RUMSON – Senior Charlie Tallman had been in this position before but he wasn’t about to let the enormity of the moment get the better of him this time.
Top-seed Rumson-Fair Haven was trailing second-seeded Wall 3-1 entering in the bottom of the seventh before shocking the Crimson Knights scoring three runs with two outs and down to their last strike in Friday’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final.
Tallman put the finishing touches on Rumson’s historic comeback.
Trailing by one, 3-2, with two outs and men in scoring position on second and third, Tallman was at the plate facing one of the Shore’s elite relief pitchers – and all-around players - in Wall’s Andrew Fischer. With a 2-2 count and Rumson down to its last strike, Tallman drilled a two-run single into centerfield for the game-winning runs.
“Charlie Tallman being there at the end, the senior, to be able to walk it off for us is incredible,” said Rumson head coach Owen Stewart. “He can sometimes get a little frazzled but this time he just stayed calm within himself, found a good pitch to hit with two strikes after battling a couple tough ones, and hit the ball hard to the middle of the field – he was great.
“He had that look in his eyes,” added Stewart. “He didn’t like the strike one call, he thought it was a little up and out, but he didn’t let him fluster him. He took a deep breath and refocused himself on the next pitch. As soon as he did that I knew he was going to have a great at bat. I was just hoping he wasn’t going to find a glove when he hit it hard.”
Second baseman Aaron Del Tin scored easily from third and senior third baseman Reece Moroney slid under a high throw from centerfielder Nick Lovarco for the game-winning run handing the Bulldogs a 4-3 win and their first sectional championship in 18 years.
“I’ve been in that spot before and I let the team down so I knew I wasn’t going to let it happen again,” said Tallman, who could barely be heard through the throngs of delirious students surrounding him and chanting his name. “I was never going to let it happen again, so I knew I had to come through for the team. Johnny Bruno took that walk and Aaron Del Tin just battled up there to take that 13-pitch walk – I just knew we were going to come through.”
Through darkness comes light…..and the situation really did look bleak for the Bulldogs entering the bottom of the seventh.
Wall had tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh on an RBI double by Gabe Cavazzoni to make it a 3-1 game heading into the bottom half of the inning with Rumson’s sixth, seventh and eighth batters due up.
Bruno worked a walk leading off the inning but Fischer got Liam Murphy on fly ball to Lavarco in centerfield on a nine-pitch at bat before striking out Spencer Hopson for the second out.
Up next was Del Tin – only a sophomore – and he turned in 13-pitch at bat in what turned out to be a game-changing plate appearance.
Running the count to 3-2, he fouled off the next seven pitches in an epic battle with Fischer before drawing a walk on the 13th pitch of the at bat to put men on first and second, while at the same time igniting a spark under Rumson that was about to explode.
“I was just battling, battling, not giving in,” said Del Tin, the No.9 hitter in Rumson’s batting order. “Pitch by pitch I felt it got more one sided and I knew as soon as we got to the top of the order we had a very good shot. The entire time I just stuck to my plan, sit fastball and adjust to anything else, but I just saw fastballs, so I just worked the at bat and kept the line moving. There’s no quit in this team, none at all.”
Stewart has seen Del Tin grow as a player by leaps and bounds recently and was impressed by his at bat, especially the way he handled Fischer.
“Fischer’s an incredible player, probably for my money, the best player in the Shore Conference,” said Stewart. “Aaron Del Tin is a sophomore that really stepped up and just battled and grinded out an at bat that four or five weeks ago he probably doesn’t do it. But he just gets into moment and it wasn’t to big for him and he just battled his tail off.”
Tallman’s heroics, however, would never have happened had it not been for Moroney’s clutch at bat to pull the Bulldogs within one run, 3-2, and putting runners on second and third for Tallman.
Moroney was back in the lineup Friday only after being out three weeks with a broken thumb and he delivered one of the biggest hits of his life. Fighting off two two-strike pitches on a 3-2 count, he tattooed a ball into the right-centerfield gap for RBI double, scoring Bruno with Tel Tin moving to third - and the rest is history.
“Yesterday was my first practice back and I wasn’t feeling so good – my thumb was killing me,” said Moroney. “I took about ten swings yesterday and I didn’t even know if I was going to play today. I came up today in my first two at bats and was feeling a little slow, but once Fischer came in I just locked in. I turned on a couple fast balls and was feeling good at the plate after that and just drove one into right. I was confident he was going fastball. His slider and curveball weren’t to good and definitely seeing Aaron’s 13-pitch at bat helped me out - that was a great piece of hitting by Aaron.”
Stewart wasn’t surprised that Moroney rose to the occasion despite being out for three weeks.
“We kind of expect that out of Reece to be honest with you,” said Stewart. “That’s why we were so happy to have him back in this game. He’s calm, he’s cool in big situations always.”
The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning on junior catcher Owen Kenny’s sixth home run of the season and even more impressively his fourth dinger in the last four games – all playoff games. It was a high drive that easily cleared the right-centerfield fence.
Wall took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth on a two-run homer by Lovarco that off the bat looked like an innocent fly ball to right but somehow made its way over the right field fence. Right fielder Jackson Coan grounded a single through the 6-5 hole and scored on the Lovarco homer.
Lost in the excitement of the moment was another stellar outing by senior pitcher Charlie Jones, who went six innings allowing two runs and four hits while striking out four and walking four on 92 pitches.
“Wow, that was unbelievable, it’s hard for me to even come up with words right now for what just happened,” said a physically and emotionally drained Jones. “This has been a dream of mine ever since I started playing baseball. For it to really happen the way it did in the bottom of the seventh with the Charlie Tallman walk off who I’ve been playing ball with since I was in fifth grade, I couldn’t have asked for a better finish – it was unbelievable.
“I walked a couple too many and had one pitch that really wasn’t that bad of a pitch but he (Lovarco) made it look worse than it was." added Jones. "But other than that it I thought it wasn’t a bad outing. That ball just kept going and going and I was like ‘oh boy, we got ourselves a real ball game now and we got to get ourselves some runs across.’ Anger took over after that and I just made sure I threw strikes and attacked hitters.”
Junior righty John Goodes came in in relief of Jones in the top of the seventh allowing a run on a single by Lovarco and Cavazzoni’s RBI double before inducing a double play to get out of the inning.
“Charlie was great, that was one of his best games of the year,” said Stewart. “He made one pitch which I don’t even know if it was that bad of a pitch - the guy just found our short porch. It was tough we couldn’t get him the win but Johnny Goodes finds a way to save wins for us all the time.”
The Bulldogs will now travel to play Haddon Heights on Monday in the NJSIAA Group II semifinal, with the winner advancing to the Group II championship game on Saturday, June 18 at Veterans Park in Hamilton.
“This means a lot, I’ll tell you what, it’s been 18 years since we had one,” said Tallman of the Bulldogs last sectional championship. “It’s just awesome. For all the hard work we’ve put in and for it to come out like this is awesome – the jobs not finished though.”