Prep Baseball Report

Story and Recap from the Passaic County Finals

TJ Hunt
Director of Scouting, New Jersey

WAYNE -- On a unseasonably cold day in mid May, the Passaic County Finals came down to unanimous number one seed Wayne Hills and cinderella number 10 seed West Milford. Wayne Hills ran away with the win, and the Passaic County crown with a 13-2 walk-off style win due to a mercy rule.

The two teams had met twice before in the regular season, splitting the two games. Wayne Hills came into Tuesday’s Championship matchup with a record of 20-4 - good for number three in North Jersey - behind only St. Joseph’s Montvale and Bergen Catholic (via Keith Idec & Mark Czerwinski, The Record). West Milford came into the Championship game on a little run of their own. At 10-7, the Highlanders had beaten a very tough Passaic team in the semifinals - and their win early in the season against Hills has proven that they are a scrappy bunch of ball players.

From the start, it was all Wayne Hills. Senior ace and Marist commit righty Austin Phillips was dynamite. Sitting at 85-87 MPH, Phillips was able to locate his pitches and keep the Highlander hitters guessing. The scoring started in the bottom of the first, when lead off batter and Monmouth commit SS Dan Abate took a Cal Egan fastball over the right field wall for a solo home run. From there it seemed like runs would come in bunches for the Patriots. Number three batter senior OF Joe Curcio (LIU-Brooklyn) singled and scored on senior OF Joe Simone’s (Rider) hot shot that was misplayed by the second baseman. With one out, senior 3B Dan Colon (Indiana St. commit) homered over the left field fence to make it 4-0.

The Patriots were able to add another run in the third on a Simone single, stolen base, and an RBI ground out by sophomore 1B Jason Modak. Hills would score two more in the fifth highlighted by a Curcio infield single, stolen base, and a Simone RBI single. Senior catcher Dylan Habeeb doubled to bring Simone in, making it 7-0.

In the sixth, the Highlanders scratched two across the board on Phillips, taking advantage of a misplayed pop up with two outs. Jimmy Rauth got the inning started with a double to left-center, his third hit of the game - and with two outs, senior catcher Chris Miller’s pop up to right was misplayed, scoring Rauth who had moved to third on a ground out. The next batter, Sean Keleman then singled to right, and advanced to second on a throw, and Zach Messler singled him in. Phillips put out the fire with a pop up to second - making it 7-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth.

After senior OF Andrew Easse singled, Abate doubled, senior 2B Brian Marcus reached on an error, and Curcio singled again. After Colon poppped up, Modak stepped up and delivered a towering grand slam to seal the victory for the Patriots, and their first county championship since 2009.

Dan Abate was named tournament MVP - going 3-4 with two doubles and a home run. Curcio was also 3-4, and Simone was 2-3 with a walk.

Phillips was masterful again, as he has been all year. A candidate for North Jersey Pitcher of the Year, Phillips went six innings, scattering five hits, allowing two unearned runs, and striking out seven. He did not walk a batter.

Rauth was 3-3 for the Highlanders, including a double and a run scored. The only other hits came from Messler and good looking freshman prospect Mike Wis. Wis came into throw in the sixth, was sitting 77-79 with a very sharp curveball at 66 - certainly a player to watch for as he progresses in his high school career.

With the county tournament wrapped up, both teams are looking toward the state tournament, which starts on Monday.

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