Menu

Stoic senior pitcher Nick Droboniku nails down Mainland’s second straight sectional title with commanding performance

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Nick Droboniku didn’t know which way Mainland Regional head coach Billy Kern was going to go during his trip out to the mound in the top of the seventh inning of the South Jersey Group 3 championship. There were two outs and two on, and the tying run was coming to the plate with the second-seeded Mustangs holding a 6-3 lead over No. 5 Delsea Regional. An open hand by Kern meant a handshake, an “atta-boy” and a trip to the dugout for Droboniku in favor of reliever Jack Loefflad. A closed fist meant a fist bump and a “come on, son, get this last out and nail down this championship.” When you have a senior linebacker standing on the bump, you give him the fist and say, “this is your game.” Droboniku may have had some doubts about whether he was going to get the chance to put the finishing touches on the Mustangs’ second straight sectional championship, but he was probably the only one among the throng of fans lining both foul lines and the entire outfield fence who had any doubts. “When I saw coach coming out to the mound I was a little worried there for a second. If he comes for a handshake you know you are coming out, but if he goes for a fist pound you know you are good. He was two steps away from me and started putting his hand out, then put it into a fist. I knew I was going to stay in then,” Droboniku said. “We had Jack warming up between innings, but it was just about getting that final out. (Coach Kern) came out and just calmed everybody down. Last year, I wasn’t able to go out there for the last inning and we had Kyle close. I love being able to finish my own game.” Last season, Droboniku threw eight strong innings in an eventual 2-0, 9-inning win over Moorestown in the sectional title game. Kyle Gerace came on to finish off that championship, but even Loefflad, the starting catcher who often comes on in relief pitching situations, knew Droboniku wasn’t coming out of this game. Senior pitcher Nick Droboniku watches from the dugout during the sixth inning of Mainland Regional's 6-3 win over Delsea Regional in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game. Droboniku threw a complete game for the win, allowing just five hits and one earned run while striking out seven. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Senior pitcher Nick Droboniku watches from the dugout during the sixth inning of Mainland Regional’s 6-3 win over Delsea Regional in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game. Droboniku threw a complete game for the win, allowing just five hits and one earned run while striking out seven. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “I was going to come in if he got in trouble. Coach Kern came out to talk to him after those two guys got on and he just said, ‘go get this guy.’ I knew that if the next guy got on I was coming in, so I just stayed out there, had a little talk with (Droboniku) and told him that it was his game,” said Loefflad, also a senior. “I didn’t want to come in and take it from him, it was his game to finish, and he did it.” The pitching performance was classic Nick Droboniku. He doesn’t have a blazing fastball, but paints the corners to help set up his array of off-speed pitches. That formula has worked to perfection this season. He came into the game with a 6-0 record and sporting a 1.10 ERA. He’s the kind of pitcher that opposing players look up at the scoreboard after the game and say to themselves, “how did that guy shut us down?” “Nick has pitched a lot of championship games for us, even beyond the two last year, he pitched a bunch of championship games for Atlantic Shore that we played in. Coming into the game I knew that he has been in this situation and he can handle pressure. He just remained calm the whole game. It’s surreal to win this game in our last game on this field,” Loefflad said. “He’s always been the same pitcher in the years that I’ve caught him. He threw the same game he always throws, and it worked. I didn’t really know what to do (to celebrate). I was stumped.” The rest of the players didn’t have any trouble with the celebration. After Gerace fielded a sharply hit ground ball and stepped on second base for the final out, teammates mobbed Loefflad and Droboniku near home plate. Left fielder Dean Deveney sprinted all the way in from his position and launched himself onto his teammates. The celebration continued for nearly an hour after the game as parents, students and friends gathered in right field for handshakes, hugs and photos. Assistant coach Dan Kern said it best when he told a Mustangs supporter, “this doesn’t get old.” Delsea Regional was a scrappy team, but Droboniku showed just how valuable a senior pitcher with big-game experience can be when it comes to winning championship games. Shortstop Matt McLaughlin made a pair of sensational plays on deflected ground balls that helped the Mustangs get out of a couple of jams. Shortstop Matt McLaughlin made a pair of sensational plays on deflected ground balls that helped the Mustangs get out of a couple of jams. No matter what happened, Droboniku didn’t get flustered. Mainland carried a 1-0 lead into the third inning, but the Crusaders rallied for a pair of runs, the second coming on what could have been an inning-ending double play but the umpire ruled that Delsea’s Matt Birmingham had beaten the relay throw to first. No big deal, Droboniku just got the next hitter to ground out to Rob Wood at third base to end the inning. Mainland took a 4-2 lead in the fourth, and after Delsea’s Greg Avis led off the fifth with a solo home run, Droboniku retired the next three hitters in order on a strikeout and a pair of flyouts. He retired eight straight before a walk to Avis and a single by Tom Carney brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but Droboniku got Quinn Collins to ground out to Gerace at second base to end the game and seal the championship. Droboniku is the type of pitcher who relies on his defense to win games. He did have seven strikeouts against Delsea, but also got some outstanding defensive help. Nick Trifiletti robbed a base hit with a sliding catch in right field, and on two occasions (including once in the seventh inning), shortstop Matt McLaughlin made an outstanding play off a ground ball that was deflected by Droboniku. “He’s phenomenal and he’s been phenomenal all season,” Droboniku said of McLaughlin. “I always know that when the ball is put into play we have a chance to make the play.” The Mustangs came into this season as the favorite to repeat as sectional champions, and the win over Delsea was a mixture of relief, in knowing they didn’t let their passionate fan base down, and pride in knowing that last season’s overall Group 3 championship was not just a fluke, that Mainland is one of the best high school baseball teams in the state. “It’s a great moment,” Loefflad said. “Doing it as a junior was good enough, but doing it twice, as a senior, our last time out here, it’s an awesome feeling.” Said Droboniku, “This means so much to me. My senior season. This is the last time I’m going to be playing on this field, so this game really meant a lot to me. I knew I had to throw strikes and hit my spots. It was a great game and I just did what I always do. I knew I had a great defense behind me.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays  [adsense]

Subscribe

Video of the day

VIDEO OF THE DAY

Coach Dennis Scuderi talks with his team after Absegami beat Oakcrest 27-26 on Thanksgiving Day in t…