The Montclair Mounties baseball team was down by seven runs with only two innings to spare in Wednesday’s matchup against Caldwell High School in the Greater Newark Tournament quarterfinal.
But the large deficit at home at Woodman Field did not affect the team’s hopes for a possible comeback and a trip to the GNT semifinal.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the fourth-seeded Mounties went on a seemingly endless rally. Montclair scored a whopping nine runs to surpass fifth-seeded Caldwell’s gigantic lead.
Montclair’s senior pitching ace, Anthony Anzaldi, closed the door with a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh inning to end the game in the Mounties’ favor, 9-7.
With the victory Montclair (10-8-1) moves on to the GNT semifinals, where they will face top-seeded Millburn on Saturday (11 a.m.) at Seton Hall Prep. The Millers defeated ninth-seeded Columbia, 3-0, also on Wednesday. Anzaldi is expected to be on the hill to start against Millburn.
Mounties sophomore center fielder Sam Dorian, who got the game-winning hit scoring freshman Patrick Van Note and senior Jonah Hacker, said that Montclair always believed they would come back.
“About two batters into that inning, I told Derek that we were gonna win the game,” Dorian said, referring to left fielder Derek Lacey. “You can just tell when you’re in the dugout. The way we were acting, the way we had each other’s backs, I really thought we had a good chance to win.”
Montclair head coach Ron Gavazzi believes this game speaks to the team’s mental toughness.
“We’re getting tougher as the season goes along,” Gavazzi said. “We had six outs to work with. We had to make a decision. We could quit or we could keep competing. The team made a decision to compete. I think they would make that decision a hundred times out of a hundred.”
Against Caldwell, Gavazzi opted to pitch by committee. Junior Finn Jones, senior Wyatt Fell, sophomore Benjamin St. Pierre and junior Shea Goel pitched for Montclair in the first six innings. Anzaldi only pitched the final inning.
“It was always the plan for Anzaldi to be closer,” Gavazzi said.
Gavazzi’s strategy against Caldwell paid off today. Because Anzaldi got to rest for most of Wednesday’s game, he will be better prepared to pitch against Millburn.
Designated hitter Hacker believes Anzaldi will give Montclair their best chance to make the Greater Newark Tournament finals.
“Whenever Anthony is on the mound, we feel confident that we can beat anyone,” Hacker said. “We know Millburn. We’ve played them twice. We’re gonna have to go in with a lot of fight. We have to try to get under their skin.”
Montclair lost both times to the Millers, 9-0, at Millburn (April 12) and earlier this week at home, 15-3, on May 8. But Anzaldi did not pitch in either game.
On offense against Caldwell, Montclair was led by Hacker and Dorian. Hacker had three hits and reached base an additional time. Dorian had two hits in the sixth inning rally.
The nine-run rally started when junior catcher Nate Ullman was hit by a pitch. The Mounties were visibly excited to just see their teammate get on base.
Gavazzi acknowledged that the team was mentally ready for a late-inning comeback.
“You have to get a guy on base to start a rally and we got our guy on,” Gavazzi said. “From there, it’s just one at-bat at a time.”
The baseball team’s excitement was contagious. Soon, Montclair’s sideline was loudly supporting their squad. The momentum began to shift toward Montclair.
The Mounties got seven more hits and drew three walks over the course of the inning. With one out left in the inning, Hacker hit a long single to bring in the tying runs.
“I think that’s the biggest moment of my baseball career,” Hacker reflected.
Then, Caldwell chose to intentionally walk junior right fielder Jesse Blau. Dorian was given an opportunity to help his team take the lead.
Even with the added pressure, Dorian still got the hit Montclair needed. Van Note and Hacker scored, and Montclair got their first lead of the game at 9-7.