It was the New Orleans Boosters’ ability to respond on Thursday that proved to be critical in the club’s 8-4 victory over the New Brunswick Matrix at Sargent’s Stadium at The Point.
When New Brunswick put across two runs in the first to tie the game at 2, New Orleans regained the lead with a run in the second.
Up 4-2 in the fifth, New Orleans surrendered a run in the fifth, before getting it back in the sixth. Three runs in the seventh – sparked by Gregory Thompson’s two-RBI single to center helped the Boosters seal the victory in their quarterfinal game of the 75th AAABA Tournament.
The reward for New Orleans is Buffalo Royal Printing, which hammered New York 12-2 in seven innings in another quarterfinal on Thursday.
“It’s always huge when they put up runs and (we) come right back and put runs up,” New Orleans manager Darrin Dares said. “But I was especially proud of (starting pitcher) Michael Romano. He didn’t have his best stuff today. He got in a couple jams. But he gutted his way through.
“We did enough offensively to get us to where we need to be, but we gotta keep working hard at the plate.”
And about that rematch from Tuesday against Royal Printing?
“When you get to this part of any tournament, you’re going to be fighting somebody that can really play,” Dares said. “We just keep doing our best. Keep battling … We’ll have to come out and match their competitiveness.”
The loss halts New Brunswick’s run in the tournament, a day after the franchise suffered its first loss in pool play, since the AAABA adopted the format in 2016.
“I think, personally, that we did a lot of damage to ourselves defensively,” Matrix manager Glenn Fredricks said.
“The pitching was there. Did we make some mistakes? Yes. But the mistakes that we made prior to some of the pitches that were hit were self-inflicted damage.”
The Boosters opened up with a pair of runs in the first, with a run-scoring groundout by Grant Schulz and Brayden Jobert coming home when a Ross Scelfo single was misplayed in center.
The Matrix battled back, getting runs when Kyle Forcini scored on a passed ball a pitch before Kyle Marzano singled and scored on a three-base error when the ball hopped past Jonah Manuel in right.
The two-run edge was restored as New Orleans nibbled out single runs in the second and third innings, with Michael Stutes doubling in Branyan Bounds in the second; and Schulz scoring on a Scelfo groundout in the third.
“I felt that was really big (to reply),” Thompson said.
“Because we had something that I did and that our right fielder did that just gave them two runs, and it was very important to get those two runs back.”
New Brunswick cut into the lead in the fifth when Tavis Brunson’s groundout plated Aaron McLaughlin.
Again, it was New Orleans’ responding to a New Brunswick tally that kept the Boosters on top.
Scelfo was plunked by reliever Brent Francisco before scoring two batters later on Manuel’s triple to deep center.
New Brunswick poised to put together a reply of its own in the bottom of the sixth as Kyle Richards singled with one gone in the frame. Richards seemingly took second when Frank LoGuidice dropped a bunt down the third-base line and beat out a throw to first.
The Matrix had runners standing on first and second for a brief time until home-plate umpire Bill Bruce ruled that LoGuidice had stepped out of the batter’s box, meaning that he was out and that Richards had to return to first.
A discussion between Bruce and Fredricks eventually led to Fredricks’ ejection.
New Brunswick’s potential rally in the sixth was snuffed out when Daniel Helfgott grounded out to third with runners at the corners.
“We know they’re going to play well,” Dares said of New Brunswick.
“That game was a lot closer than the score ... The big call on the box and the bunt changed the whole complexion of the game. We got a break.
“That’s baseball. I’ll take it, because we’ve lost some breaks, too in that manner.”
Schulz singled in Stutes in the top of the seventh and scored three batters later – along with Brandon Duhon – on Thompson’s single up the middle.
Richards singled and later scored in the Matrix eighth to set the final.
Marzano and Richards each had two hits for New Brunswick, which used five pitchers on the day.
Francisco fanned four while working the sixth and seventh innings.
“We always expect to play with tons of heart and tons of grit,” Fredricks said.
“That’s what Jersey baseball is all about.
Obviously, somebody’s got to score more runs than somebody else … But our kids are never going to quit.
“They’re never going to lay down and just give up."