Lembo’s two-RBI single propels Montclair Kimberley to Prep B tournament final
Montclair Kimberley’s baseball team was down to its last strike against Gill St. Bernard’s in the Prep B Tournament semifinals on Thursday, May 12.
With runners on second and third, Cougars junior right fielder Nic Lembo was facing a two ball and two strike count.
“My coach [head coach Ralph Pacifico] told me to shorten up [on my swing],” Lembo said. “I anticipated that it was going to be a fastball.”
Lembo got enough of Gill St. Bernard’s pitcher Logan Mote’s fastball and dropped it between the Knights’ shortstop and the center fielder.
The hit scored MKA senior pitcher John Testa and freshman shortstop Quinn Carlesimo from second and third to give the Cougars an 8-7 lead.
“This is what you dream about,” said Lembo, who was 3-for-4 on the day with three RBI and two runs scored.
Third-seeded Montclair Kimberley would hold off second-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s in the bottom of the seventh inning to preserve the 8-7 victory in the semifinals. MKA raised its record to 12-4, which is pretty impressive since the Cougars are playing all of their games on the road while a new turf field is being installed at their home at Montclair Kimberley Middle School.
The Cougars will take on top-seeded Rutgers Prep on Monday, May 16, tentatively set at 7 p.m. at Diamond Nation in Flemington. The last time the Cougars were in the Prep B Tournament title game was in 2015, when they lost to Gill St. Bernard’s.
After Lembo’s heroics in the top of the seventh inning, Montclair Kimberley still needed to set down the Knights in the bottom of the inning.
In a roller-coaster game where both sides matched each other on the scoreboard, Testa faced a scenario where the tying run was on second base.
Gill St. Bernard’s’ Joe Perri was the key at-bat in the inning for Testa.
The previous time Testa faced Perri, the Knights’ left fielder smacked a Testa pitch over the left field wall for a three-run home run and put MKA down 7-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
But this time Testa decided to throw some off-speed stuff against Perri. “He probably got three or four curveballs from me,” he said. “I wanted to keep him off balance.”
Testa fired a curveball as Perri watched the pitch go by him for the strikeout and the second out. Testa would get Gill St. Bernard’s’ Carter Nowack to fly out and push the Cougars to the Prep B finals.
For Testa it was a particularly sweet victory after having Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year.
“Sorry I’m a bit emotional,” he said after the game. “This is something you live for [going to the finals]. Last year was tough, and I had a hard time throwing the ball. This year I have been able to find my pitches.”
Montclair Kimberley started its top pitcher, junior Jack Amirata, who was pitching with only two days’ rest. Amirata would go four innings while giving up four runs, but only one was earned.
Testa would go the final three innings, with his biggest mistake being the three-run homer by Perri. “I was battling all day,” he said. “I only had three or four warm-up pitches before I had to hit [in the top of the fifth inning].”
He gave credit to Perri for hitting the home run. “He just ran into the pitch,” he said. “I have to tip my cap to him.”
Earlier in the game, Testa would make it all the way home after stealing second base. An errant throw, and he was able to score, giving the Cougars a 4-3 lead in the top of the third inning.
Pacifico and the Cougars hope that they have improved in the past month, having lost 17-1 at Rutgers Prep on April 12.