Midland Park keeps its title hopes alive

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Senior Jake Kavanagh went the distance on a three-hitter as Midland Park topped Cresskill, 12-2, on Monday to stay right in the thick of the title race in the NJIC- Patriot Division

CRESSKILL – It is a dogfight in the NJIC - Patriot Division. Heading into Monday’s action, Waldwick had one league loss and a one-game lead at the top of the league standings followed closely by three other teams that were all one game behind. Every game has the potential to knock a team out of the running while propelling the other forward as was the case when Midland Park visited Cresskill.

Having lost to the Cougars by a hefty margin the first time through the league schedule, it was pretty much a must-win for Midland Park, which wants to keep the heat on Waldwick heading into the teams’ head-to-head matchup on Wednesday at Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University.

“The league is tight. We were in a three way tie for second place with this team [Cresskill] and with Emerson coming into today. So this was a big game, no doubt about it,” said Brett Carroll, a former River Dell standout and the Midland Park head coach. “Cresskill beat us pretty good at our place, 14-1, the first time around and maybe our guys felt like they owed them one.”

If that was the case, then Midland Park certainly got what it came for. The Panthers broke the game open with a four-run third inning and then put it away with a seven-run seventh to close the festivities one inning early in a 12-2 victory.

“It was definitely a team effort. Everyone put the ball in play today, we put the pressure on the defense and we got some big hits,” said Midland Park second baseman Chris Weisbrot, who had two of those big hits, including his first-ever varsity home run, a shot to straight away centerfield in the fifth. “That one felt good. He threw me a fast ball right down the middle of the plate. He grooved it and I never hit a ball that far in my life.”

Midland Park also got some help from a Cresskill defense that committed three errors in the top of the third inning to foil the efforts of starting pitcher Ryan King. Justin Vannelli, batting in the No. 9 hole, got the rally started with a clean single to left, but the next two hitters, Matt Weisbrot (1-for-3, 2 R) and David Kruis (1-for-3, 2 R), reached safely on throwing errors.

Josh Danzig drove in both of Cresskill's run with a sacrifice fly in the third inning and a single in the fifth.

Kruis was just trying to get a sacrifice bunt down with runners on first and second, but instead the Panthers wound up with runners on the corners and one run in. Chris Weisbrot (2-for-3, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, SB) than drove in a run with an infield single that was played into more as it was thrown late and wide to first base. Two more runs scored on that play and the Panthers went up 4-0 on Trey Fracissini’s sacrifice fly.

Midland Park had just two hits in the inning, but plated four runs, three of the unearned variety.

“We threw the ball away twice on back-to-back plays. We had a double play ball on the bunt that was a routine play to make and a ground ball that should have been the third out and we didn’t make any of those plays,” said Cresskill head coach Donnie Merritts. “We made five or six errors today depending on how you scored it and they led directly to five or six runs. Take those runs away and it’s a different game, but you don’t get that option in the game of baseball.”

Cresskill (5-6, 5-3 in league) did get a run back in the bottom of the fourth when Joe Urbaez’s triple set up on Josh Danzig’s third inning sacrifice fly and the Cougars were within 5-2 after Danzig singled home Urbaez in the bottom of the fifth, but even that was too much of a hole to climb out of with the way Midland Park starter Jake Kavanagh was throwing.

The senior right-hander allowed just three hits in the six innings he needed to finished the game and walked just two while striking out four.

“We are coached well by Coach Carroll, we are doing it for him this year and we are really trying to go. Pitching is the key and with myself and Trey Fracissini we feel like we can compete with anyone,” said Kavanagh, who will play at William Paterson University next season. “I was able to get ahead in the count a lot today with my outside fastball. My curveball was coming across the plate well, too, and that gave me some options on how I wanted to try to get the hitters out.”

Sean Fitzpatrick had three hits, an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base for Midland Park, which improved to 7-5 on the season.

Cresskill had trouble getting hitters out in the top of the sixth inning when Midland Park sent 10 batters to the plate and scored seven times to reach the 10-run threshold. Vannelli (2-fo4-4, 2 R) again got it started with an infield single and the next six hitters also all reached safely. Fracissini (1-for-3, RBI, R) drove in two runs with a single, Sean Fitzpatrick (3-for-4, RBI, R, SB) drove in another and Garrett King (2-for-4, 2 RBI, R) knocked in two more with a triple. Kavanagh (1-for-4, RBI) drove in the final run with an RBI groundout to cut one inning off his workload on the mound.

Urbaez (1-for-1, 2 R) scored both of Cresskill’s runs, Danzig (1-for-3, 2 RBI) drive them both in and Jason Naccavella had the other hit for Cresskill, which fell a game below .500 for the season and two games back in the race for a league title.

“Well, tomorrow is another day and I am going to use all of the clichés you can imagine to try to help pick our guys up after this,” said Merritts. “Honestly, we are in a fight to make it somewhere in the Top 16 in the state tournament bracket and that is our challenge. If we want in we are going to have to play our way in. Nobody is going to help us.”

Midland Park (7-5, 6-2 in league), on the other hand, kept itself alive not only in the hunt for a league title, but also for a spot in the Bergen County Tournament. The first 18 games are factored into that selection process and a .650 winning percentage guarantees automatic entry. The Panthers are just a hot streak away from securing a spot.

“We set our goals out at the start of the year. We want to get some home state games, we want a county bid because that hasn’t happened at our school in a while and we want to win our conference,” said Carroll. “After 12 games we still have a chance to get all of them accomplished and we are playing very good baseball right now. We just have to keep the momentum going.”