MADISON, NJ – Baseball is usually a team game, but on Wednesday afternoon at Madison High School two of the Dodger’s most talented players showcased their individual skills to lift their club to their third playoff win in two years.
Senior first baseman Joe Grato hit a deep solo home to left in the top of the first inning to score the only run of the game and senior ace pitcher Michael Wallace threw a complete game shutout, while allowing only three hits as Madison won a 1-0 pitching duel against Parsippany High School in the first round of the NJSIAA north 2, group 2 sectional tournament.
“We saw a good game. Drawing Parsippany… they’ve been playing good baseball. If we didn’t take them seriously, (Wallace) would not have pitched as well as he did today. Fortunately, we did,” Madison Head Coach Mickey Ennis said.
Although Parsippany was the 16th ranked seed going up against the top ranked Dodger’s, they had won three of their last four games and had their best pitcher in Anthony Paterno on the mound.
Madison knew that coming in and was able to put forth one of their best efforts of the season to knock off a very underrated lower seed for the second time this year. They defeated one of their county rivals 4-2 on opening day.
The offense only put together five hits, but they reached base a total of eight times and if not for some stellar plays by the Parsippany defense to take away would be extra base hits and two throw outs on steal attempts, the home team could have added to their one run lead in the latter innings.
“We were disappointed that we only scored one run, but… nothing wrong with that. They made plays. We hit the ball hard. It was a terrific defensive game,” Ennis commented.
The play of the game came in the top of the first inning with Grato at bat facing a one, one count against Paterno. He came back with a curveball on the third pitch of the at bat and caught too much of the plate.
Grato made him pay by launching a solo shot to deep left field about four fence lengths within fair territory to put Madison on the board early.
“Apparently, that was the deciding run of the game. I was happy. I just got a curveball and I was able to sit on it. I knew I got a lot of it and it just kept carrying,” Grato said of his home run. “It got us up early and we didn’t look back from that,” he added.
And that ended up being the only run support that Wallace needed the rest of the way through.
The first man in the Madison rotation, who now boasts and 8-1 record, was nearly flawless on the mound as he mixed in his fastball, curveball and changeup to keep the Parsippany batters off balance all afternoon.
“I was keeping the ball down low, working my two-seam in. My fastball had a little bit more jump on it today than it has in the past. That, mixed with a good curveball that I was throwing for strikes, helped me out a lot,” Wallace said of his performance.
“We knew it was going to be a low scoring game. Parsippany had been playing really well as of late. We knew that runs weren’t going to come very easily,” he added.
The veteran ran into a little trouble in the top of seventh trying to close out the game, but Wallace and the fielders behind him showed why they are one of the best teams in Morris County when it mattered most.
Kyle Jones got things started for Parsippany with a single to left and a sacrifice bunt got him over to second as they away team had a runner in scoring position for the first time all game.
With one out, Wallace earned a huge strikeout, his fifth of the game, when he caught Nick Leitner looking at a called strike three.
Wallace had Tyler Pirylis in an 0-2 hole looking to put an end to his complete game, but threw a wild pitch that got past catcher Sean Bradley advancing Jones to third.
He got what he wanted on his next pitch as Pirylis hit a groundball to short that was fielded perfectly by John Costa and thrown over to Grato at first for the final out of the game.
“The seventh, I’ve always thought is the hardest inning to pitch; especially when you have a lead as simple as 1-0,” Wallace said.
“You got to try to keep everybody off base and that’s the ideal situation. When (Pirylis) got a single, that wasn’t really what I wanted, but at the same time I knew I had my fielders behind me. I’m glad we got out of it,” he added.
The Madison defense that Wallace was referring to not only made plays in the last inning, but throughout the rest of the game as well.
Costa and second baseman Joey Geyer combined to make two double play outs through the first two innngs.
A key play came in the top of fifth with two outs when Geyer made an excellent stop in the hole and threw out Ryan Ruggiero on a nice scoop catch by Grato over at first.
“I’m very happy particularly the way we played defense today. We took double plays. We’re battle tested and I believe when you’re tested like that this stuff kind of comes naturally. They’ve been through this,” Ennis told The Alternative Press.
With the win, Madison not only improves to a very impressive 18-7 record thus far on the year, but as every player and Coach Ennis is happy about; they get to play another game in their season.
That will take place against eight seeded Hanover Park High School this Friday at Madison High School at a time to be announced. Madison defeated Hanover Park 5-1 earlier this season.