RED BANK - Junior Sean Griggs can beat you in many ways, whether with his bat and his .404 average or lock-down play at third base. He can be a game-changer on any given day.
On Saturday at Count Basie Field in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A final, Griggs' legs and quick thinking made the difference in Red Bank Catholic's 4-1 win over St. Joseph (Met.).
With the score tied at one entering the bottom of the sixth, Griggs led off the inning with a hard line-drive single to centerfield, igniting a three-run Caseys' rally. Senior first baseman Frankie Scrivanic followed with a perfectly placed bunt down the third base line and beat the throw to first for a base hit, putting runners at first and second with no outs.
Sophomore Dylan Passo loaded the bases with a sharp single through the 5-6 hole with one out to set the stage for Griggs' heroics.
With Brunner now up, Falcons pitcher Jimmy Mulvanney's pitch was mishandled by catcher Mark Gialluisi for a passed ball. As the ball careened off the backstop, Griggs decided to take off and try to score. Gialluisi retrieved the ball and tossed it to Mulvaney, who was covering, but Griggs' head-first slide beat the tag by milliseconds giving the Caseys a 2-1 lead.
"So much was going through my head," said Griggs reflecting on the play. "I saw the ball go past him (Gialluisi), but it was hard to see because it went right behind his body. Once I saw the ball get past him, I just had to bust everything I had and beat the pitcher to get my hand into home plate and get my team into position to take the lead."
"I knew Alex (Stanyek) was going to go out there and pitch his best with the few pitches he had left and we had good bullpen coming in," added Griggs. "So, the play really sparked the team and got us energized and we were ready to get three outs and dog pile on home plate after that."
Head coach Buddy Hausmann, the starting pitcher the last time the Caseys (24-5) won a sectional title in 1997, said Griggs went on his own accord.
"I really didn't see it either," said Hausmann, who was in the third base coaches box. "He (Griggs) saw it better than me, and I didn't see it kick away, and I lost it."
The Caseys, ranked No. 1 in the state, tacked on another two runs in the inning on an RBI sacrifice fly by Matt Brunner (more on him later) and an RBI single by Branden Kopec.
Stanyek started on the mound for RBC and was sensational. He battled through some early-inning trouble before becoming unhittable down the stretch. After giving up a run in the first inning on a double by Robbie Carvelli and an RBI single to Matt Kosuda, he shut the door tight on the Falcons.
The hard-throwing righty came out for the top of the seventh and retired Joseph Zammitti on a grounder to second before reaching his pitch limit of 111 pitches. However, he easily could've finished the game if there was no limit on the number of pitches he was allowed to throw.
Stanyek's final line was: 6 1/3 innings pitched, one run, three hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts. After the rocky first inning, he allowed no runs, one hit, one walk and struck out seven in a dominant performance.
"He's a dog," said Griggs of Stanyek. "He'll put his body on the line for us every single game giving everything he's got. We know if we get one or two runs we're in a good position to win the game with him on the mound."
With the game still tied at one in the top of the sixth inning, Josiah Brown led off the inning with a scorching line drive to deep center field that had inside-the-park homer written all over it. However, Casey's centerfielder Brunner tracked the ball down and laid out fully extended to make a spectacular diving grab to possibly save a run. The catch is worthy of an ESPN Top 10 highlight, without a doubt.
"Oh my goodness," said Brunner when asked to describe his catch. "Before the inning even started I said to the team, 'no fly zone, no fly zone.' So, I had to do what I said. Alex pitched a heck of a game, so I had to do what I had to do to make the play."
Hausmann wasn't surprised to see Brunner make a catch like that.
"That was a tremendous play, that was the second time he's done that this year," Hausmann said of Brunner's acrobatic catch. "That ball was well hit and could've been an inside the parker if it got past him. He's done it all year defensively manning the outfield."
Mulvaney had the Red Bank Catholic baffled with his sidearm delivery early on, retiring the first eight batters he faced until sophomore shortstop Max Dantoni beat out an infield hit with two outs in the bottom of the third. Mulvaney then got Stanyek on a tapper in front of the plate for the third out.
In the fourth, Mulvaney gave up a two-out line-drive single to senior catcher Shane Andrus that ricocheted off Brown's glove before striking out Passo to end the inning.
"We were having trouble with him, we're used to hard throwing over the top guys coming in straight 90 miles an hour," said Stanyek of Mulvaney's sidearm delivery. "It's not something you see every day. It was tough to pick up with a lot of movement and it just came down to putting it in play."
Red Bank Catholic scored an unearned run off Mulvaney in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game at 1-1. Brunner was hit by a pitch leading off and was sacrificed to second on a pretty bunt by Kopel. Brunner eventually came home on a one-out error by the shortstop, who threw the ball away.
The Caseys knocked Mulvaney out of the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and was relieved by Ethan Marzo, who gave up a run-scoring single to the only batter he faced.
In 6 2/3 innings of work, Mulvaney allowed four runs (two earned), six hits and two strikeouts on 76 pitches.
Saturday's win was Red Bank Catholic's first sectional championship since 1997, which almost seems impossible to fathom. In 2021, the Caseys lost a heart-breaking 6-5, 10-inning game to St. Augustine in the sectional final. Red Bank Catholic, however, got revenge in this year's sectional semifinal when they defeated St. Augustine 8-1, ending the reign of the six-time defending NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A champion Hermits.
Then last season, as the No. 3 seed, they lost to sixth-seeded CBA in the quarterfinals. You could say the Caseys were overdue.
"This means a lot to coach Hausmann and to all the coaches," said Griggs. "And it especially means a lot to all the seniors. We definitely didn't want them walking out of here without a state championship."
Red Bank Catholic will now meet defending Non-Public A state champion Don Bosco Prep (26-5) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Bob DeMeo Field in Veterans Park, Hamilton Township, in the Non-Public A championship game.
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