By Dominick Savino | North Jersey Eagles
In the lead-up to Tuesday night’s doubleheader against the Jersey Pilots, the post-season outlook for the North Jersey Eagles had swiftly turned grim.
The offense had sputtered, producing less than two runs per game over a seven-game stretch that saw the Eagles drop six of those contests.
The pitching staff did its best to keep the ballclub within striking distance in each matchup, maintaining an ERA near 4.00 during that span of games.
Even so, the fatigue caused by 14 games in the final 13 days of the ACBL season had begun to show, as the number of exhausted or frustrated Eagles increased with each passing day.
Yet, after 14 innings of baseball and two come-from-behind victories on a sweltering Tuesday night, none of that seems to matter anymore.
The Eagles swept both ends of a doubleheader against the Pilots at Overpeck Park, clinching a 6-3 victory in Game 1 with a 5-run 5th inning and scoring four runs in the final two frames of Game 2 to win 5-4 in walk-off fashion.
By locking down the dramatic victories, North Jersey (16-20) regains a tenuous foothold in the ACBL Wild Card race, moving to 1.5 games behind Trenton and 2.5 games behind South Jersey in the three-team hunt for the final playoff spot.
The beginning of Game 1 followed the script of many frustrating Eagles defeats this season, as an error by starter Dan Rajkowski allowed David Young to score and give the Pilots an early 1-0 lead.
However, just a half-inning later, Paul Rufo erased the deficit with one swing, walloping the second pitch he saw over the left-field fence for a leadoff homerun.
With the game tied, Rajkowski and Pilots starter Nick Pedalino traded zero after zero, as no runner advanced past first for either squad.
That is, until the bottom of the 5th inning, when the Eagles’ dormant offense suddenly came alive.
North Jersey lit up a tiring Nick Pedalino for six straight hits, including a double by Matt Krupa to start the rally and another 2-RBI two-bagger by Paul Rufo. Matt Stalter, Andrew Murnane, and Tolly Filotei each added a single, a run scored, and a stolen base in the rally, giving the Eagles a momentum-shifting 6-1 lead.
With three outs left before their playoff hopes mathematically expired, the Pilots attempted to piece together a big inning of their own in the 7th, using doubles by Brian Dudeck and Young and two walks to cut the deficit to three. However, with the tying run at the plate, Brandon Issa regained his composure and recorded an emphatic three-pitch strikeout of John Scarr to halt the comeback and give the Eagles a 6-3 victory.
With the Eagles’ five-game losing streak snapped, the team worked hard to strike again early in the evening’s second game, but Mike Sweeney and Tyler Curto soon became locked in their own pitchers’ duel. Both Game 2 starters worked efficiently on the mound, allowing only 4 baserunners combined in the first three frames to sprint to the 4th inning in less than 30 minutes.
In that top of the 4th inning, however, Sweeney relented first, and the Pilots pushed three runners across the plate to take a 3-0 advantage. It was the heart of the lineup that produced the damage, as Young, Greg Kocinski, and Scarr all scored via three hits and an error by the right fielder.
North Jersey answered back with a run of their own in the home-half of that inning. With Luis Amaro on third and Frank Mayo on first, the two unlikely stolen-base candidates executed a flawless double steal, as Luis Amaro slid around Petriello’s tag at the plate to put his team on the board.
After Nick Masterson inherited a two-on, no-out scenario in the top of the 6th, the Pilots added an insurance run on an RBI groundout by Christian Zazzali to push their lead to 4-1.
In desperate need of a rally, the Eagles loaded the bases in the bottom of the 6th, as Ryan Rivera was hit by a pitch and John Kukura and Amaro each worked walks. From there, the deficit was cut to just one run on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Krupa and Mayo.
After Masterson stranded two runners to keep the score at 4-3 in the top of the 7th inning, the table was set for the Eagles in the bottom of the inning.
Pinch-hitter Shane Woelfel led off with a walk, Filotei doubled into the corner in left, and Rufo worked another walk to load the bases for North Jersey in the second straight frame.
With Vincent Zanfordino in to pitch for the Pilots after throwing a scoreless inning in Game 1, Ryan Rivera capitalized on the closer’s exhaustion by sneaking a single under Kocinski’s glove at third to score Woelfel and tie the ballgame.
Two batters later, Luis Amaro added to the accolades he has picked up this summer, slapping a single in right field to begin the celebration in Ridgefield Park and sustain the Eagles’ playoff aspirations for another day.
Here is the call of Amaro’s walk-off hit from the Eagles Radio Network: https://soundcloud.com/drewcasey/north-jersey-eagles-walk-off-7-28-15
With four games left in the 2015 ACBL season, North Jersey will travel to Berkeley Heights on Wednesday, July 29 to face the Jersey Pilots in another doubleheader. First pitch for Game 1 will be at 4:30pm, and the pregame show with Eagles broadcaster Drew Casey will begin at 4:15pm on http://mixlr.com/northjerseyeagles/.