Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baseball: Hunterdon Central lone local standing

And then there was one.

Hunterdon Central's baseball team is the only one among the three local counties still going in the sectional playoffs. Coach Mike Raymond's Red Devils will battle Hillsborough in an All-Skyland Conference tilt for the North 2, Group 4 championship on Friday.

Central (22-6) advanced to its first sectional final since winning the second of its back-to-back Group 4 titles in 2009. On Thursday, the Red Devils beat Hillsborough, 8-1, in a regular-season clash with the Delaware Division title still up for grabs.

Evan Klimchak and Brett Bonn, along with Geggie Russomagno are on fire for a Central offense that is averaging eight runs per game in the state playoffs. Klimchak was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the Devils' 7-0 win over Sayreville in the sectional semis, while Russomagno went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs in that one.

Delaware Division chase

Immaculata sits in first place with a 12-3 division mark after beating North Hunterdon, 9-2, on Wednesday and Phillipsburg, 8-6, on Thursday. The Somerset County power has one game left against Hunterdon Central and can wrap up the championship by winning that one on Monday. An Immaculata loss would create a three-way tie for the title between Immaculata, Central and Watchung Hills, which wrapped up its Delaware slate at 12-4.

Raritan and Valley titles declared

Pingry claimed the Skyland Conference Raritan Division title with a 10-2 mark, while Bernards ran the table at a perfect 12-0 to win the Valley crown -- beating North Warren, 5-4, on Saturday to make it official.

Hopatcong, Jefferson claim NJAC crowns

It was a long time coming, but Hopatcong claimed its first league title since 1998 with a 7-6 win over Kittatinny on Tuesday to win the NJAC Freedom Division championship.

Coach Chris Buglovsky's Chiefs were unceremoniously ousted from the North 1, Group 2 playoffs with a 7-0 loss to Freedom rival Lenape Valley four days earlier. The Patriots, who finished fourth in the conference standings, beat the Chiefs in two of three meetings this season. A.J. Nolan got the complete-game win in the state game.

Jefferson won its first American Division title with a 13-1 mark, as Pope John lost its NJAC finale against Morris Hills, 6-4, on Wednesday. The Lions finished second at 12-2. The difference was the Falcons winning both meetings against Morris Hills after splitting with PJ in the regular season.

State exits

Here's how all of the local teams fared in the state playoffs:

Belvidere -- County Seaters lost 8-5 to Dunellen in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs. Coach Aaron Feldman's team finished the season at 8-17 overall and 6-6 in the Skyland Valley Division.

Delaware Valley -- Terriers lost 1-0 to Raritan in the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs. Senior Tom Chiswick batted .414 with 14 RBIs and was 4-1 with a 4.44 ERA on the mound this season for coach Marty White's club, which finished 10-11 after winning only two games in 2011.

High Point -- Tough draw for the Wildcats, who lost 2-1 to Old Tappan in the North 1, Group 3 playoffs. Old Tappan, the No. 8 seed, is playing for the title on Friday. Coach Mickey Thomas' team finished 10-11 overall and 6-8 in the NJAC American Division.

Hopatcong -- After a 4-1 win over Dumont in the opening round, the Chiefs fell, 7-0, to Lenape Valley in the North 1, Group 2 quarters. Somewhere former coach Tony Richards is smiling about the Chiefs winning their first league title since he guided the 1998 Hopatcong club, which featured Pete Toto and Danny Sherlock, to the Sussex County Interscholastic crown with a perfect 18-0 mark.

Jefferson -- Second-seeded Falcons rolled to a 12-1 win over Tenafly before a 7-2 loss to No. 7 Wayne Hills in the North 1, Group 3 quarters. Coach Jason Kalish's team posted 22 wins after back-to-back losing seasons since winning 21 in a run to the sectional final in 2009 under former coach Jason Klebez, now the AD at Belvidere. Jon Kristoffersen set a school record with 46 hits this season.

Kittatinny -- Cougars enjoyed a fine season, their first of the winning variety in quite a spell, as first-year coach Brian Bosworth led the Hampton school to an 11-10-1 mark and a third-place finish in the NJAC Freedom Division. Their state playoff run ended quickly with a 1-0 loss to finalist Mahwah in the North 1, Group 2 first round.

Lenape Valley -- How 'bout the Pats? No one saw their run to the North 1, Group 2 semifinals coming after losing three straight and seven of nine entering the postseason. Coach Bob Klinck's troops, seeded 15th, opened with a 6-5 win over No. 2 Hawthorne, followed by a 7-0 win over No. 10 Hopatcong. The season ended with an 8-6 loss to No. 3 Mahwah, but it was some ride.

North Hunterdon -- Lions lost to a familiar foe in the North 2, Group 4 draw, falling 10-6 to Bridgewater-Raritan. Talented outfielder Derek Jenkins went 4-for-4 with a pair of RBIs in that one, his final state game of a fine career. North still has one Delaware Division game remaining against Ridge.

North Warren -- Coach Jim Haupt's Pats didn't scare anyone with their No. 1 seed, certainly not No. 16 Pascack Hills, which won their first-round meeting, 5-0. It was the second first-round exit since 2009 for North on its home field -- losing 7-5 to Wallkill Valley in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs in '09. Garret Becker lost his first on the mound this season in six decisions against Pascack Hills.

Phillipsburg -- Stateliners knocked off Edison, 12-9, before a heartbreaking 5-4 loss in 15 innings to top-seeded Sayreville in the North 2, Group 4 quarters. Lefty ace Anthony Ciavarella went nine frames and struck out 18 in the loss, reportedly throwing an absurd 160 pitches. The Monmouth recruit holds the P'burg  single-season record for K's with 99 and one more start likely against Ridge on Friday. Center fielder Chris Trent went a combined 5-for-7 with four walks in the two state games.

Pope John -- The defending Non-Public North A champs beat DePaul, 3-1, in the opening round before a 13-1 loss to state power Don Bosco in the quarters on Tuesday. The Lions actually had a shot to make that one interesting, trailing 2-1 early on with the bases loaded. They failed to score, however, and that was a pivotal turning point. The loss to Morris Hills on Wednesday ended their bid for the school's first NJAC American Division title. Outstanding shortstop Matt Tietz went 2-for-2 with an RBI in his final high school game before heading to Rutgers in the fall.

South Hunterdon -- Eagles qualified for the Central Jersey, Group 1 playoffs despite a 2-12 record at the cutoff. Coach Toby Jefferis' team lost, 11-1, to Metuchen and finished the season at 2-13. Not sure why South played so few games and even its final two Skyland Conference Valley Division games against Bound Brook and Manville were not rescheduled after rainouts.

Sparta -- Spartans lost a tough 6-5 decision to Paramus in the North 1, Group 3 playoffs and finished 12-12 overall and 6-8 in the NJAC American Division standings. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team lost two heartbreakers to crosstown rival Pope John this season and dropped six of its last seven down the stretch.

Sussex Tech -- Mustangs enjoyed a winning season at 10-8 overall, falling 2-0 to Verona in the North 1, Group 1 playoffs -- an 8-9 matchup.

Voorhees -- Vikings (13-11) had a nice little run to the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs -- beating Johnson, 10-0, to start and Point Pleasant Boro, 6-3, to reach the semis. Coach Spark Mattson's team saw its season end with a 9-4 loss to Raritan. Ronnie Honickel, who suffered a shoulder injury, went 4-for-6 with three RBIs in the two wins and got the victory on the mound with seven K's against Point Boro. Tyler Duplaga, who was the team's offensive MVP, homered and had four RBIs in the games against Point Boro and Raritan. Trey Conroy went 1-1 on the mound in the postseason.

Wallkill Valley -- Rangers dropped a tough 2-1 contest with No. 4 River Dell in the North 1, Group 2 draw as coach Kevin Lukich's team finished up 14-11 overall and second in the NJAC Freedom Division with a 7-3 mark. Wallkill finished up strong by winning three of its last four, including wins over division champion Hopatcong and Lenape Valley.

Warren Hills -- Blue Streaks limped down the stretch, losing seven of their last eight, including a 1-0 loss to South Plainfield in the North 2, Group 3 playoffs to finish 9-14 overall. Coach Mike Quinto's bunch beat North Plainfield, 8-2, in the previous game to snap a six-game skid. Mark Apgar and Kyle Allen were a tough 1-2 punch on the mound this season, combining for a 7-7 pitching mark.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ace of baseball: Ciavarella fires P'burg to HWS title

In the brief three-year history of the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex baseball tournament, no player earned the distinction of Most Valuable Player more than Phillipsburg's Anthony Ciavarella.

The left-hander owned this year's event, racking up three wins and a total of 46 strikeouts in four tournament starts, including 12 K's in the Stateliners' 2-1 win over Hunterdon Central in Saturday's championship game at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

It was Phillipsburg's second county title and first since 2006, when coach John Stillo's team claimed the Hunterdon-Warren crown. What did this one mean to the Warren County school?

"It's huge," said third-year P'burg coach Dave Hinkle, whose team defeated 2011 champion Pope John in the quarterfinals and three-time finalist Hunterdon Central during its title run. "I told them that [Phillipsburg] is not supposed to do this in baseball. Especially with this team. I don't think may people expected this."

Well, maybe those that hadn't seen Ciavarella in action this season. For those who have, it really came as little surprise that he was able to dominate as he's done all season.

But Hinkle said the final was his ace's masterpiece on the mound.

"Just when you thought he couldn't pitch any better ... he does that," Hinkle said. "He was ahead of every hitter and just in total control. We needed everything he had. In the last inning, he blew away the side. It was the best I've ever seen him throw."

In two previous meetings this season, Hunterdon Central dominated P'burg in wins of 15-3 and 10-0, and carried a six-game win streak over the 'Liners since their 10-9 win over the Red Devils on April 15, 2010 -- Hinkle's eight game at the helm. Central also suffered just its second loss in 12 HWS games, while P'burg improved to 6-2 overall in county games -- second in wins behind Central.

But this one was uniquely different.

"We didn't have Ciavarella on the mound in those [losses]," said Hinkle, whose 2011 team lost three times to Central, including a 6-0 loss in the HWS quarterfinals. "He gives us a chance against anybody."

And Phillipsburg's four HWS opponents had very little chance. Only Pope John managed more than one run against Ciavarella, rallying back from a 5-2 deficit for three runs in the seventh to force extra frames in an eventual 6-5 loss in 12 innings. It was the only county start in which Ciavarella did not earn the win, despite fanning 10 Lions that day.

There have been other heroes during Phillipsburg's run. Junior right-hander Tyler Woscek coming on in the eighth and no-hitting Pope John the rest of the way for his first varsity win ranks up there with the best of them. Center fielder Chris Trent has been solid with the bat. And how about Sahil Patel? He had two RBIs against PJ and drove in P'burg's second run on Saturday with a single to center.

How big was that second run with Ciavarella on the hill?

"Once we got that second run I really felt at ease," Hinkle said. "[Central] came back and got one, but that second run was huge. Once we got that run I felt like we were going to [win]."

In typical P'burg fashion, 'Liner Nation was out in full force rooting on their team. Hinkle said Diamond Nation got awfully loud, especially with each strikeout.

"The P'burg gathering was unbelievable," Hinkle said. "It was overwhelming the amount of support we had."

Overall, Ciavarella has 80 strikeouts in seven starts and one relief appearance. The Monmouth recruit has fanned at least 10 in six straight starts, including a season-high 14 against Hopatcong in the opening round.

The only drawback from Saturday's win is that Ciavarella won't be available for P'burg's first state playoff game on Monday against Edison in the North 2, Group 4 draw. The starting duties fall on Mike Ciesla for that one at the Phillipsburg Athletic Complex.

However, should the 'Liners get by that one, they'll have their ace on the hill for Friday's quarterfinals and likely from then on out.

"We have to get by that first one [with Edison]," the coach cautioned. "We have Ciesla going and we feel confident. He's a bulldog. But after that one, boy, doesn't that get interesting. When [Ciavarella] pitches we're a different team."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Baseball: State playoff pairings, seeds announced

The pairings and seeds for the NJSIAA sectional baseball tournaments were released on Thursday.

In all, 16 of the 19 schools in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area qualified for the postseason. First-round action in public sections begins on Monday at 4 p.m. Non-Public brackets will open play on Friday, May 25.

Second-round public contests will be played on Friday, May 25. The semifinals are slated for Tuesday, May 29 and championship games will be contested on Friday, June 1.

Second-round Non-Public games will be played on Tuesday, May 29. The semifinals are scheduled for Friday, June 1 and the championship games on Tuesday, June 5.

The public state semifinals are set for Tuesday, June 5 and the state finals on Saturday, June 9 at Toms River.

Here are the matchups involving the local teams:

North 1, Group 3

9-High Point at 8-Old Tappan

12-Sparta at 5-Paramus

North 1, Group 2

16-Pascack Hills at 1-North Warren

13-Wallkill Valley at 4-River Dell

14-Kittatinny at 3-Mahwah

10-Hopatcong at 7-Dumont

15-Lenape Valley at 2-Hawthorne

North 1, Group 1

9-Sussex Tech at 8-Verona

North 2, Group 4

9-Edison at 8-Phillipsburg

12-Elizabeth at 5-Hunterdon Central

10-North Hunterdon at 7-Bridgewater-Raritan

North 2, Group 3

13-Warren Hills at 4-South Plainfield

North 2, Group 1

16-Belvidere at 1-Dunellen

Central Jersey, Group 2

9-Johnson at 8-Voorhees
13-Delaware Valley at 4-Raritan
Central Jersey, Group 1
15-South Hunterdon at 2-Metuchen

Non-Public A North Jersey

10-DePaul at 7-Pope John

Baseball: Rangers spoil Chiefs' celebratory plans

Wallkill Valley's baseball team didn't earn any style points for its 8-6 win over Hopatcong on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, coach Kevin Lukich's team kept its slim title hopes alive with the victory at Harold Sisco Field.

Despite seven errors, the Rangers (13-10, 6-3) handed Hopatcong just its second loss in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division standings.

"This is what happens when you haven't practiced in awhile," said Lukich, whose team had been idle since a 6-0 win over Newton on May 7. "The last time we hit ground balls and did defensive drills was two weeks ago. I kind of expected this a little bit. We came through when we needed to."

In fact, Wallkill came up with one of the defensive plays of the game to seal the win. Closer Tommy Sweller got into a seventh-inning jam as a walk and two errors loaded the bases with one out. But Sweller got Hopatcong's Ricky Prestifilippo to line out into a 6-4 double play to end the threat. Wallkill shortstop Jake Konopka snared the liner and flipped to second baseman Brian Niedergall to force Dave Testa, who strayed too far from the second-base bag.

Konopka was the offensive hero with his two-run single in a four-run fifth that gave Wallkill an 8-6 lead. Five straight Rangers reached base to start the inning, four via walks. Brandon Grabkowski singled in a run and Brendan Drexler drew a bases-loaded walk off reliever Scootie Fischer, who came on for starter Hunter Guard after Grabkowski's single.

"Jake's had a great year and has come up huge for us," Lukich said. "He was down on himself after [going 0-for-2 in three previous plate appearances] and just had to refocus."

Reliever Rob Stecher picked up the win, while Sweller got the save. Starter Casey Jervis only gave up two earned runs in four innings, but ran into trouble in the fifth after giving up a leadoff homer to Guard and walking Frank Fendrock. Stecher (2-0) allowed a sacrifice fly to Testa that gave Hopatcong a 6-4 lead, but otherwise, was solid in not allowing a hit with two strikeouts in two frames.

"I felt like my pitches were good today. I tend to try and stick with my fastball to overpower people," said Stecher, a junior. "We're a really good team, despite some bad games, we've been in the thick of things."

Konopka, who had struck out and flied out to left before executing a sacrifice bunt, was happy to redeem himself and keep the Rangers alive for a share of the division title.

"It's a great feeling," Konopka said. "I knew it was a big at-bat. As soon as I saw the ball come in I knew I was going to hit it. When games come down to the wire, this team has a lot of guts. This is not the first time we've done this. We just had to dig deep."

The Chiefs (11-7, 6-2), playing its first game of the month, weren't much better in the field with four errors, showing the kind of rust you'd expect from a team that had last taken the field in a 3-2 win over Lenape Valley on April 30.

Hopatcong erased a four-run deficit with a four-run fourth as Fischer delivered the big blow with a bases-clearing double that left fielder Brandon Moore lost in the sun. Wallkill also kept the inning alive when catcher Drexler and Jervis let Fischer's pop-up behind home plate drop between them.

Wallkill Valley tagged Guard, who dropped to 5-2 with the loss, for four runs in the bottom of the first as Eric Blain plated two with a double to the left-center field gap. Grabkowski also tripled in a run to cap the frame.

Coach Chris Buglovsky's team, which battled back from a 4-0 first-inning deficit, still controls its own destiny in the Freedom race. A win at Newton on Thursday would give the Chiefs a share of the title and a victory over Kittatinny on Wednesday would clinch the program's first conference title since the late 1990s when it won the Sussex County Interscholastic League crown under former coach Toby Richards.

Wallkill Valley needs some help to force a three-way tie for the championship, along with Kittatinny, which is also 6-3 in the division. The Rangers need to beat Lenape Valley on Thursday and hope that either Newton or Kittatinny can knock off Hopatcong. But first thing's first.

"We need to win our game against Lenape," Lukich said.

Hopatcong (11-7)               000     420    0  --  6    7   4
Wallkill Valley (13-10)       400     040    x  --  8    9   7

HOPATCONG (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Fischer ss-p 3-0-2-3, Frace 3b-rf 4-0-0-0, Guard p-3b 4-1-2-1, Fendrock c 3-0-1-0, Bishop cr 0-0-0-0, Bongiovanni pr 0-0-0-0, Annett 1b 1-1-0-0, Colabella 2b-ss 3-1-0-0, Testa rf-2b 3-1-1-2, Prestifilippo lf 4-1-1-0, McLagan cf 3-0-0-0. Totals: 28-6-7-6.

WALLKILL VALLEY (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Konopka ss 3-0-1-2, Sweller 2b-p 3-1-1-0, Penque 3b 4-1-1-0, Blain 1b 3-2-2-2, Moore lf 3-2-1-1, Grabkowski dh/Castellucci rf 2-1-2-2, Jervis p 2-0-0-0, Stecher p 0-0-0-0, Niedergall cr 0-1-0-0, Drexler c 2-0-0-1, Law cf 3-0-1-0. Totals: 25-8-9-8.

E -- Frace 2, Testa, Annett; Drexler 3, Konopka, Sweller, Niedergall, Moore. DP -- Hopatcong 1 (Colabella-Testa-Annett); Wallkill Valley 1 (Konopka-Niedergall). LOB -- Hopatcong 8, Wallkill Valley 6. 2B -- Fischer; Blain. 3B -- Grabkowski. HR -- Guard. Sac -- Annett; Konopka. SF -- Testa.

Guard, Fischer (5) and Fendrock. Jervis, Stecher (5), Sweller (7) and Drexler. W -- Stecher (2-0). L -- Guard (5-2). SO-BB -- Guard 5-4, Fischer 4-2; Jervis 4-2, Stecher 2-1, Sweller 0-1. PB -- Drexler. HBP -- Fischer (by Stecher).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

State Tournament time is upon us. The third annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex championship will be decided this Saturday at Diamond Nation. Lots of good stuff coming our way on the local baseball scene.

Unfortunately, it looks like rain will be a problem to start the week. It's actually been more like April, than May, this month weather-wise. We have a big slate of games to open the week, but it thins out considerably as we head into the postseason action.

On Saturday, Hunterdon Central goes for its second HWS crown against first-time finalist Phillipsburg. Game time is 7:30 p.m. The Red Devils have beaten the Stateliners twice this season by wide margins, 15-3 and 10-0. The first game on April 10 saw P'burg ace Anthony Ciavarella strike out 10 in a loss.

The lefty will go in the title game and he always gives the 'Liners a chance. In his six starts this season, Ciavarella has 65 K's, along with three more in a relief appearance for a season total of 68. Central, making its third trip to the title game, features a potent lineup with Brett Bonn, Kenny Wilson, Jeremy Ake and Geggie Russomagno.

Both Central and P'burg have four games scheduled in advance of Saturday's title tilt.

Should be a good one in Flemington.

Now, on to this week's rankings:

1. Hunterdon Central (17-4) -- Red Devils stumbled this week in a 6-2 loss at North Hunterdon on Thursday. But coach Mike Raymond's team rebounded with a 7-2 win over No. 6 High Point in the HWS semifinals on Saturday. Central also beat No. 2 Phillipsburg, 10-0 on Tuesday, and No. 10 Warren Hills, 5-3, last Monday. Bonn continued to stay hot at the plate with a pair of doubles against High Point, while getting his first career win on the mound against the Blue Streaks.

Up next for the Red Devils -- at Chatham on Tuesday; Ridge at home on Thursday; Cherokee at home on Friday; Phillipsburg in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final at Diamond Nation on Saturday.

2. Phillipsburg (10-8) -- Stateliners have been playing well of late, outside some tough losses in the Skyland Conference Delaware Division, where coach Dave Hinkle's team owns a 4-6 record this season. Ciavarella has been money in the HWS games, striking out 10 in Saturday's win over North Hunterdon. In three tourney starts, the lefty compiled 34 K's in two wins. He struck out 10 in a no-decision against Pope John in the quarters.

Up next for the Stateliners -- Watchung Hills at home on Tuesday; at Bridgewater-Raritan on Thursday; Somerville at home on Friday; Hunterdon Central in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final at Diamond Nation on Saturday.

3. North Hunterdon (10-12) -- Lions were halted by a good pitcher in a 3-1 loss to Phillipsburg on Saturday in the HWS. North ace Ben Stine (4-4), who has been solid in three tourney starts, was the tough-luck losing pitcher with 11 K's. Coach Mike Kane's team was coming off a 6-2 win over No. 1 Central two days earlier. Derek Jenkins is heating up at the plate with a homer against Central and North's lone RBI on Saturday.

Up next for the Lions -- at Ridge on Tuesday; Hillsborough at home on Thursday; at Montgomery on Saturday.

4. Pope John (13-6) -- Lions had a short week with Wednesday's thrilling 5-4 walk-off win against crosstown rival Sparta as their lone contest. Rutgers-bound shortstop Matt Tietz came through in the clutch with a two-run single to left to give PJ a win in the bottom of the seventh. Glenn Gavan and Mike Young sparked the rally with back-to-back doubles to start the inning. Freshman Matt Piwko provided solid relief work for the win.

Up next for the Lions -- at Montville on Tuesday; at Roxbury on Thursday; Morris Hills at home on Friday.

5. High Point (10-9) -- Wildcats made a good showing in their first HWS semifinal, despite a 7-2 loss to No. 1 Hunterdon Central. Coach Mickey Thomas' club went 2-1 prior to that one, with wins over Vernon (5-2 on Friday) and Montville (15-6 on Thursday). Ryan Schulok belted a two-run homer against Vernon, while Brett Fundell went 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the loss to Central.

Up next for the Wildcats -- at Kittatinny on Wednesday; Mount Olive at home on Thursday.

6. Voorhees (9-10) -- Vikings are a tough team to figure like several others in the Open Mike area. Coach Spark Mattson's team opened last week with a 14-7 win at Princeton, then proceeded to lose three straight games to Somerville (3-1 on Tuesday); Pingry (3-1 on Thursday) and Mount Olive (7-6 on Saturday). The first two losses took them out of contention for a second straight Skyland Conference Raritan Division title. Tyler Duplaga continued his fine season with an RBI double against the 'Ville and a double and two RBIs against MO.

Up next for the Vikings -- at Delaware Valley on Tuesday; West Morris at home on Thursday.

7. Sparta (11-10) -- Spartans suffered another late loss to crosstown rival Pope John, 5-4, on Wednesday. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team was three outs away and seemingly in control after second baseman Austin Unglaub made a diving stop on a hot smash up the middle to start a nice 4-6-3 double play to end the sixth. Starter Kevin Foulds was slowing in the latter innings and gave up back-to-back doubles to start the seventh before being pulled. In their first meeting, Pope John rallied for a five-run inning to erase a 4-2 deficit en route to an 8-4 win. Sparta closed the week with a 4-3 loss to Jefferson.

Up next for the Spartans -- at Roxbury on Tuesday; Vernon at home on Wednesday; Montville at home on Thursday; Hopatcong at home on Friday.

8. Hopatcong (11-6) -- Chiefs haven't lost a game in May. That's because coach Chris Buglovsky's team hadn't played since April 30 (a 3-2 win over Lenape Valley) entering this week. But the Sussex County school is on the brink of its first NJAC Freedom Division title, needing a win at Wallkill Valley on Tuesday to clinch a share of the prize. In addition, a win over Newton on Thursday would clinch the title outright.

Up next for the Chiefs -- at Wallkill Valley on Tuesday; at Newton on Thursday; at Sparta on Friday.

9. Delaware Valley (8-8) -- Terriers avenged an earlier loss with Saturday's 9-6 win over Warren Hills. The win was certainly satisfying for coach Marty White, a 1991 graduate of the Warren County school. Tom Chiswick led the way by going 3-for-4 with a double, a triple and an RBI. He also got his fourth win in five decisions on the mound. Dennis Martell was 2-for-3 with an RBI as well in the win.

Up next for the Terriers -- Voorhees at home on Tuesday; at Somerville on Thursday; Belvidere at home on Saturday.

10. Warren Hills (8-12) -- Blue Streaks are free-falling following an 0-3 week that stretched their losing streak to five in a row. The fact that coach Mike Quinto's team, which has gone 2-8 in its last 10, plays a very tough schedule is the biggest factor why it is still here. After a close 5-3 loss to No. 1 Hunterdon Central on Monday, Hills was pounded by Ridge, 18-1, on Friday in a game played at TD Bank Park in Somerset. The Streaks dropped a 9-6 decision to Del Val at home on Saturday, a team they beat 12-1 back on April 12.

Up next for the Blue Streaks -- Franklin at home on Tuesday; at North Plainfield on Thursday.

On the bubble: Kittatinny (10-8-1); North Warren (13-4); Lenape Valley (10-9); Wallkill Valley (12-10).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wrestling: NJSIAA cutbacks should start in-house

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association claims it's hemorrhaging money, the result of lower ticket prices and expensive tournament hosting fees for the state wrestling championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Now, the association is bidding out the wrestling tournament for 2013 and beyond, along with creating more football championships. Director Steve Timko has officially pressed the panic button and says he's now doing things in the best financial interest of the NJSIAA.

What about doing the best for high school sports? If finances are killing the NJSIAA, then a good starting point on how to curb expenditures is cutting back on salaries for its own employees. For too long, this regime has padded its own salaries, while collecting publicly-funded pensions on top of the cake.

Remember Timko's predecessor, Boyd Sands? He resigned from the NJSIAA in January 2006 with a tidy little retirement package of $549,000. Maybe Sands would like to make a charitable contribution to his former employer? Don't hold your breath.

Memo to Timko and the NJSIAA: Don't start making knee-jerk decisions that hurt athletics across the board.

Why do we need additional state titles in football? Twenty weren't enough, so now we need 24? Forget about scaling back and playing to one state champion in the four (now five) Groups like they do in other sports. That ain't happening now.

Starting this fall, we go from 128 schools to 160 that qualify for the sectional football tournaments. You don't have to be a math major to figure 32 more schools paying entrance fees adds up to more money for the NJSIAA.

Timko recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "We've cut to the bare bones." Really? Is the NJSIAA taking pay cuts? Are they taking unpaid furloughs like my brethren in the newspaper business? Timko claims they have frozen salaries, along with not replacing the retired Bob Baly's position. It's not enough to freeze already overblown salaries.

The NJSIAA even contradicts itself when blaming things on the reduced ticket prices that started in 2010. The association reportedly lost nearly $1 million between 2006 and '07 (thanks largely to Sands' retirement windfall), yet business administrator Gary Zarrilli gave this response: "It all comes down to ticket prices," to the Inquirer as to why the association was losing money.

How is this so, when this group was operating in the red prior to 2010?

Don't get me wrong. I like Timko and feel he's done a lot of positive things for athletics since Sands shuffled off in 2006. Timko has always been very approachable and genuinely cares about the concerns of coaches, athletes, media and fans.

But the NJSIAA has to start getting real and cutting back where it needs to. Otherwise, it may not be around much longer.

But don't make the ultimate mistake of destroying high school sports on the way out the door.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Baseball: Tietz, Pope John walk off against Sparta

Pope John's baseball team has shown a penchant for come-from-behind wins this season, which has been somewhat of a Groundhog Day nightmare for cross-town rival Sparta,.

Shortstop Matt Tietz capped a three-run inning with a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh to give the Lions a 5-4 walk-off victory over Sparta on Wednesday in a Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference clash in Sparta.

Pope John (12-6) also rallied for an 8-4 win on Sparta's home field back on April 18. In that one, the Lions erased a 4-2 deficit with a five-run fifth.

"We've been in a little bit of a slump and losing this game would've been terrible," said Tietz, who came up short in the same situation on Saturday when he popped up with runners on first and second in the 11th inning of an eventual 6-5 loss to Phillipsburg in 12 innings. "This will definitely boost our confidence.

Sparta (11-9), which has lost three straight, was three outs away and seemingly headed for its first win in this rivalry since a 4-3 victory in 10 innings on May 19, 2009. That season, coach Sam Slobodzian's team won all three meetings between the Sussex County rivals, including a win in the county tournament.

Pope John has now won four of the last five in this series, as the teams played to a 9-9 tie due to darkness in the first of two contests in 2011.

Starter Kevin Foulds got through six innings relatively unscathed, but the tall right-hander allowed at least two runners to reach in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. After back-to-back doubles by Glenn Gavan and Mike Young to open the seventh, Slobodzian handed the ball to Jason Postorino, who walked Eder Rivera to load the bases. Young, who had a pair of doubles on the day, plated Gavan with his hit to cut the lead to 4-3.

That set the stage for Tietz, who laced a single that left fielder Matt Chemis attempted to make a sliding catch on. The ball squirted past him, as both Young and pinch-runner Jay Sanford rumbled home with the tying and winning runs. Until the seventh, Pope John had been 0-for-7 in the game with runners in scoring position.

"[Postorino] wasn't throwing strikes, and right away I was looking for something perfect or I wasn't swinging," said the Rutgers-bound Tietz, who recalled only other walk-off moment at the plate in his outstanding four-year career. "He kind of hung the last curveball and I waited on it, and just drove it."

Pope John had lost two of its last three coming in, including that tough loss to Phillipsburg in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex quarterfinals at home on Saturday. Needless to say, this one was huge for a number of reasons, most importantly from a conference standpoint.

"We aren't playing well, but we battled back," said longtime coach Bello, whose team is locked in a first-place tie with Jefferson atop the Amercian Division standings, each at 10-1 in division play. "I knew one of these guys, Tietz, or [cleanup hitter Ryan] McNally, at some point was going to get it going. Hopefully, maybe this one springs us on the in NJAC race."

Freshman lefty Matt Piwko got the win with 3 2/3 innings of solid relief. Piwko (2-2) came on in the fourth and inherited runners on first and third. Piwko allowed one run on one hit, while walking two and striking out a pair.

Pope John starter Dan Cunico struggled for the second straight outing, allowing four hits and three runs (two earned) while walking two and striking out six.

"Piwko pitched great, and so did Danny," Bello said. "I might have had a quick hook with Danny, but I felt we needed a change at that point. I was really happy with the way Piwko pitched -- a freshman in a Sparta-Pope John game. We didn't have to use [Gavan who went five innings in relief on Saturday] and that was big for us."

Sparta's defense had preserved the lead in the sixth, when second baseman Austin Unglaub made an amazing diving stop on Zach Leach's grounder up the middle with a runner on third. Unglaub flipped the ball to shortstop T.J. Estanislau for the force at second to start a 4-6-3 double play that ended the frame.

The Spartans had tacked on a run the top half on Chemis' sacrifice fly to right that made it a two-run game. Chemis also executed a perfect suicide-squeeze bunt to cap a three-run fourth inning. A passed ball and an RBI single by Postorino helped Sparta grab a 3-1 lead.

Gavan, after a tough game against P'burg, finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored. He scored PJ's second run when Tietz hit into a fielder's choice to third for the second out in the fifth. Third baseman Postorino made a nice play on ball, but his throw to second pulled Unglaub off the bag and allowed Gavan to race home on the error.

The Lions struck first on Sam Redwood's RBI grounder in the second after back-to-back walks by McNally and designated hitter Rob Sanders to start the inning.

Pope John, which only had this game scheduled for the week, gets a chance to rest up before hosting Morris Hills on Monday in another key American Division game.

"This was a good team win," Bello said.

SPARTA (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Ruddy cf, 3-0-0-0, Estanislau ss 4-0-1-0, Livingston c 4-0-0-0, Dilger 1b 4-1-2-0, Tappen dh/Unglaub 2b 2-1-0-0, Forman 2-2-1-0, Foulds p-3b 1-0-0-0, Aromando cr 0-0-0-0, Postorino 3b-p 2-0-1-1, Chemis lf 1-0-0-2. Totals: 23-4-5-3.

POPE JOHN (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Young lf, 4-1-2-1, Sanford 2b-cr, 1-1-0-0, Rivera ph-3b 1-0-1-0, Tietz ss, 4-0-1-2, McNally cf, 2-1-0-0, Sanders dh/Cunico p/Piwka p, 2-0-1-0, Cassarra 1b, 3-0-2-0, Redwood rf 3-0-1-1, Leach c, 3-0-0-0 Gavan 3b-2b 3-2-2-0. Totals: 26-5-10-4.

E -- Leach; Postorino. DP -- Sparta (Unglaub, Estanislau, Dilger). LOB -- Sparta 6, Pope John 6. 2B -- Young 2, Gavan. SB -- Foulds; McNally. Sac -- Chemis, Postorino; Sanford. SF -- Chemis.

Foulds, Postorino (7) and Livingston. Cunico, Piwka (4) and Leach. W -- Piwka (2-2). L -- Postorino (3-3). SO-BB -- Foulds 1-2, Postorino 0-1; Cunico 6-2, Piwko 2-2. WP -- Cunico. PB -- Livingston; Leach. Balk -- Fould. HBP -- Foulds (by Cunico).

Monday, May 7, 2012

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

We're getting down to the good stuff on the local scene. Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals are slated for Saturday and the state cutoff date is Friday, meaning the sectional playoffs are right around the corner. The regular-season slate over the next two weeks will be light since there have been very few rainouts wrecking havoc with front-loaded schedules.

Keep checking in here as I will try to keep you abreast off all that's happening in the tri-county area.

We've still got divisional races to decide in both the Skyland and Northwest Jersey Athletic conferences.

Hopatcong is one win from clinching at least a share of the NJAC Freedom, while Pope John and Jefferson enter the week tied atop the American Division standings.

In the Skyland, Hunterdon Central is battling for the top spot in the rugged Delaware Division at 7-2 in conference play along with Immaculata (7-1) and Watchung Hills (7-3). Voorhees (6-3) entered the week trailing Pingry (6-2) by one-half game atop the Raritan standings with three games to play.

Here are this week's set of rankings with some changes at the top following Phillipsburg's 6-5 win in 12 innings over Pope John in the HWS quarterfinals.

1. Hunterdon Central (13-3) -- Red Devils keep on keeping on with wins in eight of their last nine, including Sunday's 8-7 win over Voorhees in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex quarterfinals. Coach Mike Raymond's club has reached the semifinals in all three years of the tournament, winning the title in 2010 and falling in the 2011 title game. Central entered the week riding a five-game win streak and handed Immaculata its first loss, 8-5, on Thursday. Jeremy Ake was red-hot last week, going 7-for-10 with a double, a triple, two homers and six RBIs in three victories. Kenny Wilson had two doubles, a homer and six RBIs last week. Ake is batting .490 with 19 RBIs, while Wilson is hitting .400 with 15 RBIs. Brett Bonn is hitting .471 with a team-high six homers and 19 RBIs. Bonn went deep twice against Voorhees.

Up next for the Red Devils -- Warren Hills at home on Monday; Phillipsburg at home on Tuesday; at North Hunterdon on Thursday; High Point at home on Saturday in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals.

2. Phillipsburg (9-7) -- Stateliners finished last week in style with a 6-5 win in 12 innings over previous No. 2 Pope John in the HWS quarterfinals. Coach Dave Hinkle's team is the first in program history to reach the tournament semifinals. Junior righty Tyler Woscek came out of nowhere to fire five no-hit innings in relief to earn the victory against the Lions. P'burg dropped its other two games last week, 4-3 to Montgomery on Thursday and 11-1 at Ridge on Monday. Chris Trent went 3-for-5 with an RBI against Pope John and drove in the only run against Ridge.

Up next for the Stateliners -- at Hunterdon Central on Tuesday; at Hillsborough on Wednesday; at North Hunterdon on Saturday in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals.

3. Voorhees (8-7) -- Vikings are really playing well of late, falling 8-7 to Hunterdon Central on Saturday in the HWS quarterfinals to snap a four-game win streak. Coach Spark Mattson's club had leads of 5-1 and 7-2 before Central put up a four-spot in the fourth. The Vikes also posted two Skyland Conference Raritan Division wins -- 4-2 over North Plainfield on Tuesday and 2-0 at Franklin on Thursday. Tyler Duplaga continued his amazing season, going 3-for-4 with three doubles and an RBI against Central. He also earned the win on the mound with six K's against North Plainfield.

Up next for the Vikings -- at Princeton on Monday; at Somerville on Tuesday; Pingry at home on Thursday.

4. North Hunterdon (9-11) -- Lions kept their county tournament title hopes alive with a 3-1 win over Sparta on Saturday in the HWS quarterfinals. Ace Ben Stine lost his no-hit bid by allowing a homer in the top of the seventh. Stine (4-3) finished with one-hitter. Derek Jenkins added an RBI double in the victory. Coach Mike Kane's team suffered a pair of tough one-run losses -- 2-1 at Watchung Hills on Tuesday and 1-0 at Bridgewater-Raritan on Thursday. The Lions' pitching staff has really done a job, allowing a total of six runs in the last five games entering the week.

Up next for the Lions -- Immaculata at home on Tuesday; Hunterdon Central at home on Thursday; Phillipsburg at home on Saturday in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals.

5. Pope John (11-6) -- Lions fall three spots following Saturday's extra-innings loss to Phillipsburg in the tri-county quarterfinals. Coach Vin Bello's team, which also fell into a first-place tie atop the NJAC American Division with Thursday's 4-0 loss to Jefferson, rebounded with a 3-1 win over Hoboken on Sunday. Shortstop Matt Tietz had a solid week at the plate, going 4-for-6 with a double against P'burg, while adding an RBI double against Hoboken. Lefty Ethan Collins (3-1) earned the win on Sunday.

Up next for the Lions -- Sparta at home on Wednesday.

6. High Point (8-7) -- Wildcats vault back into the rankings after a 2-1 week that included wins over Sparta (7-6 on Monday) and Warren Hills (6-4 in the HWS quarterfinals). The only blemish was a 4-0 loss to Pope John on Tuesday. Ryan Schulok went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and Kyle Adams was 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs against the Blue Streaks. Winning pitcher Ryan Conklin improved to 4-0. Conklin went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs against the Spartans.

Up next for the Wildcats -- at Morris Hills on Monday; at Newton on Tuesday; Montville at home on Wednesday; Vernon at home on Friday; at Hunterdon Central on Saturday in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals.

7. North Warren (9-3) -- Patriots won both of their games last week -- beating Warren Hills, 11-2, on Monday and Blair Academy, 6-2, on Saturday. Garret Becker belted a double, a homer and two RBIs, while Joe Frankosky (4-1) got the win on the mound against Blair. Frankosky went 2-for-4 with an RBI and also got the win over the Blue Streaks. Coach Jim Haupt's team is still in the hunt for the Skyland Conference Valley Division title at 4-1 in divisional play. Oddly, the Pats have yet to face first-place Bernards (7-0).

Up next for the Patriots -- at Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg (Pa.) on Monday; Gill St. Bernard's at home on Tuesday; at Manville on Thursday; Kittatinny at home on Saturday.

8. Warren Hills (8-9) -- Tough week for the Blue Streaks, who have lost seven of their last 10. The week started on a high note with Tuesday's 7-5 win over Somerville, before back-to-back losses at Pingry (2-1 on Thursday) and High Point (6-4 in the HWS quarterfinals on Saturday). The loss to Pingry all but ends the Streaks' hopes for a Skyland Conference Raritan Division title at 5-4 in divisional play. Mark Apgar went 2-for-4 against the 'Ville and had an RBI double against High Point. Kyle Allen went 1-1 on the hill, beating Somerville and falling to High Point, despite seven K's.

Up next for the Blue Streaks -- at Hunterdon Central on Monday; Delaware Valley at home on Tuesday;  vs. Ridge at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater on Friday.

9. Sparta (11-7) -- Spartans went 2-2 last week, falling 3-1 to North Hunterdon on Saturday in the HWS quarterfinals. A tough 7-6 loss at High Point started things on Monday before wins over Montville (4-1 on Tuesday) and Mount Olive (11-4 on Friday). Derek Tappen had the lone hit against North -- a solo homer to break up Ben Stine's no-hit bid in the seventh. Jason Postorino had an excellent week, belting an RBI double against Montville before a pair of RBIs against Mount Olive. He also struck out five in a complete-game loss to North.

Up next for the Spartans -- West Morris at home on Monday; Vernon at home on Tuesday; at Pope John on Wednesday; at Jefferson on Friday.

10. Hopatcong (11-6) -- Chiefs had a short week due to rain, beating Lenape Valley, 3-2, on Monday in their lone game. Coach Chris Buglovsky's club can clinch at least a share of the program's first NJAC Freedom Division title with a win over Kittatinny on Wednesday. Chiefs, who are 6-1 in divisional play, have won eight of 11 since a 5-2 loss at Lenape Valley dropped them to 3-3 overall.

Up next for the Chiefs -- Kittatinny at home on Wednesday.

On the bubble -- Lenape Valley (9-7); Delaware Valley (7-7); Wallkill Valley (11-10).

HWS baseball: Lions, 'Liners one for the books

When Phillipsburg's baseball team held a 5-2 lead against Pope John after four innings, little did anyone in attendance realize it would take eight more innings to decide a winner.

For that matter, even less figured that junior Tyler Woscek, a junior varsity pitcher to start the season, would throw five no-hit frames to help the Stateliners advance to the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals with a 6-5 win in 12 innings.

Woscek earned his first varsity win, as ugly as it was at times. The soft-throwing righty walked six and struck out six, retiring eight of the 21 batters he faced with fly-ball outs. Even more amazing was that Pope John had just mounted a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh on three hits to force extra innings.

"My curveball was working great, but my fastball was a little off," Woscek said. "I have to thank [pitcher] Mike Ciesla for teaching me a changeup."

Designated hitter Rob Sanders' two-run single off P'burg starter Anthony Ciavarella tied the game at 2, as the Lions were down to their final strike when Sanders fell behind 0-2 in the count. It was also PJ's final hit of the game. Woscek even twice retired Lions shortstop Matt Tietz in the ninth and 11th innings after Tietz collected hits in his first four at-bats against Ciavarella, the 'Liners ace who finished with 10 K's -- his fourth of five starts this season with double-digit strikeout totals.

Woscek, nicknamed "Hot Wheels" by his teammates due to his lack of speed, delivered one of the gutsiest and most clutch performances I've ever witnessed in high school sports. Moments after the victory, I'm not sure it even set in yet in the right-hander's mind as to what he just pulled off.

"No, not at all," Woscek said when asked if he could've ever imagined this scenario when he entered the game in the eighth inning. "[Pope John] is a good team. We're happy to win and move on."

The head-scratching thing is that the only trouble Woscek ran into was of his own doing. He incredibly worked around six free passes, including three that loaded the bases with one out in the 11th. Shortstop Matt McAnally caught a fly ball behind third in shallow left for the second out, then cleanly fielded Sam Redwood's grounder and stepped on second for the force to end the inning and PJ's last threat.

Woscek fanned the first two in the 12th before issuing a walk to PJ catcher Zach Leach. But Jay Sanford went down swinging for the second straight inning to end the marathon affair, which lasted nearly three hours and 20 minutes.

Here are some other odds and ends from this incredible game:

* Both teams combined for 20 fly-ball outs and 21 strikeouts. P'burg pitchers combined for 16 K's.

* Pope John missed a golden opportunity in that seventh-inning uprising when a runner's interference call on Lions' No. 2 hitter Glenn Gavan couldn't get out of the way of Tietz's single through the right hole. The ball hit Gavan on the left foot as he was caught halfway between first and second. Instead of bases loaded and none out, PJ had first and second with one out. Leadoff man Mike Young had to retreat back to second on the play because a runner can not advance more than one base on an interference. Ryan McNally followed with a walk, which could have forced in another run. Sanders' hit could have very well been a walk-off instead of the tying blow.

* Gavan endured a rough day all-around as he struck out four times at the plate and committed a throwing error in the 12th that led to Bryan Gardner's winning RBI on a fielder's choice. The right-hander did provide three perfect innings of relief -- retiring the first nine 'Liners he faced until running into trouble in the final two innings.

* P'burg coach Dave Hinkle would have been on the hook had Phillipsburg lost this one for a judgment error as the third-base coach in the 11th. McAnally belted a triple to right field, which was misplayed a bit before Redwood and Sanford executed perfect relay throws to the plate to nail McAnally by a wide margin. Hinkle waived McAnally in with the potential go-ahead run, but the right decision would have been to hold the runner with none out. Naturally, Chris Trent, who had three hits on the day, singled with one out and would have given P'burg the lead.

* Pope John reliever Axel D'Addario is becoming quite a rock out of the bullpen for coach Vin Bello. The hard-throwing righty entered the game in the fourth after starter Dan Cunico gave up back-to-back hits to start the frame. D'Addario retired three in a row to end the threat and sent down 12 of the 15 batters he faced -- hitting one, walking another and giving up his lone hit Trent in the sixth. In addition to the four scoreless in this one, D'Addario came on against High Point on Tuesday and worked 2 1/3 scoreless to help preserve a 4-0 win.

* Ciavarella gave the kind of work-horse effort you'd expect from an ace pitcher. The lefty three 133 pitches after laboring early in the game. He faced eight batters in the first, giving up two runs on three hits. From that point on, Ciavarella retired 14 of the next 19, yielding only three hits and striking out the side in the bottom of the sixth, until his final inning. He showed no signs of fatigue before the Lions jumped on him in the seventh.

"You can tell with Ciav when he's tired," Hinkle said. "He paced himself and he's in midseason form. He gave [Sanders] too good of a pitch to hit 0-2 and he barreled up on it."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

'Liners win in 12; 'Cats advance in HWS baseball

Tyler Woscek wasn't listed on the Phillipsburg preseason roster. Heck, his name had to be handwritten on the lineup card for Saturday's Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament contest.

Boy, were the Stateliners glad to pencil him in for this one. The junior right-hander pitched the game of his life, tossing five no-hit innings in relief to help P'burg earn a 6-5 victory in 12 innings over defending champion Pope John in a quarterfinal round game in Sparta.

Phillipsburg (9-7) advances to next Saturday's semifinals and will face North Hunterdon -- a 3-1 winner over Sparta in another quarterfinal. In the other Final Four matchup, High Point, which beat Warren Hills 6-4 on Saturday, will meet the winner of Sunday's Hunterdon Central-Voorhees matchup.

Woscek, who was called up from the junior varsity in mid-April when pitcher Robert Howell was dismissed from the team, kept P'burg in this marathon affair that lasted nearly three hours and 20 minutes. It's the longest contest innings-wise in the tournament's three-year history.

"I just wanted to throw strikes and help our team," said Woscek, who earned his first varsity win. "We were able to get one run [in the 12th] and that was the game."

That winning run came courtesy of a fielder's choice grounder by Bryan Gardner. Tyler Widitz, who led off the 12th with a single, scored after reaching third on an error by losing pitcher Glenn Gavan, whose high throw on Alex Martin's bunt attempt put runners on first and third.

P'burg, which hadn't scored since the fourth inning, went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings. In fact, Pope John pitchers retired 13 in a row until Tyler Plesnarski's leadoff triple in the 11th. Lions reliever Axel D'Addaro threw four scoreless frames after starter Dan Cunico was lifted in the fourth.

Woscek fanned the first two Pope John batters in the bottom of the 12th before walking Zack Leach -- one of six total by the P'burg reliever. But Woscek struck out Jay Sanford for the second time in the game to end the threat.

"The reason [Woscek was in there] was to throw strikes," said coach Dave Hinkle, who is taking a P'burg team to the semifinals for the first time. "These kids battle and they're tough. We have some young kids who are starting to grow up. I'm proud of our kids."

Perhaps no one was more relieved than Hinkle, who would have been kicking himself after making a costly decision as the third-base coach when he decided to waive home Matt McAnally after a leadoff triple to right in the 11th. McAnally was cut down three feet short of home plate when right fielder Sam Redwood and second baseman Sanford made great relay throws in to catcher Leach. With one out, Chris Trent, who was 3-for-5, including an RBI single in the fourth, singled and would have brought McAnally in with the go-ahead run.

"They really picked me up," Hinkle said. "I saw that [Redwood] bobbled the ball and I thought [McAnally] had a shot to score. You're usually not going to get two good throws after a bobble like that. Hindsight is 20-20."

Woscek was pressed into duty after Pope John rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh off Stateliners ace Anthony Ciavarella, who took a 5-2 lead into the final frame. Ciavarella, who three 133 pitches, had just struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth for strikeouts eight, nine and 10.

Pope John's rally started with Mike Young's leadoff single to center. Gavan walked to put runners on first and second, but committed a huge baserunning error when he allowed Matt Tietz's single to strike him in the foot halfway between first and second. The Lions would have had the bases loaded and none out, but settled for first and second with one out.

Ryan McNally then walked to load the bases and Young scored on Redwood's groundout to short. With runners on second and third, designated hitter Rob Sanders delivered a two-run single to center after falling behind 0-2 in the count to tie the game at 5.

In extras, Pope John twice had a runner on third base, including an 11th inning-threat when Woscek walked the bases full, but couldn't cash in.

"That's baseball. We had our opportunities," said Lions coach Vin Bello, whose teams are 5-2 all-time in HWS games. "Hats off to [Woscek]. He kept us off-balance. It was a great [comeback] but we wasted it."

P'burg mounted an earlier rally with a four-run third to wipe out an early 2-0 deficit. Sahil Patel's two-run single capped the scoring as the 'Liners sent nine men to the plate.

McNally gave Pope John an early lead with a two-run inside-the-park homer that struck the top of the center-field fence. From there, Ciavarella settled down as he allowed only five baserunners until the seventh. The lefty has fanned at least 10 in four starts this season and has 37 K's in his last three outings.

It was quite a contrast as the 'Liners went from the hard-throwing Ciavarella and his mid-to-upper 80s fastball to Woscek, who probably topped out around 60 mph.

"It was a huge difference," Bello said. "They are the best team we've played all year."

Phillipsburg (9-7)           004     100    000   001  --  6    11   1
Pope John (10-6)           200     000    300   000  --  5     9    2

PHILLIPSBURG (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Trent cf, 5-0-3-1, Ciavarella p-rf, 5-1-1-0, Grade c, 5-0-1-0, Widitz 3b, 6-2-2-1, Martin rf-lf, 5-1-0-1, Gardner lf-1b, 6-0-0-1, Patel 2b, 5-0-1-2, McAnally ss, 6-0-1-0, Plesnarski dh 5-2-2-0/Ciesla 1b 0-0-0-0, Woscek p 0-0-0-0. Totals: 48-6-11-6.

POPE JOHN (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Young lf, 5-1-1-0, Gavan 3b-p, 4-0-0-0, Tietz ss, 6-2-4-0, McNally cf, 3-1-1-2, Redwood rf, 5-0-0-1, Sanders dh, 5-0-2-2, Kopnik pr 0-0-0-0, Cassarra 1b, 5-0-1-0, Leach c, 5-0-0-0/Gignatelli pr 0-0-0-0, Sanford 2b, 5-0-0-0, Rivera ph 0-0-0-0, Cunico p-3b 0-0-0-0. Totals: 43-5-9-5.

E -- Ciavarella; Tietz, Gavan. LOB -- Phillipsburg 11, Pope John 13. 2B -- Tietz, Cassarra. 3B -- Plesnarski, McAnally. HR -- McNally. SB -- McNally 2.

Ciavarella, Woscek (8) and Grade. Cunico, D'Addario (4), Gavan (8) and Leach. W -- Woscek (1-0). L -- Gavan (1-2). SO-BB -- Ciavarella 10-4, Woscek 6-6; Cunico 1-2, D'Addario 2-1, Gavan 2-0. WP -- D'Addario. HBP -- Ciavarella (by Cunico); Palel (by D'Addario).

In the other quarterfinals on Saturday:

High Point 6, Warren Hills 4 -- Ryan Schulok went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and Kyle Adams was 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs as the Wildcats (8-7) used a four-run second to reach the semifinals for the first time in program history. Ryan Conklin (4-0) got the win, allowing three earned runs on eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Kyle Allen, Mark Apgar, Ryan Curto and Connor Cruts had doubles for the Blue Streaks (8-9). Allen (4-3) took the loss despite seven strikeouts.

North Hunterdon 3, Sparta 1 -- Ben Stine threw seven innings of one-hit ball and Derek Jenkins had an RBI double as the Lions (9-11) reached the semifinals for the second time in three years. Stine (4-3), who took a perfect game into the sixth before issuing a walk, lost his no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh as Derek Tappen belted a homer for the Spartans (11-7). Stine fanned four and walked one.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Baseball: Lions, Streaks among picks in HWS tourney

Matt Tietz and his Pope John teammates have a little something to prove in this year's Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. The Lions lost most of the key pieces from last year's county championship team, but the Sussex County school feels it has still has the talent to be the first to repeat.

"After losing all those kids [from last year], I think it would pretty big to come back and win it," said the Rutgers-bound Tietz, a senior shortstop and four-year starter. "Phillipsburg is pretty good. A lot of the teams we have to beat are good."

Pope John hosts Phillipsburg in one of four quarterfinals matchups on Saturday. Game time is 2 p.m. in Sparta.

Elsewhere, Hunterdon Central, a two-time finalist and 2010 champion in the tourney's inaugural season, hosts fellow Hunterdon County school Voorhees. The winner of that one will face either Warren Hills or High Point in the semifinals on May 12.

In the bottom bracket, Sparta travels to North Hunterdon, with the winner to face either Pope John or P'burg in next weekend's semifinals.

Pope John (10-5), which had won four of five before Wednesday's 4-0 loss to Jefferson, figures to have Dan Cunico (4-0) on the mound on Saturday. P'burg will counter with Anthony Ciavarella (2-2), who has 27 strikeouts in his last two starts -- 14 in last Saturday's 6-1 win over Hopatcong in the opening round.

Coach Vin Bello likes what he's seen from his team this season.

"They're a scrappy bunch and I enjoy being around these guys," said Bello after Tuesday's 4-0 win over High Point in an NJAC American Division clash.

Bello said a second county championship would be sweet considering the heavy graduation losses from a year ago, including Division I players Alex DeBellis (UConn) and Brendan Mayers (Rutgers).

"Sure. Absolutely," Bello said. "We know [Ciavarella] is pretty good. We're excited."

Tietz, a solid all-around player, entered the week batting .465 with five homers and 14 RBIs to go with a .540 on-base percentage and 10 stolen bases. Center fielder Ryan McNally, the Lions' cleanup hitter, entered the week hitting .511 with four homers and 17 RBIs.

Phillipsburg (8-7), which dropped a 4-3 decision to Montgomery on Thursday, has lost three of its last five and has been up-and-down this spring. Coach Dave Hinkle's team is trying to be the first at the Warren County school to reach the semifinals.

Here's a closer look at the quarterfinal matchups (seeds precede teams). Records through Thursday:

5A-Voorhees (8-6) at 1A-Hunterdon Central (12-3), 2:30 p.m.-- Central, which is a tournament-best 8-1 all-time in county games, posted an 11-7 when the teams met earlier this season on April 23. Jeremy Ake, Kenny Wilson and Geggie Russomagno are absolutely on fire at the plate now, as all three played key roles in Thursday's 8-5 win over Immaculata. All three hit homers and combined for seven RBIs. Vikings have gotten back on track, winning four straight since the loss to Central. Tyler Duplaga, a feared hitter, will get the ball for this one. He's 3-1 on the mound.

How they got here: Voorhees beat Lenape Valley, 13-8. Central defeated Hackettstown, 7-1.

The Pick: Hunterdon Central, 6-3.

3A-Warren Hills (8-8) at 2B-High Point (7-7), 4 p.m. -- Blue Streaks traveled to Wantage two years ago and left with a 15-10 victory. This one doesn't figure to be as high scoring, though both teams have a penchant for scoring plenty of runs. The Wildcats feature first baseman/third baseman Brett Fundell, the team's cleanup hitter who has three homers, along with second baseman Ryan Conklin, who figures to get the ball for this one. Conklin struck out five in the team's first-round win over North Warren, the school's first in HWS play. Streaks are led by the pitching duo of Kyle Allen and Mark Apgar, who are also among the team's leading hitters. Allen (4-2) will get the start on the mound. Red-hot Ryan Curto was 10-for-14 with two doubles and eight RBIs in his last four games entering Thursday's contest against Pingry.

How they got here: Warren Hills beat Kittatinny, 6-1. High Point defeated North Warren, 5-3.

The Pick: Warren Hills, 5-4.

3B-Sparta (10-6) at 2A-North Hunterdon (8-11), 2:30 p.m. -- Spartans, who reached the title game in 2010, have won five of seven, including a tough 7-6 loss to High Point on Monday -- a game they let slip away in a four-run bottom of the seventh. Wagner-bound catcher Devon  Livingston paces an offense that has produced 43 runs in its last seven contests. Codie Aromando (4-0) has been a rock on the mound and will get the ball for this one. Lions at one time were playing as well as anyone in the HWS area, but first-year coach Mike Kane's team has lost six of its last eight, including back-to-back one-run losses to Watchung Hills and Bridgewater this week. Speedy outfielder Derek Jenkins and ace pitcher Ben Stine (3-3) lead North.

How they got here: Sparta beat Delaware Valley, 8-7. North Hunterdon defeated Wallkill Valley, 4-1.

The Pick: North Hunterdon, 4-3.

4A-Phillipsburg (8-7) at 1B-Pope John (10-5), 2 p.m. -- Stateliners make the long trek to Sparta to face the defending champs. Ace Anthony Ciavarella, who has 27 K's in his last two outings, could be the key to a potential victory. Other than Central, no team left has that kind of shut-down pitcher. The 'Liners will need to come through with the bats, something they've struggled to do at times. They've been shut out twice this season and held to three runs or fewer in four others. Lions can hit and pitch. PJ also has the advantage of being at home. Shortstop Matt Tietz and third baseman Glenn Gavan form a tough left side of the infield, while center fielder Ryan McNally and right fielder Sam Redwood help anchor the lineup.

How they got here: Phillipsburg beat Hopatcong, 6-1. Pope John defeated Vernon, 5-3.

The Pick: Pope John 3-2.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Baseball: Pope John hangs tough against High Point

Defense, timely hitting and solid pitching.

Pope John's baseball team pretty much got all three in Tuesday's 4-0 win over visiting High Point in a Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference American Division clash in Sparta.

The Lions (10-4, 9-0 NJAC) moved a step closer to securing its second American Division title in three years with the win. Coach Vin Bello's club can improve its advantage in the standings with a victory against second-place Jefferson (12-4, 7-1) on Wednesday -- a team the Lions defeated 9-7 on April 11.

"It feels good to be on top right now," said Pope John shortstop Matt Tietz, who went 1-for-3 with a double in the win over High Point. "[Wednesday's] game should be really competitive and we definitely want to win. [Jefferson] is going to be out for blood after last time."

Tuesday's game was by no means a slugfest.

High Point (7-7, 4-6) didn't get its first hit until Kevin Pettenger's one-out single to left in the fourth, one of only three hits on the day for coach Mickey Thomas' Wildcats. The 'Cats had men on first and second in the fourth and fifth innings, but each time with two out. Pope John starter Ken Mott worked out of trouble in the fourth and reliever Axel D'Addario got the final out in the fifth by getting Pettenger to ground into a fielder's choice.

"We hit the ball hard ... we just couldn't score," said Thomas, whose team left a total of seven men on base. "I thought our pitchers did very well. But if you don't score, you're not going to win."

Pope John, which managed only two harmless singles through the first three innings, finally got to High Point right-hander Alan Waldron in the fourth. Tietz started things with a one-out double and after Ryan McNally flied to center to move Tietz to third, Sam Redwood delivered an RBI single through the right side of the High Point infield.

Redwood scored the second run on Dan Cassarra's single to the exact same spot as Redwood's. The Lions loaded the bases after Zack Leach singled, but Waldron escaped further damage by scooping up Jay Sanford's comebacker for the final out.

"We've been really timely this year," said Redwood, who stole second and third base in the fourth to set up Cassarra. "I was able to get [Waldron's] timing down. We did a pretty good job of scrapping things together."

Bello was happy with his team's all-around effort.

"We did a great job of running the bases, which we haven't done all year, and we got timely hits," said Bello, whose team in the midst of a six games in seven days stretch. "Cassarra had a huge hit [in the sixth] for us to make it four runs. We needed to win [Monday, 11-0 against Vernon] and today to make [Wednesday's game with Jefferson] count. I'm proud of the way they've responded."

Waldron, who was effective early on, gave up six hits and two runs, while walking none and striking out two in four innings.

Pope John tacked on two more runs in the sixth against High Point reliever Kurt Schwander, as Cassarra plated McNally and Redwood with a one-out single over the head of High Point second baseman Ryan Conklin. The side-arming Schwander hit McNally to start the frame and an error on Redwood's sac bunt attempt put runners on second and third with none out.

Mott (1-0) earned the win, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out one in 4 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. The hard-throwing D'Addario fanned two in 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

The Lions also got a few key defensive plays. Tietz made a nice back-handed stop on Matt Valente's grounder with runners on first and second to end the second inning, while third baseman Glenn Gavan made a nice stab on Pettenger's shot down the line to end the fifth as he stepped on the third-base bag ahead of Conklin for the third out.

"We work on infield and grounders every day," Tietz said. "It's one of our strengths. We definitely had to do the little things today."

High Point (7-7)             000     000     0   --  0    3     2
Pope John (10-4)           000     202     x   --  4    8     2

HIGH POINT (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Schulok cf, 4-0-0-0, Adams ss, 4-0-0-0, Conklin 2b, 3-0-1-0, Fundell 1b-3b, 2-0-0-0/Torppey pr 0-0-0-0, Pettenger dh, 3-0-1-0, Ragnetti rf, 3-0-0-0, Loughery c, 3-0-1-0, Schwander 3b-p, 1-0-0-0, Valente lf 3-0-0-0. Totals: 26-0-3-0.

POPE JOHN (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Young lf, 3-0-0-0/Rivera ph, 1-0-0-0, Gavan 3b, 3-0-1-0, Tietz, ss, 3-1-1-0, McNally, cf, 2-1-1-0, Redwood, rf, 3-2-1-1, Sanders dh, 2-0-0-0, Cassarra, 1b, 3-0-2-3, Leach, c, 2-0-2-0/Kopnik cr, 0-0-0-0, Sanford 2b, 2-0-0-0/Jensen ph 1-0-0-0. Totals: 25-4-8-4.

E -- Adams, Waldron; Gavan, Cassarra. LOB -- High Point 7, Pope John 6. 2B -- Conklin; Tietz. SB -- Redwood 2, Gavan.

Waldron, Schwander (5) and Loughery. Mott, D'Addario (5) and Leach. W -- Mott (1-0). L -- Waldron (0-1). SO-BB -- Waldron 2-0, Schwander 1-1; Mott 1-2, D'Addario 2-0. HBP -- Fundell (by Waldron); Sanders (by Mott), McNally (by Schwander).