NW’s state run comes to end
Northwest Bethlehem southpaw JJ Cruz made up his mind that he was going to pitch the Cyclones to a do-or-die victory in the Connie Mack Baseball State Tournament and tossed an 11-0 shutout in five innings-mercy rule against Centennial (Southampton/Warminster) on July 24 at Limeport Stadium.
“I felt great out there the whole game. Every pitch, I felt comfortable throwing. There was not one pitch I trusted more than the other one. Everything was clicking today for the team and me,” Cruz said. “I was mostly working my fastball and curveball, but I like to fit my changeup in there sometimes too. I like how Mikey (Mariano, Jr.) called my game for me and how he mixed up the pitches a lot.”
Mariano, the Cyclones’ catcher, had Northwest’s second RBI double of the game in a five-run third inning that started with Cruz’s base hit, followed by Paul Erfle’s RBI double to left center.
Erfle went 3-for-4 with his second double in the fourth inning that scored two runs.
“I saw him quick pitch me, and I just thought, get the barrel around the zone. It felt good, felt good, just to be able to piece it,” Erfle said.
While the Cyclone offense racked up runs, Cruz faced just three batters in the second, third, and fourth innings, as the Cyclone infield shut down Centennial.
“Most of the plays were easy cans of corn because of our pitcher, but mostly the first baseman (Luke Piripavel) caught the ball to get the out,” said Northwest shortstop Zander Frey. “Also, Angel (Fuentes, second base) and I have a great connection in the middle of the infield.”
And with Erfle playing third, Northwest’s infield was flawless.
“I just wanted to come out here and do my part, hit the ball well, play the field well,” said Erfle. “Some of them were tough plays. The slow roller ones are usually a little bit tougher, so if I see the ball bouncing, I go charge it, get my glove to it, and make a strong throw.”
The Cyclones turned two double plays in the game, and Cruz threw four strikeouts.
Northwest’s fifth inning started with an infield single by Frey, and Ethan Fleck was safe at first on a fielder’s choice. Fuentes’ single knocked in Fleck, and Cruz’s hit brought in Fuentes. Cruz then scored the Cyclones’ 11th run on Erfle’s base hit to left field.
“Everybody was hitting all around the lineup, so I’m proud of how we played today,” said Cruz. “I was ready to come out here and pitch today, but we all knew that last game was a fluke, and we had to come out and play like we had been the whole season.”
That last game was Northwest’s dropped tournament opener against Chestnut Hill on July 22.
“The last two years, we’ve struggled to put a complete ballgame together here, but today we were able to do that. Really, for the first time at this stadium, we came out, and we were the team that we are capable of being and that we’ve shown at other times throughout the last couple of years,” said Northwest third base coach Bryan Wald. “This was a leave-everything-you-have-on-the-field game. JJ took the ball and said I’m gonna pitch us to a victory tonight, and he commanded that. We’re a very streak-offensive team, and when we start hitting like that, we can put up big numbers in a hurry. Really, what I was most proud of was our defense. The defensive alignment was outstanding.”
Northwest’s 2-1 loss to Chestnut Hill started out as promising for the Cyclones.
Piripavel delivered three strikeouts in the first inning, and Cruz led off with a hard-hit single over the shortstop.
“It was an exciting game, first game of States, obviously, so I wanted to get the tempo right with our whole team,” said Cruz. “We didn’t get the job done, but after that first inning, I was feeling good about our chances.”
Center fielder Dylan Pyle hit a line drive to right field on the first pitch and then completed a double steal with Cruz.
“I always try to get in a rhythm on deck, and I was seeing the pitcher’s release points, and he was right over the plate to JJ, so I went up there, looking first pitch and it was there, and I just let it rip,” Pyle said.
“JJ and I have the green light, so if we have good jumps, we’re off to the races. It’s all about the jumps and the reactions, and timing of the pitcher, and you’re 90 feet closer to scoring, so it helps out the team.”
Mariano drove in Cruz, and the Cyclones led 1-0.
“I knew Mikey was gonna come in clutch and get that hit for us, and it felt great being the teammate getting that run for us on the board,” Cruz said.
Piripavel continued pounding the zone, striking out nine in total.
“I was trying to get the best pitches for the team,” he said. “My fastball was really effective. I was hitting the corners and people were swinging through, which really helped. I mixed in the curveball and that worked too.”
Chestnut Hill scored its first run on a two-out grounder and its second on a wild pitch by Frey, who relieved Piripavel in the fifth inning.
Then, with Northwest’s bases loaded on a single by Frey, a double by Justin Goire, and an intentional walk to Kole Zellner, Chestnut Hill pitcher Edan Crosby struck out the Cyclones’ next three batters.
“You’re not gonna win ballgames scoring one run, especially when you score it in the first inning and you don’t score another the entire game,” said Pyle. “You just can’t do that. You get three strikes, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Northwest first base coach Dave Pyle acknowledged the Cyclones’ missed opportunities.
“Last inning almost embodied the entire game where we had situations earlier in the game to make hits, and we did not. All we need is one run to tie, a fly ball to the outfield, a bat on a ball,” Coach Pyle said. “We lost because we didn’t execute hitting the ball when we needed to. It’s on us. You have to live pitch-by-pitch, win or lose that pitch, learn from it, and move forward, and sometimes we didn’t do that.”
Northwest was ultimately eliminated from the tournament by Nazareth, losing 9-3, on July 26.
Pyle’s leadoff double in the fourth inning was the Cyclones’ first ray of comeback hope, but just one run scored. Then, Frey drove in two runs in the sixth inning after Pyle’s bunt and a double by Erfle.