Madison celebrates their North 2, Group 2 sectional title win over Bernards.
Connor Higgins of Madison fires in a strike in the top of the third inning.
John Costa of Madison takes a lead from second base.
Dilan Kluge of Madison takes a lead from first.
Joe Grato of Madison belts a single to right field in the bottom of the bottom of the fourth.
Joe Grato takes a lead from second.
Madison Baseball Team Crowned State Sectional Champs with 5-2 Win Over Bernards
Saturday, June 2, 2012 • 9:19am
MADISON, NJ – Timely hitting and strong pitching has been the story so far for the Madison Dodgers in state sectional play and in the final round against a tough Bernards team that was the case yet again in their most important game of the season thus far.
Senior Cameron Dias had three hits and knocked in three base runners, senior Joe Grato finished with two hits and an RBI and sophomore Gavin Wallace finished with a hit and one run batted in for top seeded Madison (21-7).
They scored three runs in the bottom of the second and two more times in the bottom of the fourth in a 5-2 win over sixth seeded Bernards (21-8) on Friday afternoon at Madison High School to capture the NJSIAA North 2, Group 2 sectional championship for the first time in recent history.
“It feels great. We knew it would be tough. Come playoff time; we knew we’d be able to hang with anyone and just bring our A game,” Grato told The Alternative Press.
“Our plan was to hit it hard and on the ground. We knew we could string a bunch of hits together. We figured coming in, four or five runs would do the job,” he added.
The reason that amount of runs did the job was because of the outstanding pitching from the second man in the Madison rotation in senior Connor Higgins.
He pitched a complete game while allowing just two runs on nine hits and earned six strikeouts.
The battle tested power pitcher seemed to have gotten stronger as the game wore on as he retired the first three Bernard’s batters in the top of the fifth and sixth inning and allowed only one base runner on a single in the seventh before striking out Bernard’s starting pitcher T.J. Locatelli to end the game.
“It’s a dream come true. I never thought this would have happened. Halfway through the season, I said to myself ‘wow, we got a really good chance,’” Higgins said of winning a sectional title.
“The best part about our team is that we play as a team. We find a way to get some runs. I was struggling in the beginning, but I stayed poised. The adrenaline kicked in, in the middle of the game and I was just able to locate my pitches better.”
Higgins did struggle a bit in the top half of opening inning when he gave up three hits and a run; albeit one of those hits was an infield single. With a Bernard’s runner on third, Zack DeLeon hit a sac fly to left to score the first run of the game.
After loading the bases when he hit Locatelli with a wild pitch, he got Matt Dean to fly out to right and end the inning.
Madison had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the first when Grato and Dias each belted a single, but Joey Geyer struck out for out number three as two runners were left stranded on base.
In their next turn at bat, junior shortstop John Costa, batting in the six spot, led off the inning with an infield hit to third base. He advanced to second on a fielder’s choice play and was later knocked in by third baseman Gavin Wallace.
With two outs in the inning, senior centerfielder Dilan Kluge kept the Madison rally alive when he laced a single through the hole. Higgins and Grato then were walked by Locatelli, with the latter scoring Wallace from third.
Dias then had what ended up being the game winning hit when he knocked in Kluge from second on a ball that found its way to the ground in centerfield.
“We didn’t have many big hits. We just had single after single and that’s what seemed to work. That was our goal. Coming into the game, we feel like we didn’t need that big hit; just try our best to manufacture runs,” Wallace commented.
The top of the third saw Higgins retire the first Bernard’s batter, but then Doug DeMarrais reached on a soft grounded to short that was misplayed by Costa. He gave up a single next, but then caught Locatelli looking at strike three and caught a lucky break when Matt Dean hit a sharp ball toward first that hit DeLeon, who was leading off base, to get out of the jam.
Bernards was threatening again in the top half of the fourth as John Maddaluna hit a one out RBI double to deep center to score Joe Carle from third.
Remarkably, Higgins once again remained composed and got Bernards’ Duncan Salek to fly out to left before striking out DeMarrais to preserve the one run Madison lead at 3-2.
“He’s just a bulldog. He just has another level. He just kicks it up a notch when he needs to. That’s a sign of a special kid, a special player and certainly a special pitcher,” Madison Head Coach Mickey Ennis said of Higgins.
The Madison offense was able to add some insurance runs in their turn at bat in the fourth.
A couple of singles and a hit batsman brought Dias up to the plate for the third time in the contest; this time with the bases juiced. He bounced a soft grounder to second as it appeared Bernard’s was going to turn a double play.
However, Carle, playing short, could not handle a seemingly easy throw for the force out at second. That allowed Daniyal Chaudhary and Kluge to reach home as Madison increased their lead to three.
With the win, Madison advances to the group 2 semi-finals for the first time in Coach Ennis’ three year career at the high school.
“Now we find that our season isn’t over. I guess we keep playing,” Ennis joked. “We’re classified as state champions right now, but I guess they get four more teams to play two more games.”
One of those games will see Madison play Mahwah High School (22-6), winners of the North 1, Group 2 sectionals, at William Patterson College on Tuesday, June 5 at a time to be announced.