On a day when Rutgers Prep and St. Joseph of Metuchen played separately for state titles, and it was a former Falcon who figured decisively in a defeat for the Argonauts.
Xavier Arana – who transferred after last year from St. Joe’s to St. Mary of Rutherford – scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh and got the win in relief for the top-seeded Gaels in a 4-3 walk-off win over third-seed Rutgers Prep in Saturday’s Non-Public North B title game up in Bergen County.
St. Mary (20-9) will go on to face the winner of Saturday’s South B title game between second-seed and defending champ Ranney and top-seed Gloucester Catholic.
Right from the get-go tensions were high, with both benches highly vocal in a back-and-forth affair throughout.
Rutgers Prep head coach Larry Santowasso started with his sophomore ace Zach Fronio, who’s committed to Maryland, and he cruised through the first three innings, only allowing two baserunners, striking out five. It was the fourth inning that started to give Fronio trouble. He allowed three consecutive singles, including an RBI single from St. Mary’s catcher Kyle Watson that put the Gaels out in front 1-0.
Gaels starter Blayze Conte was also cruising along in the game, allowing just one hit and a walk through four innings. It was in the fifth inning that Conte got himself into trouble, allowing back-to-back singles to Max Treonze and Nick Pizzie, walking James Jackman to load the bases, and then a 2 RBI double for shortstop Cody Rullo.
With still two outs in the inning, Gaels Head Coach Nigel Archibald kept Conte on the mound to try and get the final out. But Rutgers Prep freshman catcher Ethan Nepomuceno hit a double of his own, scoring Rullo and giving Rutgers Prep a 3-1 lead in the top of the fourth. That’s where Conte’s day ended, and Archibald put in relief pitcher David Anderson to get the final out. Anderson got Zach Fronio to ground out to shortstop to stop the bleeding for the Gaels.
Conte ended up with a no-decision, went 4 2/3 innings, gave up three runs on five hits, struck out four, and walked two.
With the Gaels down two going into the bottom of the fifth, they knew they had to start a rally. They did just that, with the nine-hole hitter Arana roping a single to right field to get the ball rolling for St. Mary. Leadoff hitter Tyler Giordano legged out an infield single allowing Arana to advance to second. The Gaels had runners on first and second with one out, when Fronio struck out Jason Rosado for the second out, but the Gaels didn’t give up. Blayze Conte hit a single to center to load the bases, and third baseman Jacob Herrera hit a two-run single to center to tie the game at three apiece.
It was crunch time. A game tied at three with two innings left. The Gaels took out pitcher David Anderson – who recorded one out in the fourth – and put in the lefty Arana.
Fast forward to the top of the seventh inning. With Arana still on the mound, he worked a 1-2-3 inning, retiring Rutgers Prep to go to the bottom of the seventh tied at three. Santowasso pulled pitcher Fronio – who had reached over 100 pitches – and put in Li Perez for the seventh.
But the Gaels wasted no time getting runners on base. Arana again led off the inning, and this time was hit by a pitch. Perez then walked Tyler Giordano to put runners on first and second with nobody out. The stage was set for St. Mary’s second baseman Jason Rosado, who walked off the Argonauts, sending a ball into shallow left-center field which scored Arana from second for the 4-3 final.
Fronio finished the day with six innings pitched, giving up 3 runs on eight hits. He struck out 12 and walked one. Perez, who didn’t record an out, took the loss.
Arana earned the win for St. Mary with two innings of relief, allowing just two hits and striking out one.
Click below for postgame reaction sponsored by Sportsplex at Metuchen: