by Andrew Garda

With a one-run lead on Seton Hall Prep heading into the top of the seventh last Thursday, June 1, and junior sidearm pitcher Henry Brooks throwing the ball well, the Montclair High School baseball team looked to be in good shape.

Then Dylan Wright tried to barehand a ball, missed it and allowed the Pirates to get their first man on. Brooks got the next batter on a sacrifice hit, then another to line out to the shortstop. The Mounties intentionally walked the next batter to get to Francis Prior, who was 0-for-3 on the day.

The move made all the sense in the world, until Prior crushed a pitch over the fence to the football field in right field. Seton Hall held on to a 6-4 win.

“The way the game ended is really the reality of our season,” coach Ron Gavazzi said. “We’ve had leads late in almost every loss this season and we’ve struggled to close games out. The losses have played out in many different ways. Some common and some uncommon. Typically, we’ve made some sort of a mistake to fuel a comeback for our opponents.”

While it’s impossible to know how things would have exactly played out had Wright made the play at first to start the inning — certainly the next batter wouldn’t have been looking to sacrifice and might have gotten a hit — it’s easy to feel the Mounties (13-15) would have won the game.

“The hope is that we learn from our experiences so when in those situations this summer, fall, or eventually next spring we can ultimately overcome our fear, control our thoughts, and execute our plan on each pitch,” Gavazzi said.

Brooks will likely be one of the mainstays of the pitching staff next year and his development this year has been a hopeful note toward that end. With Makhi Booker and Matt McGoey graduating, the Mounties will need some pitchers to step up.

Gavazzi felt he saw a lot of good in Brooks’ efforts on Thursday.

“I thought Henry pitched well. Certainly good enough to win. He worked both sides of the plate, changed speeds, and kept the ball down. Also, he showed great poise battling through defensive mistakes.”

Those defensive mistakes have certainly hurt the Mounties this season, but they otherwise proved without a doubt they could play with the best in the state. Some close games, such as the NJSIAA loss to Randolph and this game, hinged on a fielding mistake while in others, like the previous 1-0 loss to Seton Hall Prep during the Greater Newark Tournament, the Mounties seemed unable to create that one key hit.

They were in those games, though, and that is a big indicator of what they are capable of doing. The Mounties just need to find a way to take that next step.

They showed they can do it in their walk-off win over Livingston in the season finale on Saturday, June 3. Down one run heading into the bottom of the seventh, the Mounties scored twice, including Makhi Bookers score off a throw to first to win it.

Looking back on the season, Gavazzi certainly seems to feels that there were wins left on the table, and room for improvement. Still, there were also plenty of moments to be proud of.

“The season has had some good and bad days. We haven’t been consistent on a daily basis to dominate the routine part of the game,” he said. “I am proud of the team for their ability to play well and compete as hard as they can in the tournament games. Also, they had some really quality wins this season versus some outstanding teams.”

Those wins and other positives are what he will build on during the offseason and summer.

“Our program is a process-driven program and no matter what happened with any results this season, I believe the players gained an appreciation and a respect for the game as well as the process. “

While the team loses seven players to graduation — including starters John Lewis, Dylan Scarfo and Wright leaving with the aforementioned Booker and McGoey — there’s plenty of talent to build on for next season and Gavazzi is enthusiastic going forward.

“I feel strongly about our future. This season is going to be a building block for what’s to occur in upcoming seasons.”