LINCROFT – Brookdale baseball has a history of producing power hitting teams that outslug their opponents more often than not. To put it bluntly, Brookdale baseball is a hitting machine.
This year’s teams’ numbers are off the chart. Brookdale boasts a .334 team batting average, .454 on-base percentage, .522 slugging percentage and an eye-popping .976 OPS.
And yesterday’s doubleheader sweep over Atlantic Cape in the first round of the NJCAA Region XIX DIII playoffs was as good as an example as you can get.
In game two’s 12-9 come from behind victory, Brookdale trailed 9-7 entering the bottom of the eighth after relinquishing a 7-5 lead in the top of the seventh. However, undeterred, the Jersey Blues exploded for five runs in the bottom of the eighth and held on for a rousing 12-9 come from behind victory.
With the sweep of the best of three series, Brookdale advances to the NJCAA Region XIX DIII final four tournament next week in Gloucester.
The big blow was a dramatic two-out, three-run blast in the bottom half of the eighth by sophomore catcher Darius Troche that easily cleared the left-centerfield fence and broke a 9-9 tie that gave the Blues the lead for good.
Troche’s blast was his sixth homer of the season and definitely one of the most memorable of his career.
“Yea man, I don’t know, that was something,” Troche said after the game while still trying to process what had just happened. “Without a doubt that was one of the biggest hits of my life. That one goes up there with my walk-offs in high school but this one is my favorite one for sure.”
Troche said he and his teammates never lost confidence after Atlantic Cape scored four in the top seventh to take a 9-7 lead.
“I’m the catcher and leader of the team and I try to keep everyone positive,” Troche said. “One hundred percent we thought we would come back. Brookdale’s always been a hitting team every year and this team can really hit too. The main thing is staying together and keep fighting for a win.
“I knew I was going to get pitched around, I was kind of swinging and missing on that off-speed stuff,” Troche said of his big at bat. “I knew something low and away was coming and I got my front foot down and was able to hit over the fence.”
Brookdale head coach Johnny Johnson wasn’t surprised by Troche’s late-game heroics; he’s come to expect it.
“He’s been clutch for us all year long,” said Johnson. “He had that operation last year but now he’s full strength and catching every inning and he was getting tired too.”
Entering the bottom of the eighth trailing by two, Brookdale had its work cut out for themselves just to get Trouche in position to win it.
Sophomore centerfielder Christian Bauman got things started with a lead-off walk. Freshman pinch hitter William Wentz then drew a one-walk putting runners at first and second with the top of the order coming up. Nick Lovarco then chopped an RBI single past the diving shortstop to pull Brookdale to within one, 9-8. It was Lovaro’s fourth hit of the game that included a sixth inning home run that put the Blues up 7-5 at the time.
Montclair University commit Marcus Johnson, who leads the team in batting average (.452), home runs (11) and RBI (53) was held hitless in the game after going 3-for-4 with a triple and two RBI in game one, popped out to the third baseman for the second out. However, sophomore shortstop Joe Lomangino answered with a two-out line-drive RBI single into right field scoring Wentz to knot the score at 9-9 giving Brookdale a little breathing room.
“I got down in the count,” Lomangino said of his clutch hit. “I was looking for a curve ball, I got it, and I just did my job. We all did our jobs today and that’s why we ended up on top. Lomangino also had a big two-run double in the first inning that gave the Blues a quick 2-0 lead.
“A little bit,” Troche said when asked if Lomangino’s game-tying hit took some pressure off him. “Joe’s been doing the job in front of me for the whole season.”
Johnson had confidence that Lomangino would come through after seeing him produce clutch hits during the course of the year.
“That was big right there,” Johnson said. "We were trying all week long to get him to hit that way (into right field) and he stepped up and did the job with an 0-2 count.”
Sophomore righty Ryan Lasko, who recently committed to Ramapo College, was the starter and battled through 5 2/3 innings of six-hit ball giving up five runs (three earned runs), four walks while striking out six. Lasko, 5-2 on the year with a 2.88 ERA struggled throughout to get into rhythm but never quite got there.
He turned the game over to lefty Robert Salvatore with a 6-3 lead with two outs and men on first and third. Salvatore then gave up an RBI single and an error allowed another run to score before getting out of the inning.
It didn’t get any better for Salvatore in the top of the seventh when the Buccaneers scored four runs to take a 9-7 lead. Freshman Ryan Cole relieved Salvatore after he gave up two singles but didn’t fare much better allowing a single and double before getting out of the inning with his second strikeout.
“They got hit hard today but we always have their backs,” Lomangino said of his pitchers. “They carry us through most games when we need them, and they got great heart.”
Cole settled down and closed out the game in the top of the ninth to get the win but not before walking two batter to make it interesting.
“Ryan came in and struggled at first but settled in,” Troche said. “His curve ball started coming in for strikes and he finished the game for us. Ryan (Lasko) is a bulldog for us, he can go the distance every game. Today he didn’t have his best stuff and we put him on our backs.”
Senior DH/1B John Wade had a two-run homer, his fifth of the year, in the bottom of the third to give Brookdale a 5-2 lead.
“I think heading into the playoffs we’re at our best right now,” Troche said. “We’re all brothers to each other and have a lot of confidence - I feel bad for the next team we’re playing.”
In game one, Brookdale topped Atlantic Cape 10-2 in seven innings after scoring five runs in the bottom of the seventh. Sophomore lefty Brendan Williams picked up his ninth win of the season against only one loss, going the distance allowing two runs (one earned run), six hits and six strikeouts without issuing a walk.
Along with Johnson’s three hit game, Lovarco went 2-for-3 with a home run, his first of two on the day, and a double and Ryan Cole added his third homer of the season.
Brookdale (33-14), ranked 10th in NJCAA DIII competition, will now face No.1 Gloucester (46-5) in game one of the double-elimination round robin tournament. Top-seeded Gloucester had a bye in the first round while Brookdale is seeded fourth.
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