By Nicole Baratta
August 3, 2016/Belleville, NJ – In a must win game for both teams, the NJ Angels stay alive in the 2016 ABCCL playoffs with a 4-1 win over the NJ Nationals on Wednesday night. The Angels’ offense was centered around leadoff man Bobby Gramer (Millstone, NJ/Middlesex CC, NJ), who went 3-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Gramer started the game off using his speed to reach on an infield single, and came around to score on an RBI single to left off the bat of Cris Cabral (Lodi, NJ/Bloomfield College, NJ).
After giving up the run and having runners on first and third with no outs, Nats starter Tyler Zuppa (Livingston, NJ/University of Massachusetts-Amherst) battled to get out of the inning without giving up another run. Zuppa was able to settle down after his shaky start, allowing just the one run on three hits while walking three and striking out eight batters through six innings.
On the other side of the diamond, Angels’ starter Kyle Haag (Bergenfield, NJ/Ramapo College, NJ) seemed to have the Nats’ number from the first inning, allowing just one hit through the first four innings. He finished allowing one run on four hits while walking one and striking out four through six innings.
The Nats finally broke through against Haag in the bottom of the fifth, as Marc Giacalone (New Providence, NJ/St. Joseph’s University, PA) hit a booming double over the center fielder’s head to lead off the inning. He moved to third on a perfectly placed bunt down the third baseline by Ryan Bird (Long Branch, NJ/Monmouth University, NJ), who beat the throw to first. Haag got some help from his defense as Giacalone was gunned down at the plate trying to score on a ground ball to third. After another groundout held the runners on base, Santo Giunta (Ridgefield, NJ/Misericordia University, PA) scored Byrd on a RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 1.
As Haag limited the damage in the fifth, the Angels were able to take back the lead in the top of the seventh. Kristian Hernandez (Hazlet, NJ/Chestnut Hill, PA) scored on a two-out knock to left by Gramer after reaching on a walk earlier in the inning. To secure the win, they scored a run in both the eighth and ninth innings. Dan Licamara (Fairlawn, NJ/DeSales University, PA) scored on a bloop single out of the reach of the shortstop by college teammate Konnor Schneider(Bernardsville, NJ/DeSales University, PA) in the eighth, while Gramer scored as Cabral just beat out a potential double play to increase the lead to 4-1.
Steven Acosta (Lakewood, NJ/Bloomfield College, NJ) kept the Nats off the scoreboard in the final three innings, by allowing only three hits while fanning six batters. Mike Boulanger (Clark, NJ/Arcadia University, PA), then the tying run in the seventh, was stranded at third after slamming a double to left. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats were not going to go down without a fight. They had runners on second and third with one out after Tyler Sanphilippo (Wayne, NJ/County College of Morris, NJ) doubled deep to center followed by an infield single by Anthony Lantigua (Belleville, NJ/Bloomfield College). With the tying run at the plate, Acosta struck out the last two batters to end the Nats’ comeback attempt and the game.
While another solid Nationals season and playoff run under skipper Frank Orlando comes to an end, the Angels under the guidance of manager Fred DeFrance and head coach Ray Skjold, will play the DiMaggio Bombers at 5:30pm on Thursday night at St. John Vianney High School for a place in the semi-finals of the 2016 ABCCL Jerry Lillis Cup Championship Round.