Wall Rolls Past Northern Burlington for First NJSIAA Sectional Title in 11 Years
WALL TOWNSHIP - Wall's senior class has multiple 20-win seasons and division titles on its resume, but there would've always been a gnawing sense that they didn't live up to their potential if they exited the baseball program without a single tournament title to their credit.
"To not get one would've been devastating,'' head coach Todd Schmitt said.
The fourth-seeded Crimson Knights made sure they never had to wonder "what if" by rolling over 11th-seeded Northern Burlington, 10-2, on their home field Friday to capture their first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title in 11 years.
"If we didn't win this or any of them, it would've been underachieving,'' senior third baseman Grant Shulman said. "We got it done today, and dreams came true for us."
Wall (25-4) is now positioned to make a run at the overall Group III title with Monmouth University-bound senior ace Trey Dombroski potentially able to throw twice next week. The Crimson Knights will play South Jersey champion Cherry Hill West on Monday at East Brunswick Tech in the Group III semifinals in a bid to reach their first Group III final since that 2008 team.
Wall made sure that a Cinderella Northern Burlington squad coming off road upsets of No. 3 Ocean and No. 2 Jackson Liberty never had a chance to build momentum.
The Crimson Knights also regrouped quickly considering a day earlier they had a school-record 14-game winning streak halted in a loss to Manalapan in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. The state tournament offered their last chance at redemption.
It was the exact scenario they faced last year, when they lost in the SCT semifinals and then lost a one-run heart-breaker to Allentown in the Central Jersey Group III final to abruptly end their season.
"We just couldn't repeat that, us seniors,'' Shulman said. "We're all back, and we couldn't do that, so we just put the pedal to the metal right away and just did what we had to do."
The Crimson Knights roared out to a 9-0 lead after three innings as junior right-hander Teddy Sharkey (6-0) kept the Greyhounds (13-8) off the scoreboard while the offense received contributions from throughout the lineup.
"I feel like jumping on them early was huge,'' senior second baseman Dylan Richey said.
"Once we put that two-spot up (in the first inning), it made me throw better and have more confidence in my pitches,'' Sharkey said.
Senior leadoff man Johnny Volpe, who finished 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs scored, got things started with a single to right field in the first inning and it was all Wall from there.
He went to third on a line drive to right field by Shulman, a Rutgers recruit who finished 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored and a stolen base. Junior left fielder Sean Nocera then followed a walk by sophomore designated hitter Jay Bant by punching a two-run single to left field to make it 2-0 and immediately seize the momentum for the home team.
"They're the ones rolling. We're the ones who just lost yesterday, so to get on them early and (get) their morale down...we just kept going,'' Shulman said.
Once Sharkey breezed through an eight-pitch second inning, Wall put up three more runs to expand the lead. Richey scored on a wild pitch and Bant ripped an RBI single to right field to chase starter Jake Babuschak (4-3) from the game after only 1 2/3 innings.
Shulman then added one more run when he scored by crossing the plate before Bant could be tagged out on a first-and-third double steal attempt with two outs.
The lead ballooned to 9-0 after a four-run third inning, putting the Greyhounds in a massive hole given that they hadn't scored more than five runs in any of their state tournament wins. With a pair of runners in scoring position, Richey hit a high chopper to the mound that left relief pitcher Ryan Dromboski with no play and allowed a run to score to kick off the rally.
Sharkey then drew a bases-loaded walk, and Shulman followed with a two-out, two-run single to blow the game open. Wall added its final run in the fifth when Volpe scored on an RBI groundout by Bant after hitting a leadoff single and reaching third on a pair of wild pitches.
Sharkey, a Florida State recruit, struggled with his command in issuing five walks in 5 2/3 innings before reaching his pitch limit, but he did not allow an earned run and struck out seven while only giving up three hits on 112 pitches. While he could not quite harness his offspeed stuff, he used his fastball to keep a lid on the Greyhounds.
"(Catcher) Dave (Howarth) did a real good job behind the plate, mixing speeds, inside, outside, up,'' Sharkey said. "The mound wasn't working that well for me today, but I just had to make some key adjustments."
Shulman came on in relief and rolled through the final four outs as the Crimson Knights celebrated a much-anticipated dogpile after a victory three years in the making.
With the monkey off their back, Wall can now set its sights on trying to bring home its first Group III title since the magical 2004 team that became the first Shore Conference squad to ever win five titles (division, county, conference, sectional and Group) in the same season.
"I think we're definitely the front-runner to win the whole thing,'' Shulman said. "Trey is arguably one of the best pitchers in the state. With him on the mound, we feel like we can play with anyone."
Wall 10, Northern Burlington 2
|No. Burlington (13-8)||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||2||3||3|
|Jake Babuschak (L, 4-3)||1.2||3||5||2||3||0||40|
Jayden Vaughn 2 2 1 1 1 1
|Teddy Sharkey (W, 6-0)||5.2||3||2||0||5||7||112|
|Grant Shulman||2-2, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 RBI|
|Sean Nocera||1-3, 2 RBI|
|Dylan Richey||1-2, 2 R, RBI|
|Johnny Volpe||2-3, BB, 3 R|
|Jay Bant||1-3, BB, 2 RBI|
|Lorenzo Repack||BB, R|
|Drew Wyers||BB, R|
|Jake Babuschak||1-2, 2B, BB|