HAMILTON – Following Middletown South’s 6-0 win over Montclair in Saturday’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship, sophomore phenom Ben Schild was asked when he knew he would be getting the ball in the state final and his answer was telling, “about three months ago,” said Schild.
Although Schild’s answer was half tongue and cheek, it wasn’t as far-fetched as one would assume – he’s been that dominant this season as well as at every level he’s pitched.
“He, (South head coach Chris LeMore), knew I was starting probably three months ago to be honest,” said Schild. “He’s been my coach for four or five years now and we always talked about winning three state championships here. I don’t know how he knew he was going to be coach but we knew, we knew I was going to throw in this game.”
“It was set in stone that he (Schild) was going to throw this game,” added LeMore.
Schild picked up his eighth win of the season to stretch his record to 8-0 and entered the game with a miniscule 0.70 ERA.
He went the full seven innings on Saturday allowing just two hits, one a meaningless double in the top of the seventh and leadoff single in the third, walked one, hit a batter and struck out seven while throwing 105 pitches.
Although Schild’s repertoire includes a slider and curve ball he estimated that 95 of his pitches were fastballs, which were sitting in the high eighties.
“I told coach going into the game that I wanted to throw fastballs until they can touch it,” said Schild. “And they didn’t touch it that much today. The plan was basically go with my fastball and I went right at people. My arm felt great today and we got the dub – that’s all that matters.”
LeMore, who was the baseball coach at Thompson Middle School when Schild was a student athlete there, let his ace pound the strike zone with his fastball but had confidence in Schild’s ability to mix in his slider and curve if need be.
“It’s only the beginning – we’re only scratching the surface right now with this kid,” LeMore said about Schild. “I worked at Thompson Middle School for 18 years before I became the baseball coach at South so I’ve been talking to Ben since sixth grade.
“With Ben, it’s get on the mound and be Ben Schild. He’s got a great fastball, but he’s really starting to understand that he can’t just get out there and throw fastballs. But today he basically went out there and said, ‘you know what? Here’s my fastball, beat me if you can.”
The Eagles gave Schild a couple of runs to work with putting up a run in the bottom of the first and second innings.
In the first, senior right fielder Patrick Eagone was hit by Montclair starting pitcher Jeremy Stacks, who entered the game with a 3-2 record and a tidy 1.78 ERA and moved to second on senior catcher Greg Trezza’s perfectly executed sacrifice bunt.
Eagone moved to third on a ground out and with two outs, senior first baseman Joe Stanzione drilled a hard chopper through the left side of the infield to score Eagone handing the Eagles a quick 1-0 lead.
“Pitching with the lead is always great,” said Schild. “In a game where you’re pitching with the lead you can really just go out and do whatever you want with a lot of freedom without having to stress every single pitch of the game.”
Stanzione was more than happy in doing his part to give Schild any advantage possible in the game.
“He’s been great all season - he’s a special kid,” said Stanzione of Schild. “To just be able to get some offense for him and give him the lead means a lot. I knew that would give him more confidence, so that was great.”
Designated hitter, Will Christopher, who went 3-for-3 with three runs score and ignited rallies in the second, fourth and fifth innings, led off the bottom of the second with line drive single to left center. Senior centerfielder Tom DeMarco then laid down a sacrifice bunt that Stacks threw away with Christopher moving all the way to third and DeMarco to second.
“Will really did a great job and he’s only a sophomore,” said LeMore. He belongs here and today he showed not only the state of New Jersey but Middletown too, that he’s a player.”
Junior third baseman, Evan Wood, grounded into a 6-3 out with Wood scoring on the play and DeMarco moving to third for a 2-0 lead.
DeMarco was out at the plate on a failed suicide squeeze attempt with Will Doyle batting for the second out. Doyle and Eagone then reached on infield singles but were left stranded after Trezza whiffed for the final out.
Middletown South broke the game open scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Christopher started the rally dropping a single into short right field leading off and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by DeMarco. Wood and Doyle walked to load the bases and Eagone lined a single into left field scoring Christopher and Wood for a 4-0 lead.
“I was just trying to do my job as a hitter,” said Eagone. “I was able to catch a pitch and drive it to the opposite field and bring in the runners.”
Trezza then lined an RBI single into left field scoring Doyle to push the lead to 5-0.
Schild struck out leadoff batter Ethan Daddabbo to start the fifth, but after delivering a ball on his first pitch to second baseman Matt Matias, LeMore made a trip to the mound to talk to his ace.
“I just wanted him to calm down,” said LeMore. “I felt like he was just getting ahead of himself and it was an opportunity for him to settle in a little bit, take a deep breath and regroup a little bit. Just get back on the mound and continue doing what he was doing.”
Schild retired the next seven batters in a row until he gave up a double to Daddabbo with two out in the top of the seventh.
South added a run in the bottom of the fifth to increase their lead to 6-0 on a line drive RBI single by Wood, who finished 1-for-2 with a walk, scoring Christopher, who led off the inning with a single – his third hit of the game.
The win marked the first appearance for the Eagles in a Group final since 1999 and first Group championship since 1996.
Schild is quick to credit his team and deflect any accolades thrown his way.
“We lived and died all year on singles, bunts, stolen bases - anyway we could score runs, everyone chipped in,” said Schild. “Our pitchers did a ridiculous job this year, they were incredible. They helped us win so many games. Even when I came out early they came in and shut the door and got the job done for us.
“I was ecstatic to get the ball today for my team – that’s the perfect word for it. I was building up the whole week and tried to stay really, really calm and today I was like, ‘it’s our last game, I’ll give it all I’ve got and let’s get some adrenaline going.’”
Middletown South is the one that should be ecstatic - Schild still has two year’s left to pitch at South.
“They battled from day one even after we were knocked down a little bit,” said LeMore. “But you know what? The kids used it as motivation and their driving force to get here today.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been talking about this day with the kids since I first met them in October two years ago,” LeMore added. “I wanted them to know that the skies the limit. It starts with the kids, and finished with the baseball team. We preached brotherhood, and now we’re preaching family because that’s really what it takes to be where we are right now.”