With his team trailing by five runs against a hot-hitting Johnstown Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors team, Justin Scotto decided to take in the music at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point in the top of the fifth inning.
The New Brunswick Matrix center fielder then made some noise of his own by smashing a home run into the deep right field bleacher section near the batting cage. The solo shot ignited a Maxtrix comeback in a 10-5 win over the host team and put New Brunswick into the championship game of the 76th AAABA Tournament.
“I was just dancing to the music, trying to be loose,” Scotto of the home run on the first pitch of his third at-bat against Paul Carpenter right-hander Rodney Shultz. “Everyone was being loose and when I hit the home run it kind of propelled us. We kept scoring, kept scoring. We just had the energy the rest of the game.”
New Brunswick tallied five runs in the sixth to lead 6-5 and then padded the margin with a four-run eighth inning. Reliever James Schuld got the semifinal win and Joe Carrea tossed the final two innings.
The Matrix (4-1) will face defending tournament champion New Orleans Boosters (5-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Point.
Paul Carpenter (4-1) ended another successful tournament week.
New Orleans will play in its 29th championship game. The Boosters have 16 titles and 12 runner-up finishes. This will be the Boosters’ fourth straight championship game appearance after beating Martella’s Pharmacy in 2019, falling to Martella’s in 2018, and winning against Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors in 2017.
COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 event.
New Brunswick will be in its third AAABA Tournament title game after defeating Cleveland 5-2 in 2012 and falling against New Orleans 9-0 in 2009.
“New Jersey grit, man,” New Brunswick manager Glenn Fredricks said after his team overcame a 5-0 deficit through four innings. “We talk about it all the time. It’s something that you can’t teach. It’s something you either have or you don’t have. This group of guys has it.”
Paul Carpenter walked off in a 5-4 victory over New Brunswick in Monday night’s opener.
This time, Johnstown led 3-0 in the second inning after Jordan Sabol’s two-run double to right field and Billy Perroz’s run-scoring single.
Manager Dave Sheriff’s team made it 5-0 in the fourth. Perroz had a run-scoring double, and Joe Olsavsky singled in a run.
“We hit the ball and came out on fire, putting the five-spot on them,” Sheriff said. “Then, in the fifth inning, we kind of lost focus. Having a pick-up pitcher on the mound, things kind of got away from him quicker than we anticipated to actually get him out and get a new guy in.
“We just lost focus. We gave up a five-run inning and a four-run inning. Two bad innings.”
Johnstown starter Rodney Shultz, a pick-up from Smith Transport who recently was part of Tyrone Area High School’s state championship run, looked strong, striking out eight and walking three in 52/3 innings.
But Shultz gave up the long home run to Scotto with two outs in the fifth inning and was charged with five runs in the sixth.
New Brunswick had five hits and two walks in the pivotal rally.
Fredricks said without the single tally in the fifth, the five-run sixth inning might not have happened.
“I’ve been coming out here 13 years,” Fredricks said. “I’ve seen one ball go over that fence (into the right field bleachers). That’s No. 2. That was the first run.
“That ignited everybody over here.
“The Smith Transport guys did a great job for them all tournament long. That kid (Shultz) on the mound today is pretty good, too. But that was the run that we needed to break it open.
“Everybody else just did their job from there.”
Gianni Marano’s two-run single highlighted the Matrix’s four-run eighth.
Ben Mongelluzzo (11/3 innings) and Michael Klingensmith (2 innings) finished on the mound for Paul Carpenter.
“You can’t ask for a better team, being resilient, fighting, coming back and playing every game until the end,” Sheriff said. “Every series we’ve been in, they fought hard.”
The game ended amid controversy as pinch-hitter Austin Homer’s ground ball near second base rolled into right field after a collision between baserunner Jace Cappellini and second baseman Vin Esposito with two outs and runners on the corners. Interference was called on Johnstown, ending the game.
Initially it appeared as if Sheriff would protest the game, but he said he did not because it was a judgment call.
“The rule is it’s interference on a runner to interfere with a fielder trying to field a ball,” Sheriff said. “But if the ball passes him already, which it did in our eyes, then it’s obstruction on the fielder. He saw it as him not able to make a play and called interference. It’s a judgment call on him if the ball was there or past on.”
Fredricks said his team will relish the underdog role against New Orleans.
“The fact that we made it this far is a blessing in itself,” Fredricks said. “We’re going to come out here and have fun. We know what they’re made of. We’ve played them before. I think we’re 2-5 or 1-5 against them since we’ve been coming out here.
“They’re tough. We know that. We’re pretty tough, too.
“We’re going to give it our best shot. These guys have been doing it all year so I don’t expect anything less (Saturday).”
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.