Jake Wendell followed with an RBI single to plate Petosa with Jackson’s fourth and final run.
Potok needed just six pitches to get through the first inning, even to close out the game in the top of the seventh and eight pitches to retire the side in the fifth. The most pitches he threw in an inning was 15 in the fourth inning. Middlesex put a runner in scoring position only once when Tyrus Chippendale and Stephen Young Jr. hit consecutive two-out singles in the third inning. Potok struck out No. 3 hitter and pitching counterpart Matt Rowe to strand both runners.
Potok also got a huge defensive assist in the first inning when senior center fielder Ryan Lasko made a spectacular diving catch on a full spring for the second out of the inning.
"We’re kind of accustomed to seeing Ryan make those types of plays, he’s a highlight reel," Malta said. "He does things that are different than other kids. I think he has a really bright future because of it."
While Potok was brilliantly efficient and kept his pitch count quite low, Jackson’s unforgiving lineup was making sure the opposite was true of Middlesex’s pitching staff. Rowe, a junior who is committed to Rutgers, didn’t allow a hit until Cartnick’s double in the fourth, but the Jags made him labor through the first three innings. Rowe threw 24 pitches in the first inning when Jackson drew two walks and put runners on first and third with one out. They drew two more walks in the second inning and made Rowe throw 22 more pitches.
Rowe retired the side in the third inning but Jackson finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Ty Beck battled back from behind in the count to draw a nine-pitch walk and Wendell was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat to put runners on first and second with no outs. With Cartnick at the plate, a balk moved both runners up and into scoring position. Cartnick was behind 1-2 in the count but turned on a pitch and doubled to left-center field to give Jackson the only runs it would need.
“I was looking for anything, using a two-strike approach, shortening up my swing,” Cartnick said. “He threw it right in my wheelhouse and I just poked it right over the shortstop.”
Rowe struck out the next two hitters to strand Cartnick at second, but the damage was done and Rowe had thrown 88 pitches in four innings.
“I said that from the beginning to our guys and it started at Brick American (in pool play),” Malta said. “Right from the get-go, we were having deep at-bats and not swinging at pitches outside the zone.”
In six innings at the plate, Jackson’s lineup forced 12 three-ball counts and forced Middlesex pitchers to throw 128 pitches.
“That’s how we are, we like to get into deep pitch counts and make them work,” Cartnick said. “And hopefully they’ll make a mistake.”
Right-hander Jared Zimbardo relieved Rowe in the bottom of the fifth inning and was greeted with the same grinding approach. Senior second baseman Christian Pellone worked a full count and drew a leadoff walk before going to second on a wild pitch. Tom Cartnick worked a seven-pitch walk and Pellone stole third on ball four. Courtesy runner Ben Petrina was caught stealing during the next at-bat, but Petosa laced an RBI double down the first-base line to score Pellone for a 3-0 lead.
With two outs, Wendell worked the count full before singling to right field and bringing home Petosa, who slid headfirst to beat the throw and give Jackson a 4-0 lead.
With Potok on the hill, it was an insurmountable cushion.
“That’s a really good baseball team over there,” Malta said of Middlesex. “You watch how they move, how they swing; I don’t know if our guys even realize how good they are. It makes what Matt did today even more special.”
Halfway through the Last Dance World Series, it’s four down, four to go for Jackson.
“We knew we were going to make it this far and we don’t want to stop,” Potok said. “We want to win this tournament.”
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