Montclair Kimberley baseball does not have a comeback this time in state tournament
It was only a couple weeks ago that Montclair Kimberley's baseball team came from behind and defeated Gill St. Bernard's in the Prep B Tournament semifinals on the road. The Cougars defeated the Knights, 8-7, with two runs in the top of the seventh inning en route to their winning the Prep B title.
But on Friday, June 3, MKA faced a Gill St. Bernard's team looking to avenge that loss in the Non Public B North quarterfinals. This time it would be at the Cougars’ home away from home, West Orange High School, as a new turf field is being installed at Montclair Kimberley Middle School.
Montclair Kimberley would again be down a couple of times in its battle with the Knights. But unlike the Prep B tourney game, where they kept coming back, this time the Cougars, the third seed, could not come all the way back in the end and dropped the matchup, 7-4, to the sixth-seeded Knights, ending their season.
MKA finished with a 17-7 record.
Despite ending earlier than he hoped, head coach Ralph Pacifico was happy with the season, considering the team did not have a home field and was a relatively young club, sometimes having four freshmen on the field at the same time.
"To have 17 wins and a Prep B title, you can't ask for more than that," Pacifico said.
While the Cougars pitching duo of junior Jack Amirata and senior John Testa were solid in the Prep B semifinals, the pair struggled on June 3 in the state playoff game.
"The guys that carried us all season did not have their best stuff today," the coach said after the game.
The two hurlers, along with sophomore Nolan Gyves, would end up walking nine batters, and Gill St. Bernard’s pounced on that. "We walked nine guys today, and we didn't do that all year," Pacifico said.
Offensively, the Cougars were able to get only five hits, but they made the most of them, taking advantage as well as of some sloppy play by the Knights in the field.
"I thought that we were a little impatient at the plate," the coach said. "We were fishing at times for the breaking ball."
Pacifico went with his number one pitcher against Gill St. Bernard's in Amirata, and the southpaw gave all he could.
"He's a max effort guy who goes out there and gives all he has,” Pacifico said. “He has to learn how to pace himself. I'm proud of what he gave all season."
The Cougars were hoping that Amirata could go four innings, but he fell a couple of outs short. He gave up four runs in the fourth, one scoring after Testa replaced him on the mound. Montclair Kimberley was down 5-3 after four innings.
While MKA sliced the Knights’ lead to 5-4 with a run in the bottom of the fifth, Testa, like Amirata, ran out of gas, as Gill St. Bernard's scored two more runs in the sixth inning for a 7-4 lead.
But this time the Cougars could not muster a comeback. "Every game is different," Pacifico said.
MKA had its best chance for a comeback late in the game in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With two outs, Cougars freshman Quinn Carlesimo and Amirata would get back-to-back base hits. But Testa, one of the team’s top hitters, would be struck out by Knights reliever Logan Mote and leave the two runners on base.
The Cougars kept the deficit to three runs in the top of the seventh inning. Senior left fielder Michael Bronstein pulled off a double play by catching a fly ball by Christian Mote and then gunning down the Knights’ Carter Nowack at home, with Cougars freshman catcher Luca Siegar applying the tag.
For most of the game Montclair Kimberley played Pacifico ball by being aggressive on the base paths. Offensively, it was sort of a small ball and station-to-station game for the MKA.
After going down 1-0 in the top of the second inning, the Cougars responded with a run in the bottom of the second without a hit.
Bronstein coaxed a walk off Knights starting pitcher Nowack. He moved to second and third on wild pitches. Freshman Jake Rendino then hit a grounder that Nowack fielded but threw wildly to first base, scoring Bronstein. Unfortunately for Rendino, he ran into the infield umpire and was tagged out at second base to end the inning.
The Cougars would grab a 3-1 lead in the third inning as sophomore Eli Solomon hit a grounder that went under the glove of Knights second baseman Zack Wendell, scoring Testa and junior right fielder Nic Lembo.
But Amirata started running out of gas in the fourth inning. Gill St. Bernard's scored four times, and the Cougars’ lead was short-lived as they trailed, 5-3.
Testa scored in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 5-4, but the Cougars could not muster any more scoring the rest of the way.