PISCATAWAY – It was almost a comeback for the ages.
Down 12-6 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the New Providence High School baseball team rallied for five runs with one out, but fell just short in a 12-11 loss to Park Ridge in a NJSIAA Group I semifinal on Tuesday at Rutgers’ Bainton Field.
The Owls advance to their first Group final since 2009, and will face Middlesex this weekend at Hamilton Veterans Park. Middlesex, the defending Group I champion, defeated Pennsville 4-3 in eight innings on Tuesday.
“The goal coming into the season, there can be no better goal than going and playing in the championship game,” Park Ridge senior Cole Triano said. “As a senior there’s nothing more I’d rather do. This game, we’re creating lifelong memories each game we play as of now and I just look forward to continuing that.”
For Park Ridge (20-6), the North 1 Group I winner, Tuesday’s semifinal brought flashbacks of last year’s sectional final, in which the Owls blew a nine-run lead and lost in nine innings to Emerson Boro.
“Throughout the season I keep on going back to last year in the sectional championship, we were up nine runs against Emerson and they came back and walked us off,” Triano said. “Of course we’re up by nine runs again, so throughout my high school career in baseball over these last few years, I’ve realized that anything can happen. No matter what the score is we have to act like it’s zero-zero.”
Down 3-2, Park Ridge struck for 10 runs in the top of the sixth inning. Until that point, New Providence starting pitcher Dylan Bedder had allowed two runs on four hits through five innings.
“We came in knowing that they were a good pitching team like ourselves, we consider ourselves a good pitching team, so we thought it would be low-scoring pitching duel,” Cole Triano said. “We had our ace Dylan (Triano) on the mound, he pitched well, struggled a little bit, but he fought at the end. We thought it was going to be a pitcher’s duel throughout the game.”
Dylan Triano and Evan Kinsey each singled to lead off the sixth, and with one out the Owls worked a single and a walk, which ended Bedder’s afternoon. Nate Scott entered the game for the Pioneers, but Park Ridge wasn’t done as Tyler Marsh reached on an error, Zach Lewis singled and Cole Triano hit a bases-clearing triple for a 9-3 lead.
Park Ridge scored another three runs and New Providence changed pitchers again before the Pioneers were able to end the inning.
“We just started to get base runners going, we’re a good hitting team. I think we’re a very good team when we’re down, we’ve been down I believe three times in this tournament now with our backs against the wall,” Kinsey said. “We’ve been lucky to just string together hits, get guys over, and we hold each other accountable. We get on each other, we tell people you’re due for a hit here and everyone seems to be stepping up in those clutch situations. It’s been really good and it’s just one guy after another, it’s a domino effect with us.”
New Providence scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to 12-6. Tyler DeGeorge and Stanton Leuthner worked back-to-back walks and with one out Greg Lambert walked to load the bases. DeGeorge scored on an infield single by Ryan Sherman and Bedder walked, which scored Leuthner. Jack Connor reached on a fielder’s choice, which scored Lambert for a 12-6 game.
Lambert put Park Ridge down in order in the top of the seventh, and the Pioneers made the most of their last at-bat.
Tommy Jankowski led off with a double to left and DeGeorge singled. Leuthner reached on an error and Chris Kubas and Lambert each hit back-to-back RBI singles. With one out, Bedder hit an RBI-single to center and the Owls brought back in starting pitcher Dylan Triano.
Connor followed with an RBI-single to left and Matt Shen singled, but Triano worked a pop out to first and ended the game with a pop out back to the mound.
“I think everyone was a little bit overzealous, especially when they had bases loaded and I think we just settled down and got back to what we were good at and got those last two outs,” Kinsey said. “Some of us, especially us seniors of course, I know I was in the field thinking if they come back and win this, that was my last at bat ever. It’s definitely not what we want.”
New Providence (20-7), which rallied to beat Dunellen in the North 2 Group I final, won its first sectional title since 2005 this season and finished as Union County Conference Mountain Division champions.
“They don’t quit, they’re fighters, and it’s fun, it’s fun to coach a bunch of guys who are willing to put it on the line like that,” New Providence coach Chris Brodeur said. “It was a tremendous season, so much accomplished, so much growth on every individual level, from every player. They grew, they experienced baseball and they played it at the highest level they could, and as a team coming together and being as close as they were, it’s phenomenal.”
Park Ridge, which as won 12 games in a row, has turned its season around after starting 9-6. The Owls now have to prepare for Middlesex (23-4), a team that has won nine of its last 10 games and has outscored opponents 46-8 during its state tournament run.
“In the state tournament anything can happen,” Kinsey said. “We were a four-seed, (New Providence was) the one-seed, we played the 14-seed last round. Anything can happen, it’s really whoever gets hot at the time, and we’re a pretty hot team.”
Staff Writer Lauren Knego: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @laurenknego