WAYNE — A jubilant Jon Steele ran from behind the plate after the Passaic County baseball final ended Thursday and executed a textbook tackle that knocked Mike Coss flat on his back. A tackle probably would’ve been the only way to take Coss off the mound during the seventh inning.
Pompton Lakes‘ junior left-hander threw 126 pitches against top-seeded Lakeland, but as he has often done since cracking the Cardinals’ rotation as a freshman, Coss pitched out of trouble in the final inning and secured Pompton Lakes’ first Passaic County championship since 1996, 8-6.
Lakeland scored once in the bottom of the seventh to cut Pompton Lakes‘ lead to two, but with one out and runners on second and third, Coss induced a groundout back to the box and recorded his 10th strikeout of the day to end the game.
None of that was surprising, since Coss consistently has made headlines for his work on the mound the past three seasons. But he also hit a three-run homer in the top of the sixth that just cleared the right field fence at Passaic Tech, snapped a 5-5 tie and emerged as the game-winning hit.
“I consider myself an OK hitter, but I really just wanted to come through in the clutch there,” said Coss, who usually plays first base when he doesn’t pitch. “I got a good pitch to hit, on the inner half, and I ripped it. I didn’t think it was going out at first. It looked like it was going to hit the fence, but when it went over I went crazy.”
The typically composed Coss pumped his fist and let out a scream as he rounded first base. Three innings earlier, it didn’t appear as if he and his teammates would have much to celebrate.
Lakeland scored four times in the bottom of the third to take a 5-1 lead. Run-scoring doubles by senior catcher Jesse Bruno and senior first baseman Joe Gilligan were the big hits in Lakeland’s four-run inning.
Third-seeded Pompton Lakes (23-4) had been down four runs in only one other game this season, but the Cardinals promptly responded with four runs in the top of the fourth to tie the game. Senior second baseman Sean Lindberg’s three-run double tied the game at 5 after Steele’s infield single sliced Lakeland’s lead to 5-2.
“This field is very forgiving, offensively,” Pompton Lakes coach Paul Tanis said. “We knew we have the bats that could get us back in it. … I never really felt we were out of the game, even though we were down, 5-1.”
His father, Eugene Paul Tanis, died Feb. 27, just before practice began. His players dedicated the season to the elder Tanis, whose initials were sewn into the caps of the Pompton Lakes players and coaches.
“I appreciated that they did that,” Tanis said. “That just makes it feel a little bit sweeter.”
The Cardinals will try to extend their celebration into today, when they’ll face fourth-seeded New Milford in the North 1, Group 1 final. Pompton Lakes is the No. 1 seed and defending champion in its section.
“This has been our goal this entire season, to get this county championship,” said Steele, a senior catcher. “We’d definitely like to relish this and end our season on this note. But we definitely can still do that in the states, so we’ll just come out [today] and do what we always do — come out hard, play tough and try to win.”