RUMSON – Top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven broke out the bats Friday afternoon banging out 12 hits and scoring at least one run in each inning to spearhead an 8-3 victory over Spotswood handing them their second straight NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship.
For the pitching-heavy Bulldogs it was a nice change of pace for them. Eleven of their games this season were either won or lost by one run, but on Friday Spotswood never got closer than four runs and Rumson’s lead was never really threatened.
“Our offense has kind of been asleep all year, but they came alive today,” University of Richmond commit Jackson Hinchliffe said, who was the winning pitcher in relief. “If we get pitching and offense nobody’s beating us. So, two more to go.”
The first inning set the tone for the Bulldogs as they jumped on Spotswood starter and losing pitcher Jackson Walsh (8-2) - a Felician University commit - for three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Sophomore centerfielder Parker Shenman, who went 4-for-4 with a triple, double, RBI and two runs scored, got things rolling with a leadoff single to start the rally. Senior shortstop Reece Moroney – a Rhode Island commit - followed with a walk and junior left fielder Jack Riva brought home the game’s first run with a line drive single to left to score Shenman.
With one out, designated hitter Brayden Dill then grounded an RBI single through the 5–6-hole plating Moroney for a 2-0 lead before senior first baseman Spencer Hopson brought home the third run of the inning with an infield single.
“All season long we’ve been waiting for the bats to click,” Shenman said. “This is the way it looks when they do click so it was fun to watch. Leading off I just wanted to get the boys going and we rallied. The opportunity to play with these guys is awesome.”
Rumson’s formula for success this season has primarily been its starting pitching then turning to its deep bullpen late in games. However, on Friday Rumson head coach Owen Stewart had to reach into his bullpen earlier than expected when starter and Rutgers commit John Goodes struggled with his command, walking six batters in 3 1/3 innings while throwing 75 pitches.
Goodes stranded five runners over the first three innings, getting out of a jam in the third on a 6-4-3 double play.
He ran into trouble in the top of the fourth, allowing one run to score before turning the game over to Hinchliffe with one out and runners at first and second. Hinchliffe, normally a starter, struck out the first batter he faced then got All-State shortstop/pitcher and Seton Hall commit Casey Cumiskey – Spotswood’s all-time hit leader – to groundout to short for the final out of the inning.
“The plan was John (Goodes) for seven,” said Stewart when asked if the game plan was to go to Hinchliffe early. “The plan was for our starter to go seven and see what they present as the game went on. When he (Goodes) didn’t have it, having Jackson (Hinchliffe) in our back pocket turned into a luxury.”
Hinchliffe then tossed a 1-2-3 fifth inning, striking out the final two batters he faced.
“Especially with the score where it was,” Stewart said on how long he had planned to go with Hinchliffe. “If the score was tighter, a one-run game, he might’ve stayed in longer. But Owen (O’Toole), Cal (Champeau) and Matty (Bruno) have been doing it for us in one run games all year so it’s not like there’s a lot of hesitation to go to the bullpen.”
Stewart turned the game over to O’Toole, who threw for 2,161 yards and 25 touchdowns last season while leading the Bulldogs to the sectional championship game, in the top of the sixth and the 6-foot-2 righty set the side down on order with a groundout sandwiched between two strikeouts.
Bruno – a George Washington University commit - came in the top of the seventh to close out the game but surrendered a one out, two-run homer to Casey Cumiskey, who went 3-for-4 with a double and a two-run homer and showed why he’s considered one of the elite hitters in the state. Cumiskey entered the game hitting .548 with a homer, 15 doubles, four triples and 32 RBIs. Bruno then struck out two of the next three batters he faced to put the game away.
“Last year we had a really good pen too, and I think they set the standard for this year,” senior starting catcher Owen Kenny said. “So, our pitchers came into the season knowing they had to be ready, and they really stepped up. They all work really quick and make my job easy. They’ve really done a good job this season. Owen (O'Toole) is always the first out of the bullpen and he came in with one out and runners on first and second and got a big strike out – that was huge.”
The Bulldogs scored one run in innings two through six knocking out Walsh, who threw 29 pitches in the first inning alone, after three innings and tagging reliever, Cumiskey for three runs in three innings of relief work.
Riva went 2-for-3 at the plate with two runs scored and an RBI, while Kenney had two hits in four trips to the plate with a run scored and an RBI. Dill added two RBI with a first inning single and a sacrifice fly in the sixth scoring Kenney who had doubled and stole third base.
Another key to Rumson’s success this season has been its sound fundamental play – they play smart baseball doing all the little things correctly and rarely make errors. In the seventh inning Friday, an errant throw from left field after a leadoff single was only their second error in four state playoff games.
“Big time,” Stewart said when asked if he stresses fundamentals. “We focus definitely pitching and defense. Especially with the pitchers we have and the way we defend on the infield and even the outfield those guys really go get it. So, it all has to go from there and it’s helped us win so many one-run games this year.”
After winning the sectional title last season in dramatic fashion with a walk-off in the bottom of the seventh, this year’s team was a little bit more subdued knowing they still had work to do.
“Like we’ve said, after winning last year and then going down to Haddon Heights and having the disappointment where we just weren’t ourselves and didn’t show up, we’ve got bigger goals this year,” Stewart said. “We’ve had that in the back of our minds this entire year and they really want to beat what we did last year.”
Rumson baseball has never won a state group championship, but for them to get that trophy they first must break a pattern they’ve been stuck in all year.
Since their loss to Red Bank Catholic in the second game of the season they’ve followed each of their losses with four wins and then another loss. That pattern has been repeated five times throughout the year and Friday’s win was their fourth win in a row since their tough 2-1 loss to Ranney in the SCT semifinals.
Monday’s game at Hal Lorme Field in Rumson against Seneca (13-13) seems like the perfect time to break the pattern and move on to the final. Seneca was the seeded ninth in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II tournament and won four straight, including a 5-0 win against Haddon Heights, who beat the Bulldogs in last seasons group semifinal, in the championship game to move on.
“It’s been our pattern over the course of the year,” Stewart said. “So, if we want to achieve our goal, we’ve got to break that pattern.”
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