Photo Credit: Mike Ready

Pascack Hills Giordano Outduels Rumson's Hinchliffe In Group II Championship Game

HAMILTON – Two future University of Richmond teammates, Pascack Hills Joey Girordano and Rumson-Fair Haven’s Jackson Hinchliffe were locked into a scoreless pitching duel for five and a half innings in Saturday's NJSIAA Groupo II championship game at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township.

Pascack Hills eventually broke through on Hinchliffe in the bottom of the sixth inning scoring a solo run that was the difference in the Broncos 1-0 victory over Rumson handing Pascack Hills its fifth state title in program history and first since they went back-to-back in 2018 and 2019.

Giordano set the side down in order in the top of the seventh inning striking out the final two batters of the game to put an exclamation point on the masterpiece he carved out Saturday morning.

The crafty 5-foot-9 lefty threw 98 pitches in seven innings of work without allowing a run while giving up just three hits, walking three and striking out eight running his record to 4-1 on the year. It was Giordano’s fourth complete-game effort of the season lowering his ERA to 1.60 in 57 innings pitched.

“The plan going into the game was to work them backwards,” Giordano said, the junior University of Richmond commit. “They’re a fastball hitting team that likes to jump on the first pitch according to the scouting report. So, we just had to work backwards with a lot of off-speed stuff on fastball counts and keep it unpredictable.

Similar to Rumson, the Broncos’ strength as a team is in its pitching staff and Saturday’s game was just another example of that.

“Our pitching was everything this year,” Giordano said. “We had good bats too, but our pitching just overpowered everyone.”

Leading up to the game, head coach Nick Evans had three super options to send to the mound Saturday in Giordano (4-1, 50 IP, 1.82 ERA, 65 K, 17 BB), senior Sean Busanic (10-1, 56.2 IP, 1.11 ERA, 90 K, 21 BB) and freshman Kyle Wenckus (5-1, 39.1 IP, 1.25 ERA, 50 K, 18 BB). He obviously made the right decision on who to start but he couldn’t have gone wrong with either one of them.

Giordano allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in each of the first four innings but worked his way around it in each instance.

In the top of the first inning, he walked sophomore Parker Shenman to lead off the game. Shenman then stole second base and advanced to third on deep fly ball to right-centerfield by junior left fielder Jack Riva for the second out of the inning. He then got cleanup batter Owen Kenny on a foul pop to first baseman Joey Belcolle for the third out leaving Shenman stranded at third base.

Giordano walked the leadoff batter in the top of the second but retired the next three batters in order. Then in the third he gave up a long leadoff-double by number nine batter Griffin Shenman, who advanced to third on a one out fly ball to right field by senior shortstop Reece Moroney. Shenman was stranded at third after Giordano got Riva on a harmless pop out to the shortstop.

Kenny led off the top of the fourth with a single to center but following a strikeout and fly ball to right for the second out, pinch runner Gavin Kiley was thrown out stealing to retire the side.

“I just had to stay locked in, stay plugged in to everything,” Giordano said of his knack for working out of jams. “I don’t worry about anything else, what anyone is saying. They were chirping a lot, but I just had to stay focused.”

The Bulldogs had a shot to take the lead in the top of the sixth but came up empty.  Parker Shenman led off with a soft liner to right-center for a base hit, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Giordano then struck out the next two batters before walking Kenny, who promptly stole second putting runners in scoring position on second and third with two outs. Giordano, however, got out of it initiating a harmless tapper in front of the plate by Brayden Dill that Musco easily delivered to first for the third out.

“I just thew him fastballs trying to throw it by him,” Giordano said of Dill’s crucial at bat. “It was a big out and felt 100 percent the game was ours after that.”

Meanwhile, Hinchliffe, who threw 83 pitches in six innings while allowing one run, six hits and seven strikeouts without walking a batter, was matching Giordano’s zeros on the scoreboard. He allowed one base runner in each of the first three innings but none of them got past second base.

“He wanted this game and fought for it,” Rumson head coach Owen Stewart said. “He’s a great pitcher. It’s a tough luck loss for him, he pitched great.”

Hinchliffe then retired the side in order in both the fourth and fifth innings and appeared to be getting stronger as the game went on before running into trouble in the bottom of the sixth after getting Wenckus on a groundout leading off the inning.

Giordano, who went 2-for-3 with a double and run scored at the plate, then helped his own cause by slapping a single into short left field. Senior catcher Dominick Musco then lined a single into left center putting runners on first and third with one out.

A controversial hit batter call loaded the bases, but Hinchliffe got junior shortstop Matt Tortora to foul out to the catcher for the second out before senior left fielder Sean Busanic blooped an RBI single into short left field for the winning run.

The hit was fair by about two feet at the most before a charging Riva scooped up the ball in left field and fired home to nail Musco at the plate, trying to score a second run, for the third out.

“That was huge, I think it was a fastball,” Giordano said of Busanic’s winning hit. “He poked it the other way and scored a run and that really turned the game around from there. You could see, they weren’t as loud, and it was very deflating to them, and we got rolling.”

Hinchliffe made the pitch he wanted to Busanic but didn’t get the outcome he was looking for.

“That was the pitch I wanted and the spot I wanted, but the outcome just found a hole,” Hinchliffe said. “Ten out of ten times I’ve thrown that same pitch in situations like this.”

Baseball has always been a game of inches and that couldn’t have been more true in Saturday's game.

“He (Hinchliffe) jammed the kid and it landed fair by a foot and a half down there,” Stewart said. “That was the difference in the game; one pitch. One pitch, they did a great job on it so hats off to them.”

Giordano then mowed down the side in order in the top of the seventh in impressive fashion to seal the win for the Broncos.

“He was great, he got us out of our plan pretty early,” Stewart said of Giordano. “He dominated us. We really didn’t square up on many against him. He mixed speeds on us very well.”

Saturday marked Rumson’s first ever appearance in a NJSIAA Group final after making it to the Group II semifinals last year and their hope was to take one step further this season, but it wasn’t to be.

“We all worked so hard as a team to get here,” Hinchliffe added. “Obviously, it's not the outcome we wanted. But we played well all season and deserved to be here. This is something that’s never been done in school history and think we’ve built a great program for years to come.”

Including Hinchliffe, the Bulldogs had seven seniors in the starting lineup Saturday, and they’ll be sorely missed.

“As far as Rumson-Fair Haven baseball I don’t know another group that’s gone through here and played as many games as these guys who have won as many games,” Stewart said. “It’s 66 wins for those guys - 22 each year. They’ve definitely set the bar for the future of the program. They’ve excited baseball fans in this town. What we did on the back of our pitching and defense this year is really incredible. All winter, this was the game we talked about, getting to that group final, and it hurts not finishing the job.”