Spotswood Rallies vs. White Division Leaders; Down JFK 7-5

Posted by Glenn Fredricks on Apr 19 2009 at 05:00PM PDT
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SPOTSWOOD — A bizarre series of events in each club's final at-bat that included three controversial calls — one on a botched suicide squeeze and another on Mike Liming's spectacular home-run robbing grab — all went the Spotswood High School baseball team's way in a thrilling 7-5 comeback victory over J.F. Kennedy on Saturday.

The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Mustangs (8-2), ranked No. 4 in the Home News Tribune Top 10.

After Spotswood junior Cody Pace forged a 5-5 tie with a leadoff homer to right in the home sixth, the Chargers (5-3) loaded the bases on a walk, an outfield error and an intentional pass.

Freshman Matt Mangarella was called upon to drop down a suicide squeeze on a 2-0 count, but was unable to get the bat on a fastball up and out of the strike zone. Lead runner Joe Petosa got caught in a rundown and purposely ran into infielder Chris Kornmann, who appeared to have one foot on the grass and one on the dirt about 10 feet in front of third base. Plate umpire Bill Kilduff ruled that Kornmann obstructed on the play. He awarded Petosa home, while the two other runners each advanced a base.

"At first," Petosa explained, "when the squeeze was blown I'm like, "I'm screwed,' but I've got to do something to try to make up for him blowing it. We're taught if there's a guy in the baseline, run into him, get the next base. So that's what I did. I put my head down and ran into (Kornmann)."

Before reliever Mike Vergona could make another pitch, he was called for a balk when Kilduff ruled the right-hander broke his hands before stepping off the rubber. Winning pitcher Bryan Smith scored on the balk for a 7-5 lead.

Spotswood closer Cody Pace, who pitched 3 1/3 innings to preserve a win over Middlesex on Thursday night, came on to pitch the seventh for his third save in four days. After leadoff batter Joe Marciano grounded out, designated hitter Brian Schroeder blasted a fly ball to left-center. The ball cleared the fence, but Liming jumped up, reached over the yellow home-run cap tubing and brought the ball back in play with his glove. The ball appeared to be in slow motion as it trickled out of Liming's glove, down his left arm and onto his belly while his back hit the warning track. Liming miraculously prevented the ball from touching the ground by clutching it against his body with his bare hand as he fell.

J.F. Kennedy's next two batters reached base before Jorge Rivera flew out deep to left on a 3-2 offering to end the game.

Overshadowed in the thriller was Smith's gritty outing. Making only his second start, Smith surrendered two first-inning RBI singles to Schroeder and Jason Stolz. Despite having control problems for the entire game — Smith walked five batters (one intentionally) and hit three — he did not surrender another hit until losing pitcher A.J. Pichalski's RBI triple gave the Mustangs a 5-4 lead in the sixth (Vin Vizzie, who Liming later replaced, erased Pichalski as he tried to tag from third on a fly to left). Four of the batters Smith walked or hit scored.

"When you struggle with command like that you've got to do the best job you can to limit the bleeding," Spotswood coach Glenn Fredricks said, "and our defense really stepped up for him for the first time this year."

Spotswood scored twice in the fifth with none away — once on a throwing error off cleanup batter John Relay's sacrifice bunt attempt and again on Mangarella's sacrifice fly to right — to tie the game at 4-4. The Chargers used back-to-back solo homers from Petosa and Smith to forge a 2-2 tie in the first inning.

Smith hit the first two batters of the second inning, both of whom came around to score as the Mutangs took a 4-2 lead. Rivera crossed on an infield error and Kornmann scored on Pichalski's sacrifice fly.

J.F. Kennedy coach Jerry Smith Jr. blamed the defeat on his team's inability to come through in the clutch (eight left on base) and to play solid defense (four errors), not Kilduff's controversial calls.

"Those plays didn't have an outcome on the game," he said. "We are not a team that's going to sit here and (make excuses)."

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