McLinskey closes the door for Don Bosco

Ryan McLinskey threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to close out Don Bosco Prep's 2-0 win over defending champion and No. 1 seed St. Joseph in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals.

DEMAREST - Get the lead and get the ball to the closer. It's a formula that has worked all season long for the Don Bosco Prep baseball team. This time, however, that call to the bullpen came perhaps a little earlier than is the norm. Having gotten three-and-two-thirds innings of scoreless baseball from starting pitcher Matthew Semon, but facing a two-on, two-out situation in the bottom of the fourth inning in the semifinals of the Bergen County Tournament on Saturday, Bosco head coach Mike Rooney called for his right-hander who, up until that point, had been his designated hitter, and Ryan McLinskey came through once again.

McLinskey, a senior right-hander with a tightly wrapped curveball, pitched the Ironmen out of trouble in the fourth and then into the county final with three-and-a-third innings of scoreless relief as fourth-seed Bosco bounced top seed and defending champion St. Joseph Regional, 2-0, at Northern Valley/Demarest High School.

"We have confidence in all of our guys on the mound. Matt Semon, Jeremy Farraye, Drew Helmstetter, all of them have done a great job for us, but in a situation like that, Ryan McLinskey is our guy," said Don Bosco Prep head coach Mike Rooney. "Give me a one run lead or a two run lead with one out to go or nine outs to go and Ryan on the mound, I'll take it. He is that important to us and we believe that much in him."

Just about every pitch that McLinskey through was under duress in a game that had the pace of play of a Yankees/Red Sox game that lasts long into the wee hours on Sunday Night Baseball. St. Joseph had runners on base in every inning and, as it wore on, both head coaches went into their respective dugouts for multiple pinch hitters and runners.

Nick Cantone threw 6 1/3 quality innings and also had two of St. Joseph's six hits.

Bosco left the bases loaded in the first inning while Joe's stranded two in its first turn at bat and then loaded the bases again in the bottom of the second. With two outs, Jose Mercado drew a walk, Mike D'Andrea reached on an error and Nick Cantone walked before Semon threw a pitch that got past his catcher and caromed off the deep back stop.

Mercado broke for the plate before deciding against taking the chance, but with the runners behind him also on the move, there were ample opportunities to catch some Green Knight in a rundown and Bosco chose D'Andrea, who was tagged out in a 2-6-5. And then Tommy Courtney, the hitter in the game to reach safely while leading off an inning, beat out an infield single to open the top of the third. He stole second and scored on Casey Dana's opposite field double. Dana did most of the damage against Cantone (6 1/3 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 K, 2 BB), SJR's starting pitcher, as he tripled to lead off the sixth and scored an insurance run on Ryan Carr's sacrifice fly to centerfield.

"Cantone got me on my first at bat, I will give him that, but then I told myself going up there for my second time to stay with my approach. My coach has been talking about it all week, stay on the outer half and drive the ball the other way," said Dana, who had two of Bosco's four hits and the only two that went for extra bases. "Cantone is big on off-speed pitches, so I stuck with that approach and it worked out for me."

Cantone (2-for-3) was the only SJR hitter to have more than one hit on a day when the Green Knights were just one hit away on a couple of occasions. They stranded nine base runners through the first four innings and left them loaded in the fourth. Cantone, the first batter McLinskey faced with two on and two outs in the fourth, beat out an infield single to fill the bases and the next batter, Raul Ortega, hit one right on the screws only to see his sinking liner picked off by Bosco shortstop Daniel Helfgott for the third out.

Casey Dana knocked in one run and scored the other for Don Bosco Prep, which will play Bergen Catholic for the Bergen County title in Sunday.

"It wasn't bouncing our way, that is for sure. It is always going to be this type of game when it is Bosco/Joe's. We are always going to play these kinds of games and it comes down to the little things." said SJR head coach Mark Cieslak. "The little thing that changed it today was one too many curveballs hits down the rightfield line. The guy [Dana] fought off a curveball, did a good job with it and hit it down the rightfield line. That was the only run they needed."

McLinskey (3 1/13 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 K, 0 BB) worked a 1-2-3 fifth, pitched around a two-out single by Mercado (1-for-1, 2 BB) in the sixth and made it somewhat interesting when he gave up a leadoff single to Cantone leading off the seventh and hit Justyn Henry-Malloy with one out to put the tying run on base. But two ground balls ended the threat and sent Don Bosco Prep into Sunday's county final against Bergen Catholic. Bosco is looking for its fifth Bergen County title in the last seven years and its fourth under Rooney.

"We spilt with Bergen Catholic during the year and they are playing their best baseball right now, just like we are. We are looking forward to it," said Rooney. "When we started the tournament we felt like we just had to take care of one game at a time and tomorrow is just the last game that we have to take care of."