South Hunterdon did the little things right.
In the top of the seventh with the bases loaded, no outs and the No. 4 Eagles clinging to a 5-3 lead against No. 13 Florence (5-10) in Monday’s first round of the Central Jersey Group 1 sectionals, pitcher Justin Torres calmly induced three ground balls.
All three were fielded cleanly. The last one – Torres lobbing to first baseman Josh Woznicki – sealed the Eagles’ 5-4 win.
“We’ve historically struggled defensively,” said Eagle skipper Chris Skolka. “This year, our main focus with the guys is to clean up everything defensively. Our defense has been great this year and it’s carried into the playoffs.”
During his time at shortstop, both Torres and third baseman Branson Hettman recorded four assists.
The Flashes built a 2-0 lead when Kyle Himm twice singled home Jarrod Marshall. But in the third, Florence did not do the little things right.
When Eagle centerfielder Jaden Jesse led off the third inning with a routine grounder to first, it looked like a sure out. But Jesse got on his horse and beat out the misplayed ball.
“It was a rough at-bat,” Jesse admitted. “When I hit it, I knew I had to keep running and hopefully they would miss up.”
Starting pitcher Brian Torres singled home Jesse. A second error one batter later scored Jason Sutton and knotted the game at 2. Woznicki scored Hettman on a bases loaded walk … as well as Justin Torres who raced home from second on the wild pitch.
“The coaches got us prepared last week,” Justin Torres said. “We had a whole practice dedicated to double squeezes, taking bases and being aggressive.”
Jackson Kilmer singled in Jeffrey Shurts to give Brian Torres a 5-2 lead when he returned to the mound in the fourth. Torres was cool and efficient, needing 81 pitches to get through six plus innings. He walked just one Flame.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I threw that well today,” Brian Torres admitted.
“But we came here in our first game in a while, threw up some numbers, got some energy going in the dugout and we’re thrilled to get the win.”
The Eagles (12-4) hosted No. 5 Perth Amboy Tech in second round action on Wednesday (results unavailable at press time). South Hunterdon has now hosted and won a first round sectional game in consecutive seasons.
“One of our strengths is the coaches keeping us in check during practices,” Jesse said. “All of our teammates get us hyped for every game.”
“The camaraderie and energy are probably our number one thing,” Skolka added.
The Eagles can hit. Brian Torres is slugging .800. Sutton is batting .434 with Shurts right behind him at .420.
Hettman and the Torres twins also give the Eagles three quality starters at a time when pitching depth is a premium. All three have sub 3.80 ERAs.
“It’s great,” Brian Torres said. “If I’m having an off day on the mound or plate, other guys are going to step up. We feed off of each other’s energy very well.”
“Being a Group 1 school, we try to have three games a week,” Skolka added. “Having a starter I can believe in for those three games is a good feeling.”
Justin Torres shared that he knew a college scout would be attending Monday’s game. “He didn’t want to see someone who was nervous or choked up,” Torres commented. “Right before the game, I prayed and made a point to play aggressive baseball.”
That mindset just might extend South Hunterdon’s season a few games.