Bergen County Tournament: Final Four Recap



Sean McGrath
Scouting Director, New Jersey

Each and every year, the final four of the Bergen County Tournament at Northern Valley Demarest High School is packed with hundreds of fans, students, families, friends, scouts, and college coaches. Bragging rights are at stake and emotions are high. Four of the best teams in one of the most competitive counties in New Jersey play against friends, neighbors, and travel ball teammates in order to be claimed the top team. The games are typically dramatic and exciting and this year wasn't any different.

The top four seeds in the 24-team tournament made it to Memorial Day Weekend, the final weekend; the weekend the champion would be decided. Game one on Saturday was #2 St. Joe's Regional versus #3 Bergen Catholic. Game two was #1 Don Bosco Prep against #4 Mahwah High School.

Bergen Catholic 7 – St. Joe's Regional 1

Game Played May 23
Going into the game, there was a ton of hype around the pitching matchup. The matchup included two of the top 2017 pitchers in the state: Bergen Catholic's RHP Zach Dreznin and St. Joe's Regional RHP Devin Ortiz, who is committed to Virginia.

In the top of the first inning, Ortiz cruised, mixing his mid-80s fastball and tight slider to induce three easy ground balls. This seemed to immediately give St. Joe's some energy. Jr. SS and University of Florida commit Austin Bodrato led off with a double off the base of the left field wall. Jr. John Mesagno would then executed a sacrifice bunt to advance the speedy Bodrato to 3rd base. After an intentional walk to Ortiz, followed by a stolen base, St. Joe's would make a mental error that may have changed the pace of the game. Sr. 1B Joe Toepert hit a fly ball to the middle of right field which would have been the first run of the game but the runners did not tag. This would allow Dreznin to settle down and escape the first of a couple jams.

The next three innings would be dominated by Bergn Catholic. They took a 1-0 lead on a 1B by Jr. OF John Mead and RBI 2B by So. OF Vinnie Martin. They would score four more runs in the 3rd inning by the way of four hits, one walk, and one hit by pitch; highlighted by Jr. cleanup hitter John VanDeMark's first hit, Mead's second run scored, Martin's second RBI, an RBI single up the middle by Jr. SS and Duke commit Erickson Nichols, and a 2-run bloop single by sophomore leadoff hitter August Samek. Four consecutive hits in the 4th inning would plate two more runs to increase the lead to 7-0. So. 2B David Lamanna and Jr. 3B Nick Esposito led off with back-to-back singles but Lamanna would be thrown on a great relay throw to home by the super talented Fr. 3B Justin Henry-Malloy. With one out and a man on first, VanDeMark would continue his hitting ways with a double to the right-centerfield gap and Jr. catcher Sonny Uliana would drive them both in with a double of his own. Sr. 2B/RHP and George Washington commit would relieve Ortiz of his duties and hold the Crusaders down for the next 2.2 innings but the bats would never wake up. Dreznin was too strong in tight spots.

Taking advantage of a deflated St. Joe's team, Dreznin would give up only 1 unearned run on his way to a win. Dreznin sat 84-88 with his fastball and used a solid 3-pitch mix through six innings of work; scattering only 3 hits, while walking 4 and striking 5. Senior RHP and Misericordia commit, Kyle Weiner would close out the 7th. John VanDeMark was 3 for 4 on the day with 2 runs scored and John Mead was 2 for 3 with two runs scored to pace Bergen Catholic. Austin Bodrato would collect 2 his team's 4 hits on the day in the loss for St. Joe's. Bergen Catholic would advance in comfortable fashion to face the winner of the Don Bosco – Mawhwah game in Sunday's Championship.

Don Bosco 4 – Mahwah 3

Game Played May 23
The second game of the double header would feature another much anticipated pitching matchup between two division-one commits. Don Bosco would be counting on Sr. LHP Cullen Dana, who will be suiting up for Seton Hall Prep while Mahwah would be riding the arm of senior righty and Fordham commit Ryan Remo.

Mahwah came ready to play in the first inning, paced by a leadoff single by talented Jr. OF James Ciliento, who advanced on an errant throw by the shortstop. Sr. two-hitter Alec Hill reached on an error on sacrifice bunt after the second baseman could not handle the throw from Dana. With a 1-0 score and a man on second base, Jr. catcher and left-swinger Alex DiMartino crushed an RBI 2B to left-centerfield to make the score 2-0. Not fazed by the team's rough start, Dana would end the rally by quickly retired the next three hitters to get Don Bosco into the dugout. Mahwah would put themselves in a jam in the bottom half after walking Jr. 2B Alex Santos. However, Remo would make a couple quality pitches down in the zone to Sr. 3B and Bryant commit Tyler Panno to induce a 6-4-3 double play. Dana would give up a leadoff single in the top of the 2nd inning only to strike out the next two hitters and get some help from Sr. SS Josh Shaw (St. John's commit), who made a great backhand play in the 5/6 hole to retire the speedy James Ciliento. The fantastic play would spark the Ironmen in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Senior Sean Buckout, who will be headed to Stony Brook on scholarship, led off with a single up the middle and would be driven in by a big blast over the leftfield fence by Sr. outfielder Nick Berger, who will be playing next year at Susquehanna University.

Mahwah would not be able to take advance of 2 singles in the 3rd frame as Dana again showed guts and escaped the jam via a strikeout on a 75 MPH curveball in the dirt. Shaw would start the 3rd by scorching a mishandled groundball to the third baseman and would be driven in on Buckout's 2nd hit of the day. The fourth inning would come and go quietly as the score remained 3-2 but the 5th inning would turn out to decide the game. Down 3-2 in the 5th inning, Ciliento led off with a crushed triple to the right-centerfield gap and he would again be driven in by another DiMartino single. With two outs in the 5th inning with DiMartino in scoring position, Dana walked the 5-hitter and Don Bosco would turn the ball over to Jr. RHP Vitaly Jangols. The junior righty forced a groundball to 1B to end the inning with the score knotted at 3. The game would be tied for only one batter because with one out in the bottom of the 5th inning, senior power hitter Tristan Dacey would drive a ball opposite field and over the fence for what would be the winning run. With the score at 4-3, Jangols would dominate the last two frames, retiring each of the seven hitters he faced in the game to earn the win in relief. James Ciliento was solid in the loss going 2 for 4 with a triple and two runs scored. Dacey and Jangols would prove to be the heroes and Don Bosco would meet Bergen Catholic in the championship game of the Bergen County Tournament.

Don Bosco 9 – Bergen Catholic 5

Bergen County Championship, Played May 24
Going into the game, each team was riding high. Don Bosco knew it had a reliable starter in senior righty Alex Mastando, who is a Monmouth commit. They also knew that they had two reliable arms ready to come into the game in case Mastando struggled. Bergen Catholic knew they would have to hit quality pitching in order to keep up with Don Bosco's potent lineup and they also knew that they would have to slow down the bat of Josh Shaw in order to limit the damage he can cause.

Mastando cruised through the first innings, setting down Samek, LaManna, and Esposito in order. So. RHP Andre DeRubertis's first inning would not go as well. After producing a catcher's pop up by leadoff hitter Alex Santos, Don Bosco's seniors would take advantage of the quality but inexperienced young arm. Tyler Panno singled, Shaw homers, Buckout reached via error, and Berger singled home a run to make it a 3-run first inning. Bergen Catholic would respond, however. The top of the second inning started with a loud lineout by VanDeMark, who went 4 for 7 on the weekend with a pair of doubles and three runs scored. Ulliana would follow suit by squaring up a Mastando fastball but his would find the hole for a single. After retiring the smooth lefty swinging John Mead, Mastando would walk Martin and Nichols, bringing up the pitcher DeRubertis. Having given up 3 runs in the first, DeRubertis aided his own cause with a 2-run single to right-centerfield. Samek lined out to short to end the inning but it was the fifth ball hit hard by Bergen Catholic in the inning and the tide seemed to be changing.

This may have held true if it weren't for the fact that Don Bosco would put together one of the year's best team hitting performances on the beautiful Sunday afternoon. Cullen Dana, the starting pitcher in Bosco's semi-final win, was playing first base and batting 8th for the Ironmen in the championship game. Known for his ability on the mound, not many people anticipated what happened next. Dana homered to leftfield to make 4-2. That score would not last long however as Frank Nigro, Don Bosco's Sr. catcher heading to Wilmington, would match Dana's efforts. Nigro blasted a ball to the same part of the field to make it back-to-back homeruns for the Ironmen eight and nine hitters. After a Santos strikeout, Panno doubled to the gap and would be driven in by Josh Shaw, who collected his 3rd RBI of the game. The 6-2 score would persuade the Bergen Catholic coaching staff to make a change. Like yesterday, Bergen Catholic turned to Weiner and Dacey greeted him by squaring up a ball to RF. Weiner would settle in and retire the next two hitters. Two walks in the 3rd would cause Don Bosco to make a pitching change of their own, giving the ball to Sr. Rutgers-bound RHP Kevin Romero. With 1 out and runners on 1st and 2nd, Romero punched out the power hitting VanDeMark. Mead would pick up his teammate with an RBI single, his 3rd hit of the weekend. After a walk to Martin, Romero forced a Nichols pop up. With the score now 6-3, Bosco again would answer the challenge with a Dana double and an RBI single by Santos.

Both teams would collect hits in the 4th inning but the relievers would not allow a run until the 5th when VanDeMark and Ulliana hit back-to-back doubles. Mead then singled home his second runner of the game. Bergen Catholic's would consecutive hit to start the inning would be a bunt single by V.Martin. With bases loaded and no outs having already decreased the deficit by one run, Nichols hit a sacrifice fly to make it a 7-5 ball game. The senior shortstop came about 10-12 feet from changing the entire complexity of the game with a grand slam. The first out of the inning, although it brought Bergen Catholic closer to tying the game, provided Romero with a breath of fresh air. He would punch out the nine and one hitters to end the rally. The score would remain 7-5 until the bottom of the 6th inning when Josh Shaw blasted his second 2-run homerun of the game bringing the lead back to 4. Bosco would go to Vitaly Jangols in the 7th and the super reliable right-hander would shut the door and proceed to get piled on. Don Bosco won the Bergen Catholic Tournament with two solid team performances on the final weekend. Josh Shaw was named tournament MVP, an honor which he sealed with 4 hits, including 2 homeruns and 5 RBIs in the trophy game. Left-hander Cullen Dana earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Pitcher award for his role in Bosco's tournament run.