By ANDREW GARDA
garda@montclairlocal.news

It’s been an incredible season for the Montclair High School baseball team, as it has compiled an 11-4-1 (5-3-1 SEC) record, with dominating wins against St. Benedict’s (10-0), Bloomfield (12-2) and Union City (14-1), a 9-inning tie against Seton Hall Prep and a four seed in the Greater Newark Tournament. 

The Mounties hoped there would be a rematch with Seton Hall in the GNT finals — which also would be a rematch of the 2019 GNT finals, which MHS won — but unfortunately that was not to be, as the team hit a speed bump Saturday in the semifinals, falling to the top-seeded Millburn Millers, 5-3.

And after a tight 9-8 loss to Bloomfield on the road Monday, May 17, Montclair now finds itself skidding with  three losses in a row, and has to find a way back to its winning ways. It won’t be easy, as five of the next six games will be on the road. 

After visiting the Bengals, Montclair faces Seton Hall Prep, Clifton, Livingston, Montclair Kimberley Academy and Millburn on the road, with its only home game during that stretch coming against Livingston (in the first half of a home-and-home) on Saturday, May 22, at Woodman Field, with first pitch coming at 11 a.m.

In the loss to Millburn, the Mounties led 3-0 after the first 2½ innings, with Montclair chipping at Millburn starting pitcher Steven Echavarria. Jeremy Sacks drove in Amar Francis and Jack Burke, while Will Godsil sent Francis across home plate as well.

Millburn responded by chipping away at Sacks, who was on the mound, scoring a pair of runs in the third and fourth, then adding another in the fifth. 

Defensively, MHS struggled during that period as well, and the Mounties finished the game with four errors. On the mound, Echavarria got his feet under him and stymied Montclair at the plate, not letting the Mounties string hits together to generate runs.

The MHS baseball team has had a tremendous season, but needs to find a way to right the ship, as they have now lost three games in a row.
ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
The MHS baseball team has had a tremendous season, but needs to find a way to right the ship, as they have now lost three games in a row.
ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
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Despite that, Montclair never backed down, and it took a couple of lucky plays for the Millers to secure the win. First, replacement pitcher Sean Brown had an exceptional at-bat where he battled off multiple pitches from Millburn reliever Drew Oppenheim. After two foul bunts, Brown drove a looping line drive into right field that looked as if it would fall, allowing Brown to first and the two men on base to advance, perhaps scoring one.

However, the Millburn right fielder made an excellent play, sliding and getting his glove under the ball to make the out and send MHS’ runners back to their original bases. 

Then, on a ball hit by Sacks, Montclair found itself arguing that the Millburn first baseman had been pulled off the bag and that Sacks should be safe. Unfortunately, the plate umpire agreed with the umpire at first that Sacks was out.

Millburn kept up its defense after that and Montclair couldn’t plate the runs needed to advance.

“We didn’t make some key defensive plays when we needed to,” said head coach Ron Gavazzi. “We’ve been a strong defensive team all year, [but] unfortunately today in some big spots, we didn’t make them. Credit to Millburn, they made some really good defensive plays in really key moments in the game. I think that’s what led them to the game.”

Head coach Ron Gavazzi said the team just didn’t make the big plays during their 5-3 GNT loss to top-seeded Millburn.
ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
Head coach Ron Gavazzi said the team just didn’t make the big plays during their 5-3 GNT loss to top-seeded Millburn.
ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
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Gavazzi said Millburn’s getting hits with two outs and manufacturing runs was also a big factor.

“Scoring was certainly a big factor, and it’s something that we emphasize and we want to win that category of the baseball game,” he said. “But Millburn came through with two outs and they really took momentum in the middle innings. And it took us a long time to really recover, to get the momentum back. We did pressure them late in the game, but again, they made some big plays to finish us off.”

There’s still plenty of baseball to play for Montclair, with the division title and the state tournament to come.

The Mounties have an excellent set of pitchers to hang their defense on, with Anthony Anzaldi leading the group in strikeouts with 25 over the course of 21 innings while only allowing four earned runs. Brown has also pitched well, with 18 strikeouts over 18 innings and just five earned runs, while Sacks has 21 strikeouts and six earned runs in just over 17 innings of work.

Brown has had the most errors around him, with 7 unearned runs on his ledger.

Montclair’s bats have been effective as well, putting together 45 hits, 22 RBIs and 29 runs scored. Brown and Francis have the most hits with 7 apiece, with Sacks and Brett Janifer right behind them with 6 each. Sacks (5) and Brown (4) have the most RBIs, while Francis has the most runs scored, 8.

It’s a strong group of players who will easily continue to give Montclair a chance to win in any game, against any opponent.