Friday, May 9, 2014

Baseball: Lions, Red Devils picks in HWS semifinals

To a man, Vernon's baseball team can only describe its recent Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament success in one word:

"Confidence," said second baseman Mike Harboy following the Vikings' thrilling 5-2 win in eight innings over Wallkill Valley in last Saturday's quarterfinals.

Harboy had a big day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs as his two-run single through the left side capped a three-run rally in the eighth. Not to be lost in that uprising was a single by left fielder Josh Rodriguez that gave the Vikings runners on first and second with none out after Dave Baxter's leadoff hit. Rodriguez, a recent addition to the starting lineup due to another player's injury, has made an immediate impact, particularly with his speed.

"He's stepped up for us and is getting it done," Berge said. "Shame on me for not putting him in there sooner."

Whatever the reason, coach Scott Berge's team is making another charge through the brackets -- this time as a No. 10 seed -- the first to win a tri-county game much less three straight to reach the semifinals.

Vernon will travel to face No. 1 seed North Hunterdon at 11 a.m. on Saturday. No. 2 Hunterdon Central will be at No. 1 Pope John at 1 p.m. in the other matchup. The winners will play for the championship at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 17 at Diamond Nation.

North Hunterdon (14-7) has picked up the pace in the second half. After dropping three of four from April 13-21, coach Mike Kane's Lions have won eight of their last nine, including a 14-0 pasting of Hunterdon Central on April 29 -- their second win this season over the Red Devils.

In last year's semifinals, Vernon scored a 3-1 win in eight innings over North to reach its first title game. On the other side, Pope John will be looking to avenge a 4-2 loss to Central in the 2013 quarters.

"We're happy to be in the semifinals," Berge said. "That was a great semifinal win last year and I'm sure North Hunterdon will out for redemption."

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

10B-Vernon (6-10)  at 1A-North Hunterdon (14-7), 11 a.m. -- Vikings have dropped two in a row since the win over Wallkill -- both NJAC American Division contests against Mount Olive and High Point. Ace right-hander Anthony Germinario is 3-0 in the HWS games. The junk ball-specialist, who features a nasty curve and slider that produce a ton of ground-ball outs, has 22 K's in those three wins. Harboy is really tearing it up at the plate. The No. 3 hitter is batting .615 (8-for-13) with a double, triple and eight RBIs in the tri-county tournament. Germinario also is helping himself at the plate, batting .538 (7-for-13) with a double, triple and six RBIs. North has won four in a row starting with that second win over Central and has yielded just two runs during that streak. Outfielder Marc Monks and third baseman Tom Schumacher are pacing the offense. Monks has seven hits with two doubles and two RBIs during the win streak. Ace John Wilson has started both tri-county wins and got the victory in a 7-0 win over Belvidere in the second round. He struck out seven in a no-decision against Newton. North has reached the semifinal round in four of the five tournaments -- missing in 2011 with a quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Pope John.

Coaches: Scott Berge (45-80, sixth season); Mike Kane (43-35, third season).

All-time HWS records: Vernon 7-4; North Hunterdon 10-4.

How they got here: Vernon beat South Hunterdon, 18-2, Lenape Valley, 5-1, and Wallkill Valley, 5-2 in eight innings. North Hunterdon defeated Belvidere, 7-0; beat Newton, 2-1 in nine innings.

The Pick: North Hunterdon, 3-2.

2A-Hunterdon Central (17-3) at 1B-Pope John (10-8), 1 p.m. -- Red Devils were the hottest team going in three counties before a stunning 14-0 loss to North Hunterdon, which also won their first meeting, 6-1, on April 3. The only other loss for coach Mike Raymond's club is 4-3 at Montgomery on Tuesday in a Skyland Conference Delaware Division clash. Central is an impressive 16-2 all-time in this tournament's five-year history and has won two titles (2010 and '13). The other two losses came against Pope John (8-1) and Phillipsburg (2-1) in the 2011 and '12 title games. Red-hot second baseman Brett McManus entered the week batting .417 with 13 RBIs and went 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI in Monday's 12-1 win over Voorhees. Zac Vacca leads the team with 20 RBIs. Outstanding first baseman Matt Toke (.442, 16 RBIs) has been sidelined by an illness, while ace Pat Clare improved to 5-1 with the win in last Saturday's 8-4 victory over Sparta in the quarters. Pope John has gone just 3-7 since a 7-1 start, but the Lions pounded Warren Hills, 10-0, in the quarters to make their second semifinal appearance and first since winning it all in 2011. Second baseman Axel D'Addario belted a two-run double, while winning pitcher Jack Nelson (2-0) struck out six and had a monster day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs.

Coaches: Mike Raymond (285-101, 14th season); Vin Bello (240-156-1, 15th season).

All-time HWS records: Hunterdon Central 16-2; Pope John 8-3.

How they got here: Hunterdon Central defeated High Point, 5-0; beat Sparta, 8-4. Pope John defeated Phillipsburg, 3-1; beat Warren Hills, 10-0.

The Pick: Hunterdon Central, 4-2.

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