GROUP II SEMIFINAL PREVIEW: SHS VS AUDUBON
Who: Spotswood (14-12) vs. Audubon (20-5). When/where: 4 p.m. today at Rutgers University.
How they got here: Spotswood beat Cinnaminson 9-7, Rumson-Fair Haven 14-13, Manasquan 9-8 and Governor Livingston 7-5. Audubon beat Woodrow Wilson 15-1, West Deptford 10-3, Haddon Township 4-2 and Buena 4-2.
About Audubon: The Green Wave defeated Buena 4-3 for the South Group II championship, the school's first sectional title since 2002 and its 14th overall. Audubon's Tyler Urban, who played in a 2008 sectional final loss to Buena, highlighted a three-run first inning rally with a two-run single. Brian Flacco had an RBI single in the next inning which proved to be the winning hit. Flacco is the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe. His other brother, John, a senior at Audubon who will play football next fall at Stanford University, went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored in the sectional final. Audubon opened the year 0-3, losing two games at a tournament in Baltimore. The team lost to Haddonfield opening day. It avenged a loss to Haddon Township in the sectional final. Audubon has won 15 of its last 17 including a 12-game winning streak. Kevin Kraemer, a sophomore left-hander, is today's scheduled starter. He throws a fastball, curve and isn't afraid to pitch to contact. John Flacco and Ray Gies, who will play at Gloucester County College, are among the club's top hitters, along with Brian Flacco, Urban and Joe Furlong. Audubon is solid defensively and has balance throughout the order.
About Spotswood: A brutal schedule prepared the battle-tested Chargers for the postseason. Spotswood beat North 2 Group IV finalist Edison and defeated defending Group III champion J.F. Kennedy. Spotswood took its lumps against perennial state powers Immaculata, Hunterdon Central and two-time Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament finalist North Brunswick, getting outscored 40-14 in those games combined. Spotswood features one of the state's best players in senior shortstop Cody Pace (.554, 26 RBIs, 6 HRs). Twenty of Pace's 37 hits have gone for extra bases. Pace hit a pivotal two-run, two-out, opposite-field homer to left-center in the sixth inning of Friday's sectional final. Senior first baseman Mike Liming hit his first homer of the year — a three-run blast in the first — and designated hitter Anthony Pietanza clubbed a two-run shot later in the inning to give the Chargers a 5-0 lead en route to their first sectional title since 2007. Pace went the distance on the mound for the win. A converted reliever, Pace (5-2) has won three of Spotswood's four state tournament games. He is scheduled to start today. The emergence of the bottom third of the batting order (Anthony Pietanza, Dean Vitale and Ron Santana) has enabled Spotswood to extend two-out rallies, a key factor in two comeback state tournament wins. Mike Liming (.417), Matt Mangarella (.354) and Pietanza (.307) are the team's other top hitters.