Thomas Napoli had no idea how his tender left hamstring was about to respond, but the Delbarton senior was willing to push it to the limit in order to find out.
For the last two weeks, Napoli has been nursing the injury he suffered during practice but had really not tested its reaction going full speed. As he peeled out of the batter’s box, sensing his ground ball in the bottom of the sixth may have given Hanover Park the escape it was seeking to get out of a jam with minimal damage, all the designated hitter begged of it was to hold together for 90 feet.
“I knew right off the bat it was going to be a double-play situation,” the Delbarton senior designated hitter said of his roller to shortstop. “I was going 100 percent, but I was worried it was going to go.”
Napoli displayed the grit necessary to beat the relay to first by a step, enabling Kevin Kennedy to score the go-ahead run. Junior right-hander John Masella repaid the inspiring hustle by closing out matters in the top of the seventh to punctuate a sterling one-hit performance that lifted top-seeded Delbarton to a 2-1 triumph over 14th-seeded Hanover Park on Saturday night for the Morris County Tournament championship at Horseshoe Lake Park in Succasunna.
It marked the first MCT title for the Green Wave (16-6) since 2008 and it came with some high drama in the last half of the sixth.
Trailing, 1-0, Delbarton got the spark it was looking for from junior right-fielder Eric Fajardo, who worked the count full against Hanover Park starter Rick LaSalvia before drawing a leaoff walk. Kennedy, who finished 2-for-2, did the same and, with one out, Dennis Bencsko singled to load the bases for Andrew Christie.
The senior catcher rocked a 1-0 offering to deep left for an RBI single to knot the game at 1-1.
“The first thought in my mind when I hit it was it was good enough for a sac fly,” said Christie, whose father, Governor Chris Christie, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his son. “Three steps out of the box, I looked up to find it and I saw the left fielder with his head down going back.”
Kennedy held up for just an instant and advanced only to third before scoring on Napoli’s fielder’s choice to snap the deadlock.
Masella, who was the recipient of the Brian Fleury Memorial MVP of the tournament after pitching his second straight one-hitter in the event, did so without getting the strikes he has grown accustomed to off his breaking ball on the outside corner. Yet, he refused to stray from the pitching approach that earned him the championship start.
“I was trying to put it on the black early in the game,” said Masella, who struck out five and walked a pair. “I wasn’t getting it and it got into my head a little bit in the fourth, but once I got by that, I kept throwing strikes, putting it in the zone and letting the other hitters hit it. I try to never leave pitches right over the middle. I’d rather have pitches just miss than to give up big hits. Luckily, that worked out for me at the end of the game.”
Masella retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, including a string of 10, to wrap up the decision.
Masella had no other choice than to be razor sharp considering the job turned in by Hanoer Park’s Rick LaSalvia, who went the distance on a four-hitter with a strikeout and five walks.
“I think he pitched a gem of a game,” Hanover Park coach Dave Minsavage said. “Both pitchers were lights out. Hats off to their pitcher. Back-to-back one-hitters…that’s incredible at this level against these teams.”
Hanover Park (13-8-1) handed LaSalvia a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Matt Facas singled for what turned out tl, took second on a sacrifice and third on a grounder before racing home on a wild pitch. And, the Hornets got the defensive highlight of the game from center fielder Vin Aulisi, who ranged into the right-centerfield gap to make a diving grab off a blast from Jon Ramirez.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner