New Jersey Group II SemiFinal
PISCATAWAY — The Spotswood High School baseball team's magical postseason run, which included two comeback victories en route to a sectional title, ended with a deceptive 13-3 loss to Audubon at Rutgers University in Tuesday's NJSIAA Group II semifinals.
Audubon sent 15 batters to the plate and scored 11 runs, all unearned, in the second inning to put the contest out of reach early.
The deficit proved too much for the Chargers to overcome. They rallied for seventh-inning victories in the sectional quarterfinals and semifinals on the way to beating Governor Livingston for their second Central Group II crown in four years.
Spotswood committed six errors and a balk in the 11-run inning during which Brian Flacco belted two RBI singles and three of his teammates scored two runs apiece.
The inning starkly contrasted how well the Chargers (14-13) had been playing during the state tournament.
"We didn't give ourselves a shot today, and that's what kind of hurts," Spotswood coach Glenn Fredricks said. "We haven't played a bad inning like that in six weeks. It's not indicative of the way we've been playing, especially in the state tournament."
Audubon (20-5), the South Jersey champion, took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. John Flacco led off with a walk and Brett Phillips legged out an infield single. Both runners crossed on Tom Dyer's two-run double to left.
The Chargers trimmed the deficit in half in the bottom of the first. Shortstop Cody Pace, one of four senior starters, drew a leadoff walk, raced to third on an errant pickoff attempt and scored on a comebacker. Pace, a converted closer who was the winning pitcher in three of Spotswood's state tournament games, did not get the start on the mound because Fredricks said his ace would have been ineffective on four days rest.
"Cody was not ready to go today," Fredricks said. "He needs the extra day's rest or two. He wouldn't have been effective today. That's where we come into the closer mentality with him. He's a closer by nature that was going out there on guts after three and four innings in the state tournament."
Spotswood used sophomores Anthony Berg, Chris Stout and freshman Kevin Martin on the mound. The trio gained valuable big-game experience despite surrendering 10 hits, only one of which went for extra bases, and being victimized by seven errors."We just didn't make enough plays behind him," Fredricks said, referring to Berg, the starter. "The littlest break you give the other team, especially a tradition-rich team like Audubon that knows how to win, they are going to take advantage of it."
Fredricks said the 13-1 second-inning deficit did not seem insurmountable to the Chargers.
"Even today we felt if we could scratch across one more run, we'd have a shot," said Fredricks, referring to preventing the game from being called after five innings by the mercy rule. "We stranded (six) runners in scoring position. We didn't get the timely hit we needed."
Spotswood scored two more unearned runs in the fourth, closing the deficit to 13-3. John Relay led off with a walk and Anthony Pietanza followed with a lined single to center, Spotswood's first hit off sophomore left-hander Kevin Kraemer (4-0). Kraemer struck out the next two batters before walking Pace on four pitches to load the bases. His second errant pickoff attempt of the game allowed Relay and Pietanza to score.
The Chargers loaded the bases again off Kraemer in the fifth, this time with one away, on an error, a walk and Relay's single to left. A pop up and a strikeout ended the threat and the game.
"We had a fantastic season there in the second half," said Fredricks, whose team played a brutal regular-season schedule. "A couple of bounces along the way and our record would be much better. But I will settle for 14-13 and a sectional championship every year.
"When we challenge our kids every single game, our kids know they are going to get better playing the better players in the state. We are going to lose a couple of seniors, but pretty much the nucleus of this team is going to come back for two more years, so we do have a lot to look forward to."