Junior Jacob Gomes threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings and also hit a solo home run for Rutherford, the No. 6 seed, which upset No. 3 Bergen Catholic, 2-0, in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament.
EMERSON – The first of the Bergen County Baseball Tournament quarterfinals played on Saturday was between the 24 players on the Bergen Catholic roster against the 19 on the Rutherford roster, but when the game got going it started to take on the feel of a two-man game of H-O-R-S-E between two starting pitchers with plenty in common. Jacob Gomez for Rutherford and Jacob Denner of Bergen Catholic shared the pitcher’s mound for 41 of the 42 outs recorded and went at it mano-a-mano in an old fashioned pitcher’s duel.
“It was Jacob versus Jacob, lefty versus lefty. It can’t get any better than that,” said Gomez. “We were throwing strikes right from the start of the game so it was easy. The umpire helped us a little bit, but it was a great pitching duel.”
Denner went the route on a three-hitter in which he struck out 10 without walking a single batter. Gomez ran into the pitch count rule before he could finish what he started, but went 6 2/3 innings and gave up just five hits without issuing a walk while striking out five. An unearned run and a solo home run was all that separated the two starters, both to the benefit of Rutherford, the No. 6 seed which advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0 victory at Emerson High School.
“We scouted [Bergen Catholic] quite a bit and we knew that Jacob [Gomez] was a good matchup against them. He was locked in on every pitch trying to hit spots and trying to pitch to their weakness,” said Rutherford head coach Carmen Spina. “He was like a surgeon today. Precision. Whatever we wanted him to do he put the ball right there.”
Senior Jacob Denner went the distance and gave up just one earned run for Bergen Catholic.
Combined with win by 10th-seed St. Joseph Regional, No. 5 St. Mary and No. 9 Don Bosco Prep, the Bergen County Tournament will be without a top four seed in the Final 4 for the first time in its history and this is the 61st edition of one, if not the, best baseball events in the state.
Rutherford was determined to play fast and loose and its start showed its intentions. Brelyn Jones led off the game with an opposite field double, went to third on Regan Landrigan’s sacrifice bunt and then tempted fate with hard dashes off the third base bag while Denner was in his delivery. Jones probably went too far on one occasion and drew a throw from the catcher that probably would have been in plenty of time or at least would have started a rundown, but Jones’ aggressive paid off when the throw sailed down the left field line. Jones trotted home to make it 1-0 Rutherford just three hitters into the game.
Gomez, who was already busy spinning his gem, hit a solo homer leading off the top of the second inning for the game’s only other run. It was not only Gomez’s first home run of the season, but also the first for the entire Rutherford team.
“I felt the pop off the bat and I knew it was gone,” said Gomez, whose shot went out to just to the left of straightaway centerfield. “The ball carried and it just kept going. That was a happy moment in my life.”
Nico Mundo had one of the four hits for Rutherford, which will play No. 10 St. Joseph Regional in the semifinals on Saturday.
After Gomez circled the bases, Denner took the ball from the umpire and settled right back in. The Bergen Catholic senior retired the next 15 hitters he faced and did not allow another baserunner until Nico Mundo led off the top of the seventh inning with a clean single back through the box.
Gomez was also in complete control for just about the entire game. He retired the side in order in the first, allowed a two-out infield single in the second and then did not allow another hit until Dom Cancellari stroked a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth to kick off the lone threat that the Crusaders could muster.
Amari Paula followed Cancellari’s single with one of his own to almost exactly the same spot through the shortstop hole. Pat Zuccola was then hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Gomez induced a pop-up for the second out before the game was decided in the next at bat, which belonged to Matt Amato, BC’s No. 2 hitter. Amato ripped a line drive that looked like it was ticketed for left field before Rutherford third baseman CJ Francisco reached across his body and speared the ball for the third out.
“The two hitters before that both got base hits right through the 8-hole, so I was like, ‘Man, I have to get a better jump,” said Francisco. “I got lower, I got a nice pre-hop and the ball was hit with zip. I saw it perfectly, I read it and I made the catch.”
Orlando Pena led off the bottom of the sixth inning with the last of BC’s four hits, an infield single, but Gomez retired the next five hitters in order to reach his pitch limit with one out still to get. Jones came in from shortstop to get it on a groundball to Francisco as Rutherford advanced to the semifinals where the Bulldogs will be the lone representative from the NJIC.
“You can see defensively that we are an exceptional team. That is what we have built this program on is pitching and defense and trying to scrap to do whatever we can to get runs,” said Spina, whose team played error free baseball for the full seven innings. “We are excited. We are honored to be moving on to the next step, but we know what we have waiting for us and again we are going to be the heavy underdog. I think this gives us some legitimacy to let people know that there is good baseball being played all over Bergen County. People make fun of us, the NJIC teams, but we have some good clubs. We can win this if we play the way we can and pitch the way we can.”