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Jean Sapini was solid in relief pitching the fifth and sixth innings and earning the win as South Plainfield edged Summit, 3-2, Tuesday, in North 2, Group 3 first round game at Memorial Field in Summit. South Plainfield will next play Cranford Thursday. (Photos by Gene Nann-nannphoto)
South Plainfield enjoyed the better of what transpired in second day of action against Summit
South Plainfield's Nick Polizzano pitched the seventh inning to earn save in 3-2 victory
Summit coach Kevin Zaleski makes his point with umpire during Tuesday's N2G3 game
South Plainfield proved opportunistic on the base paths in Tuesday's N2G3 action at Summit. Here the Hilltoppers second baseman Tim Colao awaits throw as a Tiger slides safely into second.
Summit southpaw Will Schaffer worked in relief in Tuesday's resumption of play
Jared Marks executed the first of two successful suicide squeeze bunts in the fifth inning as South Plainfield plated two runs to take a 3-2 lead in a rather action-packed re-start of game.
South Plainfield Triumphs At Summit
SUMMIT – On May 29 of last year the South Plainfield baseball program produced one of its biggest wins ever, defeating three-time defending champion Cranford 4-2 in eight innings in the North 2, Group 3 championship game played at Cranford’s Memorial Field.
On Tuesday the Tigers came back to win another state tournament game at another Memorial Field venue, this one in Summit.
South Plainfield, the 12th seed, managed two successful suicide squeeze bunts in the resumed top of the fifth to erase a one-run deficit and went on to post a 3-2 win at fifth-seeded Summit in a N2, G3 first round encounter.
That sends South Plainfield back to Cranford’s Memorial Field – the site where it celebrated winning the sectional championship 12 months ago – where the Tigers will take on the Cougars once again, this time in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
Fourth-seeded Cranford, which has reached the N2, G3 final four years in a row and five times in the past six seasons, advanced Monday by ousting 13 th-seeded Orange 12-1 at home.
The last time Cranford did not reach the final was in 2011 when the Cougars lost at home to Mendham 7-3 in the quarterfinal round.
South Plainfield , which improved to 11-16, will have the very challenging task of trying to win at Cranford (15-10) in the N2, G3 playoffs for a second straight season.
“Cranford is a tough place to play,” said South Plainfield coach Anthony Guida. “They’re well-coached and they will take advantage of your mistakes.”
Summit concluded another winning season at 14-11. The Hilltoppers also won the Union County Conference’s Valley Division championship for the third time in four years, fashioning a 6-2 league mark.
When Monday’s game resumed Tuesday at Summit’s Memorial Field, South Plainfield junior Jake Hoffman was on second base after walking and stealing second.
South Plainfield senior Jack Gillis stepped back up to the plate Tuesday, down in the count at 1-2. He did well to hang in there and worked out a walk himself, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.
Hoffman and Gillis then stole third and second on different pitches, Hoffman sliding around the tag at third to just sneak in there.
With junior Jared Marks now at the plate, Guida called for a suicide squeeze. As Hoffman came charging down from third, Marks squared to bunt and pushed the ball beautifully toward first base. Hoffman scored to tie the game at 2-2, with Marks out at first, with the Summit first baseman throwing to the Summit second baseman.
Now with Gillis on third and one out, cleanup batter Dylan O’Connor, a junior, got in the batter’s box. Guida called for another suicide squeeze and O’Connor was good enough to bunt the ball in the same spot – down the first base line – where he was tagged out by the Summit first baseman after Gillis scored the go-ahead run to put South Plainfield in front 3-2.
“We’ve struggled with our squeeze bunts,” Guida said. “ Summit had a new pitcher and he was a bit wild.
“Then he was starting to find the strike zone, so I decided to give it a shot. I felt confident with the guys we had up that we could get the bunts down.”
Summit head coach Kevin Zaleski, who just concluded his 10th season at the helm of the Highlanders, could not remember a game where his team lost as the result of two suicide squeeze bunts.
“They executed and did what they needed to do,” Zaleski said. “Yesterday we didn’t get bunts down and then followed up with hits that if we did get the bunts down, those hits could have driven in runs.
“Also, the tying and go-ahead runs scored as the result of walks, which is not what you want to see.”
In the bottom of the fifth with runners on first and third with two outs, the final Summit batter in the inning smoked a hard-hit line drive to center that, unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, stayed up for a center field putout.
After two outs and nobody on in the seventh, junior Grant Douglas singled to left on the first pitch he saw and then sophomore Andrew Miller got around on a pitch and hit a fly ball to somewhat deep left for the game’s final out.
“I was happy with the way we had chances there in those innings,” Zaleski said.
South Plainfield junior right hander Jean Sapini, his team’s second pitcher in the contest, earned the mound victory in relief. He pitched scoreless fifth and sixth innings, retiring Summit in order in the sixth on two strikeouts (the first looking and the second swinging) and a pop up to second.
Coming in for the save by pitching a scoreless seventh inning was senior righty Nick Polizzano.
“I know that we’re better than our record,” Guida said. “We lost 10 seniors, with eight of them playing significant time last year, and in addition to our inexperience we were hit with injuries to our top four pitchers.
“We’ve really had to piece it together to get this far.”
With the UCC expected to realign for next year, Summit may be moving up a division.
“We want to push it to the next group,” Zaleski said. “We had a good group of senior leaders, five guys who led by example.
“We’ll also have a good group of guys returning next year.”
The five seniors who played their last game for Summit included shortstop Robby Faris, second baseman Tim Colao, first baseman-pitcher Alex Crane, third baseman Kyle Kanaley and outfielder-pitcher Jason Schneider.
Key returning players for 2017 include junior Will Schaffer, who led Summit in RBI this season with 21 and who as a left hander was Summit’s second pitcher against South Plainfield; junior Matt Murdock who batted over .400 and struck out only three times and was equally impressive defensively in center field and Miller.
Junior right hander Ben Lim allowed only one run in four innings pitched Monday for Summit.
2016 NORTH 2, GROUP 3 BASEBALL
SEEDS: 1-Mendham. 2-Somerville. 3-Gov. Livingston.
4-Cranford. 5-Summit. 6-Warren Hills. 7-Snyder. 8-Nutley.
9-Carteret. 10-Colonia. 11-Matawan. 12-South Plainfield.
13-Orange. 14-Barringer. 15-Chatham. 16-Voorhees.
Monday, May 23
Mendham 2, Voorhees 1
Nutley 6, Carteret 2
Cranford 12, Orange 1
Matawan 3, Warren Hills 2
Colonia 10, Snyder 0
Tuesday, May 24
South Plainfield 3, Summit 2
Gov. Livingston 15, Barringer 0
Somerville 2, Chatham 1
Thursday, May 26
TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
8-Nutley at 1-Mendham
12-South Plainfield at 4-Cranford
BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
10-Colonia at 2-Somerville
11-Matawan at 3-Gov. Livingston
Tuesday, May 31
At higher seeds
Friday, June 3
At higher seed
UNION COUNTY BASEBALL (11 teams)
STILL ALIVE IN SECTIONAL PLAYOFFS:
ALL NEXT PLAYING ON THURSDAY, MAY 26
NORTH 2, GROUP 4 (3):
Scotch Plains , Elizabeth, Westfield
5-Scotch Plains at 4-Millburn
11-Elizabeth at 3-Ridge
or 14-North Hunterdon at 11-Elizabeth
North Hunterdon now playing at Ridge
on Wednesday, May 25 at 3:45 p.m.
7-Woodbridge at 2-Westfield
NORTH 2, GROUP 3 (2):
Gov. Livingston, Cranford
11-Matawan at 3-Gov. Livingston
12-South Plainfield at 4-Cranford
NORTH 2, GROUP 1 (1):
5-North Arlington at 4-Brearley
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2 (2):
New Providence and Johnson
13-New Providence at 12-Johnson
NON-PUBLIC, NORTH A (1):
10-Oratory Prep at 7-Paramus Catholic
NON-PUBLIC, SOUTH A (1):
10-Union Catholic at 7-Bishop Eustace
NON-PUBLIC, SOUTH B (1):
12-Roselle Catholic at 5-Gill St. Bernard’s
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
2016 UCC CHAMPIONS
2015 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Gov. Livingston, Cranford
Mountain: Dayton, Johnson, Union Catholic
Valley: Roselle Park
2014 UCC CHAMPIONS
2013 UCC CHAMPIONS
2012 UCC CHAMPIONS
Valley: New Providence
2011 UCC CHAMPIONS
Mountain: Union Catholic
Valley: Roselle Park
2010 UCC CHAMPIONS
Watchung: Scotch Plains.
Follow JR Parachini on Twitter @parachini_jr
South Plainfield coach Anthony Guida takes it all in during Tuesday's action at Summit
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