HAMILTON — Mike Glazewski, Alex Cruz and the rest of the Hamilton High baseball players probably did not need any more incentive to defeat their crosstown rivals from Steinert, but the township gave them some.
When the Hornets hosted the Spartans in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title game Friday, 2,438 local fans surrounded West’s field to spur on their young baseball heroes.
It was hard for both teams not to be inspired despite the fact that one would not advance.
Glazewski and Cruz wore their emotions on their sleeves as they held fourth-seeded Steinert to four hits to help third-seeded Hamilton win the CJ III crown with a 4-1 victory.
The well-behaved crowd did not rush the field when Tino Malave threw out Austin Constantini for the game’s final out, instead leaving the celebration to the players they had gathered five rows deep in some spots to watch.
The same fans will get a chance to shine again at 4 p.m. on Tuesday when the state tournament continues with the Hornets (19-5-1) taking on South Jersey champion Mainland at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. The Mustangs (13-12) upset top-seeded Moorestown (20-7), despite a 21-strikeout effort by pitcher Scott Zimmer, by scoring on two passed balls in the top of the ninth inning in the SJ III final.
“I wasn’t anxious at all today,” Glazewski said. “I was not worried about the last game.”
The crowd made it hard for the senior left-hander to even recall a tough start at Wall three days prior. Instead, Glazewski focused on handcuffing his crosstown rivals, limiting the powerful Spartans, whose season ended after a 21-8 campaign, to one hit through the first four innings.
Just as importantly, Glazewski put Hamilton on the board with his bat, ripping a double into right field to plate Nick Leona, who had walked, stolen second base and moved up on the game’s only error. Glazewski then came around to score on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Malave to give the home team a 2-0 jump.
“Coach (Mike) Moceri told me I was going to hit Thursday,” Glazewski said. “(That double) blew a lot of steam off my chest.”
When Glazewski ran into trouble in the fifth, Cruz provided his own steam when he moved to the mound from third base.
Cruz, who suffered the mound loss against the Spartans when they defeated the Hornets, 4-2, in the regular season April 5, kept telling himself and anyone within distance of his voice, “They’re not taking this from me! I’m going to get this for us!”
Matt Ricci led off the fifth with a single, then Shane Keledy bunted for a hit before Adam Koval, who had Steinert’s first hit in the third inning, laid down a sacrifice bunt.
Glazewski proceeded to walk Constantini and Shane Plunkett to force in the visitors’ lone run before Cruz was called upon.
Cruz enticed Anthony Peroni to ground into an inning-ending double play to avoid further damage, then did not allow another hit until Koval singled with two outs in the seventh.
“We never got our momentum. Our last few games we’d scored early,” said Koval, who went 2-for-2. “It was cool to be here in front of a crowd like this. It’s just makes it tough that we couldn’t get a banner.”
“The day before a big game, I’m usually hyper, but when it comes down to it, I stay focused and composed,” Cruz said. “That’s when good things happen.”
More good things came Hamilton’s way in the bottom of the fifth after Steinert first baseman Nick LaBelle made an incredible leaping grab over the fence of a foul ball to retire Leona. But Nick Ziccardi and Malave came back with singles to chase Spartans starter Steven Loney. Reliever John Mastrangelo hit Kevin Smiegocki with a pitch, then Danny Garcia beat out an infield single to push across another run. Jordan Mucha’s RBI ground out plated Malave with Hamilton’s fourth run.
“This is unbelievable,” said Garcia, who went 3-for-3. “At the start of the season, people thought we couldn’t do this, but we did.”
And 2,438 people can claim witness to just that.