By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — A bagel with cream cheese. That’s the secret. Well, sure, Holy Spirit junior catcher Matt Rivera will go with that. Sounds good.
Whatever it was, something had Rivera locked in at the plate on Monday afternoon, as he crushed a pair of two-run home runs to help the host Spartans dispatch Ocean City — a team rebuilding after graduating 8 players from its South Jersey Group 3 championship starting lineup a year ago — 10-0 in five innings.
“Both first-pitch fastballs, he was ready for them and he absolutely crushed both of them. We’ll take that any day of the week,” said Holy Spirit coach Steve Normane, whose team improved to 2-1 after splitting a pair of games during a tournament at Clearview on Sunday. “We’re expecting a nice year from him with hopefully more games like this. This is his year, with all the seniors we have, to have him in there as an underclassman, we’re expecting big things. We’ll take it game by game. But we’ll never complain about two home runs.”
“It feels great. I was relaxed up there and looking for my pitch, and I found it both times. The second one, I knew it was gone. I wasn’t too sure about the first one,” Rivera said. “We’re all energetic about this season and ready to get to it.”
Rivera’s first home run came in the bottom of the second and gave Holy Spirit a 2-0 lead, and he added another two-run shot in the third after an RBI single by Dom Boselli. Those three runs pushed the lead to 5-0, and the Spartans tacked on three more in the fourth on an RBI bloop single by Tyler Knox, a bases loaded walk to Boselli and a wild pitch that plated Bobby Spicer.
Spicer got the win on the mound, and to say he was economical would be an understatement. He threw less than 50 pitches in five innings, and although he struck out just one batter, he also allowed just three hits.
“Bobby, 48 pitches in five innings for a shutout win. You can’t really argue with that. He was efficient today and went right after their guys. They got a couple of hits off him, but that’s what we wanted — we wanted him to pitch to contact and use his defense, and our defense played very well today. We’re thrilled with what Bobby gave us,” Normane said. “If our defense is going to play flawlessly like that, we’ll take just one strikeout. There were numerous ground ball outs, a couple fly ball outs. Our defense played well and that’s what we’re looking for. We got that out of Lexy (Blanchet) yesterday, just pounding the zone with strikes. With these new pitch count rules, that’s what you have to do. You have to throw strikes and use your defense, otherwise you’re going to wear yourself down in these games.”
“I like having a pitcher who has a lot of moment and knows how to locate his pitches. He has a really good two-seam (fastball) and can really locate it well,” Rivera added.
Spicer said he knows he doesn’t have the type of stuff to overpower hitters, so he uses location and movement to induce ground balls and pop-ups.
“I was just trying to pitch to contact because if I get too deep into counts I won’t be able to throw (more this week). I was only throwing about 30 pitches at a time in preseason because my arm was bothering me. I’ve had arm trouble in the past, but I’ve gone to physical therapy, just trying to work it out. It feels good. It’s a little tight, but I just have to work it out,” the senior right-hander said. “There’s a lot of new faces (for Ocean City). I was just trying to throw strikes and let my teammates make plays. I have full confidence with them behind me. You don’t normally see (a shutout with one strikeout) but if they are going to hit it, as long as they are hitting ground balls or pop-ups, your teammates are going to be there. I know they will make the plays behind me.”
Spicer seemed to get in a groove quickly with Rivera, who has a full year of varsity under his belt as a catcher.
“Matt is doing a good job. All of our pitchers agree with his calls,” Spicer said. “Last year, we had our coaches calling pitches but he’s taken that over, and he’s doing really good back there.”
Holding an 8-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth, coach Normane elected to bunt a pair of runners into scoring position. Normally, that’s considered a no-no by baseball traditionalists, but Normane said the new pitch count rules the NJSIAA instituted this season is forcing coaches to think differently about certain situations. If Holy Spirit could get to the 10-run mercy rule, it could shave off a day of rest from Spicer’s pitching schedule.
“It makes you think about every situation. (On Sunday) we were in a situation where Clearview took their starting pitcher out with a 3-and-2 count with one out in the fourth inning because he had reached 70 pitches and they wanted him to come back on Wednesday, and if he had thrown his 71st pitch he wouldn’t have been able to come back that soon. So, that changes the game right there. He was throwing well,” Normane said. “We’re in a position where we want to get to 10 runs. We needed to get to 10 runs because that cut Bobby’s pitch count down. He can pitch again Wednesday now if we want him to because he stayed under 51 pitches. We shortened the game by two innings, and that affects the pitch count.”
Spicer allowed just three singles, to Matt Fumo, Andrew Donoghue and Domenic Monteleone. Meanwhile, Holy Spirit pounded out 13 hits, including two each by Rivera, Knox, Boselli and Nolan Charlton. Boselli and Charlton each added two RBIs while Jimmy Pasquale and Dan Marczyk each went 1-for-2 with a run scored.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN