Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Baseball: Braves make quick work on Opening Day

HARDYSTON -- Newton's baseball team wasn't interested in a prolonged affair in its season opener on Tuesday at Sisco Field.

With three big innings, including a five-run fifth, the Braves rolled to an 11-1 win in five innings over host Wallkill Valley in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division clash.

Newton (1-0, 1-0 division), the defending Freedom champion, erupted for eight runs over the final two inning to enact the mercy rule. Coach John Selitto was pleased to see his team's bats come alive late after leaving some runs on the field in the early stages of this one.

"I told them yesterday not to make excuses for not being outside [for practices] and only getting a few scrimmages in," said Selitto, whose Braves are the prohibitive favorite to repeat as division champs after posting the program's first winning season since 2001 a year ago. "We had some very uncharacteristic at-bats early, where we were trying to do too much. They can hit and we started to just let it fly."

Despite not having his best stuff, ace left-hander Nick Grant fired five solid innings, allowing two hits and three walks to go with three strikeouts for his first victory. He got five outs on ground balls and seven through the air.

"He only pitched three innings in one scrimmage and we really put an emphasis on getting out of here in five [innings]," Selitto said. "His pitch count was bout 70, 71. He didn't have good pop [on his fastball]. He knows he's not going to strike out 10 every game. He's matured quite a bit."

It was a tough way to open for a young Wallkill Valley squad, facing last year's division champs out of the gate. Senior southpaw Brandon Grabkowski was unable to locate his pitches and made an early exit after walking in a run in the second with four straight free passes -- five total in just one inning of work.

The Rangers opened the game with a fielding error -- one of three in the loss -- and hurt themselves at the plate by popping up a sacrifice bunt attempt, for example, and by not holding runners on defense. The one bright spot for sixth-year coach Kevin Lukich's squad was junior left-hander Joe Colosimo entering in the second inning in a tough spot -- bases loaded and none out -- and providing a few frames of quality relief.

"We're a little inexperienced and it kind of snowballed," Lukich said. "We had one of our captains on the mound [Grabkowski] and he had a hard time finding the [strike] zone. Walking five guys doesn't help and we got behind, 3-0. Grant is a good pitcher. I was hoping it would be like a 4-2 game, where we could keep the runs down."

Newton took a 3-0 lead in the second, as Charlie Grotyohann plated a run with a sacrifice fly -- one of his two on the day -- after the bases-loaded walk and Ben Cramer added an RBI single -- a blooper that dropped in between the Wallkill second baseman and center fielder, and really should have ended the inning. Cramer, one of the top hitters in the NJAC and tri-county area, finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored. The only other player with a mutli-hit game was third baseman Joe Maker, who belted a pair of RBI doubles.

"Cramer doesn't hit sky shots like he did his first two at-bats and Maker had been struggling in scrimmages," Selitto said. "In the winter, you can hit in the cage all you want, but hitters need to see live pitching. You need reps and to get games in."

That second inning could have been a lot worse, but Colosimo came on and struck out Justin Smith before issuing the sac fly and Cramer's single. The lefty induced a ground-ball out off the bat of Grant to end the threat. All three runs were charged to Grabkowski, who took the loss. Colosimo went 3 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and eight runs (three earned), while walking one and striking out four.

"He's a tough, bulldog type of kid," Lukich said of Colosimo, who has a very unorthodox delivery. "He throws strikes and keeps you off-balance. He did a good job, I thought. He gave us a couple of quality innings."

Wallkill Valley answered with a run in the third on Rich Stecher's sacrifice fly to right. The opportunity for a big inning was there, but Wes Walton popped up to third on a sacrifice bunt attempt following Michael Armstrong's leadoff single. Kyle Rosencranz also singled to put runners on first and second and Nick McWilliams walked to load the bases. After Stecher's RBI, Grant fanned Grabkowski to end the inning.

Leadoff man Smith's steal of home highlighted a three-run fourth. Anthony Brown led off by smoking a double down the right-field line and Smith followed with a single. The speedy Smith, who stole three bases in the game after leading Newton with 18 in 2013, made a heads-up play by advancing to second on the throw to third. After Grotyohann's second sac fly plated Brown, Smith, who had moved to third, came home on a double-steal attempt with Cramer, who reached on an infield single. Maker brought Cramer home with a double to left.

After Grant retired Wallkill in order in the fourth, Newton sent nine batters to the plate in the fifth. Designated hitter Scott Price, Grant and Maker all hit doubles, while the Rangers aided the cause with a pair of errors. Grant drove in a pair with his rope to the right-center-field gap and Maker gave the Braves a 10-run cushion with his shot to left.

Grant got into a jam in the bottom half after two quick outs -- walking Rosencranz and making a throwing error on McWilliams' dribbler in front of the mound. But the lefty got Stecher to ground into a fielder's choice to end the game.

"This was a good start," Selitto said. "This was a nice win, especially on the road."

NEWTON (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Smith lf 4-2-1-0, Grotyohann c 1-0-0-2/Rick Izquierdo cr 0-1-0-0, Cramer cf 4-2-3-1, Grant p 3-0-1-2/Bob Fehr cr 0-1-0-0, Maker 3b 4-0-2-2, Jon Bernotas ss 3-1-0-0, Steve Kelly 1b 1-1-0-0, Price dh/Casey Thomas rf 2-2-1-0, Brown 2b 2-1-1-1. Totals: 24-11-9-8.

WALLKILL VALLEY (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Rosencranz ss 2-0-1-0, McWilliams c 2-0-0-0, Stecher cf-rf 2-0-0-1, Grabkowski p-cf 1-0-0-0, Brett Hill 1b 2-0-0-0, Travis Hill 3b 2-0-0-0, Sean Endres dh/ Colosimo rf-p/Reiman p 2-0-0-0, Armstrong 2b 2-1-1-0, Walton lf 2-0-0-0. Totals: 17-1-2-1.

Newton (1-0, 1-0)                        030     35   --  11   9   1
Wallkill Valley (0-1, 0-1)             001     00   --   1    2   3

E -- T. Hill, Rosencranz, B. Hill; Grant. LOB -- Newton 6, Wallkill Valley 5. 2B -- Maker 2, Price, Brown. SB -- Smith 3, Cramer, Bernotas, Kelly. Sac -- Grotyohann. SF -- Grotyohann 2; Stecher.

Grant and Grotyohann. Grabkowski, Colosimo (2), Pat Reiman (5) and McWilliams. W -- Grant (1-0). L -- Grabkowski (0-1). SO-BB -- Grant 3-3; Grabkowski 0-5, Colosimo 4-1, Reiman 0-0.

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