This afternoon at 1:00, Central Jersey Group 1 champion Middlesex takes on North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 winner New Providence for a trip to the statewide Group 1 finals.
Middlesex (21-4) vs.
Point Pleasant Beach (17-7)
1:00 pm Saturday at Veterans’ Park in Hamilton, NJ
The game will be broadcast live on Central Jersey Sports Radio.
Pregame coverage begins at 12:10 pm.
Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino will call all the play-by-play.
Click here to listen live.
Postgame reaction will be on cjsportsradio.com following the game.
Middlesex: Raiden Yost (4-2, 1.15 ERA – postseason 1-0, 8 IP, 5 H, 8 K, 0.88 ERA)
New Providence: Jason Graham (3-2, 2.19 ERA – postseason 1-0, 11 IP, 13K, 1.27 ERA)
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Middlesex (1-seed, Central Jersey Group 1 champ)
1st Round: def. (16) Piscataway Tech 16-1
Quarterfinals: def. (8) South Hunterdon 6-0
Semifinals: def. (12) Florence 11-0
Finals: def. (6) Pt. Pleasant Beach 2-1
Group Semis: def. South 1 Champion Woodstown 7-5
Woodstown (2-seed, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 champ)
1st Round: def. (15) Shabazz 22-2
Quarterfinals: def. (7) Becton 10-0
Semifinals: def. (3) Dayton 10-0
Finals: def. (12) Whippany Park 6-2
Group Semis: def. North 1 Champion Hasbrouck Heights 12-2
AUDIO COVERAGE LINKS:
STATS & NOTES:
Here’s a streak: Middlesex has won two straight games in walk-off fashion in the NJSIAA Tournament, both assisted by wild throws by the other team.
In the Central Jersey Group 1 title game against Point Pleasant Beach just over a week ago, the Blue Jays loaded the bases with nobody out by virtue of a double, a beat-out sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, the latter of which was meant to load the bases and induce a force play at home. With the infield in, the gulls got exactly what they wanted when Anthony Long sent a roller on the grass to second. But Mark VanBrunt’s throw home was wide of the plate, pulling the catcher up the third base line, and Geist scored to give Middlesex the win.
In the Group 1 semifinals Monday against Woodstown, it was like deja vu, but even more dramatic. Down 5-3, back-to-back singles to leadoff the inning put runners at first and second with no one out, and the Wolverines changed pitchers, bringing in Lucas Prendergast from second base. He picked up a strikeout for the first out of the inning, then got Ryan Vollmer to ground to first.
Just a few feet from the bag, Tyler Wolf elected not to step on the bag for the sure out, but go to second in an attempt to turn two and end the game, or at least get a force out. But his throw – like Van Brunt’s the Friday before – was just wide of the bag and pulled Brant Williams off the base, leaving everyone safe.
Had wolf gotten the one out, the game would have ended with the next batter, as Raiden Yost flew out to left. But it was only the second out, bringing up junior Bobby Ulmer, with two extra base hits already on the afternoon, and an pitch-around walk in the sixth because of them.
In retrospect, Woodstown could have elected to walk Ulmer again. That would have made it 5-4 with a little less room for error, but a chance to limit the damage with A.J. West at the plate, who had been 0-3 on the afternoon without hitting the ball out of the infield.
Then again, the way Middlesex has been going this season, it might not have mattered.
Nonetheless, Ulmer found himself in an 0-2 hole before driving the Middlesex fans into delirium, smashing a grand slam to left field to win the game 7-5. Now, here they are again in the Group final, for the fourth time in six years under head coach Justin Nastasi.
Middlesex has won 13 of its last 14 games, the only defeat in that stretch being an 8-1 loss to South Brunswick in the GMC Tournament quarterfinals a couple of weeks ago. Run production is down a bit the last two games, and the Jays allowed five runs – including a grand slam of their own – to Woodstown, but that’s to be expected when you get to this point in the state tournament.
As for New Providence, they have been a bit streaky. The Pioneers started the season 0-3 with tough out-of-division games against Union, governor Livingston and Cranford, but then reeled off nine straight wins before dropping four of their next seven.
But since then, they have won five straight, all in the state tournament. And four of the five have been by the ten-run mercy rule, including a season high offensive output in a 22-2 first-round win over Shabazz in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 playoffs. They then blanked Becton 10-0, and Dayton by the same score. They are coming off a 12-1 win over Hasbrouck Heights, the North 1 champ, in the group semifinals.
Of ten players with plate appearances in the states, half of them are hitting .500 or better. That should make for an interesting matchup against Middlesex starter Raiden Yost, considering all year long the opposition is batting .195 against him. Their .200 average in eight postseason innings isn’t much better.
Cue the cliche, something’s gotta give.
What will happen on the other side when ace Jason Graham takes the hill against the Blue Jays? Opponents are hitting just .154 against him in 11 innings in the NJSIAAs. He’s struck out 13 and walked three while allowing just two earned runs on six hits.
Graham is a smoking hot .647 at the plate for New Providence, 11-for-17 with a team-leading seven postseason RBIs, tied with third baseman Dean Licari in that department. He also has eight doubles.
The title game win against Hasbrouck Heights was the Pioneers’ third straight sectional title, so here are two teams that have won a combined eight titles in the last six seasons.
FORGET “WHO’S ON FIRST?” … WHO’S THE HOME TEAM?
At this point in the state tournament, with no “higher seed” comparing apples to apples, the NJSIAA uses a coin flip to determine the home team. That will occur shortly after the teams arrive at Veterans’ Park in Hamilton Saturday.
Having won their fourth straight Central Jersey Group 1 trophy, and fifth in six seasons under head coach Justin Nastasi, the Blue Jays continue a string of unprecedented success for the program.
Nastasi has helped guide the Blue Jays to titles in 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. The best stretch before that was in the early 90s when they won their section (Central Jersey Group 2) three years in a row from 1990-1992, and again in 1994, making it four titles in a span of five years.
Overall, Middlesex has won 15 sectional titles, with their first coming in 1965.
As far as group champions – which weren’t played until 1971 – Middlesex has won five titles: 1990, 2007, 2013, 2017 and 2018, the two most recent coming under Nastasi.
The Blue Jays are tied for fifth all-time for NJSIAA state (group) titles with those five, along with Cranford, Don Bosco Prep, Glen Ridge, Notre Dame, St. Rose of Belmar and Toms River South.
Only seven schools have won more. Emerson (1-1 against Middlesex in group finals) has won six, Pennsville and Hamilton East (Steinert) have won seven, Audubon, Bishop Eustace and Seton Hall Prep have won eight, and Gloucester Catholic leads the pack by a country mile, with a whopping 20 state titles.
Nastasi’s teams in five-plus seasons are 124-39 overall (.761) and 31-9 (.775) in the postseason since he took over in 2015, including a whopping 28-3 in the states.
Here is a look at their five previous seasons under Nastasi:
2-1 in GMC Tournament (reached the quarterfinals)
Beat Shore 15-3 for the Central Jersey Group 1 title
Lost 3-1 at Emerson in the Group 1 title game
Eliminated in GMC Tournament preliminary round
Lost in Central Jersey Group 1 semifinals
GMC Tournament quarterfinal exit
Beat Metuchen 3-2 for Central Jersey Group 1 title
Beat Emerson 5-4 in the Group 1 title game
2018 (24-4, GMC Blue Division Co-Champs):
GMC Tournament first round exit
Beat Pt. Pleasant Beach 2-0 for the Central Jersey Group 1 title
Beat Park Ridge 3-0 in the Group 1 title game
2019 (22-7, GMC Blue Division Champs):
GMC Tournament first round exit
Beat Pt. Pleasant Beach 6-1 for the Central Jersey Group 1 title
Lost 3-0 at Glassboro in Group 1 semifinals
2020 – No season
2021 (20-4, GMC Blue Division Champs):
Reached GMC Tournament Quarterfinals
Beat Pt. Pleasant Beach 2-1 for the Central Jersey Group 1 title
Currently in Group 1 Finals vs. New Providence
Until 1959, champions were declared in each section by the NJSIAA. But until 1971, the playoffs ended at sectional titles. Starting in ’71, teams played down to group champions (much like what the NJSIAA membership decided officially last week to do in football).
Middlesex and New Providence have met twice before in the state final, splitting the pair. The Blue Jays won in 1990, but the Pioneers returned the favor eight years later.
1965: Won Central Jersey Group 2
1982: Lost to Emerson in Group 1 final
1990: Beat New Providence in Group 1 final
1998: Lost to New Providence in Group 1 final
2007: Beat Hoboken in Group 1 final
2013: Beat Pompton Lakes in Group 1 final
2015: Lost to Emerson in Group 1 final
2017: Beat Emerson in Group 1 final
2018: Beat Park Ridge in Group 1 final
2019: Playing New Providence in Group 1 final
*Middlesex is 5-3 all-time in Group finals (all Group 1)
1970: Won North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1
1975: Lost to Audubon in Group 2 final
1976: Beat Hightstown in Group 2 final
1990: Lost to Middlesex in Group 1 final
1998: Beat Middlesex in Group 1 final
2004: Lost to New Milford in Group 1 final
*New Providence is 2-3 all-time in Group finals (1-1 in Group 2, 1-2 in Group 1)
Middlesex is one of 23 schools that have won back-to-back group titles. A win against New Providence would give them three in four seasons. No school has ever won more than three straight; the five that have won three in a row are Audubon (1994-96), Cherry Hill West (1989-91), Gloucester Catholic (1984-86), Hamilton East (Steinert) (1998-2000) and Seton Hall Prep (2005-07).
FIRST TIME, LONG TIME:
Head-to-head, the last time the teams met was in 2014, with Middlesex winning a regular season game 6-5. That was the last year Mike O’Donnell was the head coach.