Tommy Burns is fond of his fastball, and who can blame him?
When you’re capable of firing a baseball consistently in the low 90s, as the Don Bosco ace does, it’s easy to become infatuated with the pitch. However, the senior right-hander can also make a case that such velocity carries a degree of misrepresentation.
“Pitching is about changing speeds and sometimes, I feel like I need to do that,” Burns said. “I might be able to overpower someone with my fastball but I want to be more of a pitcher than a thrower. Pitching is process where you are always learning.”
The craft really does transcend what you throw and becomes a constant pursuit of progression within the art. It encompasses dictating the pace of play, encouraging a teammate after a miscue and, perhaps most importantly, responding under adverse conditions.
Based on how Burns handled himself in each of those regards over five taxing innings, he confirmed he’s already that complete pitcher he nonetheless continues to strive to be.
Against a Paramus lineup that was putting its fair share of runners on base, Burns dug deep when necessary to deliver the pitches to get out of harm’s way. His competitive streak under precarious circumstances enabled him to strand eight runners, including five in scoring position.
It also bought enough time for the Ironmen’s offense to put together a patient yet productive five-run fifth that broke things open and propelled top-seeded Don Bosco, No. 1 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 9-0 triumph over seventh-seeded Paramus on Monday for its second straight Bergen County Tournament title and fifth in the last seven years.
“This means an awful lot,” Don Bosco coach Mike Rooney said. “If you care about them, like all the coaches do, and hold them in extremely high regard, you want it for them. You worry yourself sick over what could happen. In the end, you feel real good about putting this group out on the field because, as much as you want it for them, they want it for themselves. And, they especially want it for each other and that’s what makes it a special group.”
Burns epitomized that sense of togetherness in the top of the first. With one out, Mike Bussanich reached on an errant throw and stole second. But, Burns compensated for the error by inducing a pair of ground outs.
After yielding a consecutive one-out singles to Rob Bonastasia and Ronny Weiss in the second, Burns addressed the matter with a strikeout and fly out. He worked out of minor jams in the next two frames and ended his outing by stranding runners at second and third with a ground ball and the last of his five strikeouts.
“We got runners on and in scoring position in five of the seven innings,” Paramus coach Jonathan Morrisette said. “We just couldn’t get that hit. Take your hat off to Burns. When the pressure was on, he executed his pitches and the defense behind him made the plays.
“Getting in the jam sometimes is maybe him trying to do a little too much,” Rooney said of Burns. “He has the ability to slow the game down. That’s what he does as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. He gets the big outs when guys are on base.”
Paramus starter Anthony D’Errico kept Don Bosco off balance early behind a biting curveball and retired the Ironmen’s potent first five hitters without incident. But, junior catcher Andrew Herrera changed that with one pitch when he hammered a solo homer to left in the second to stake Don Bosco (23-3), which extended its winning streak to 21, to a 1-0 lead.
“D’Errico was mixing it up very well,” Herrera said. “I get up there and obviously, our one through five hitters are tremendous and all Division 1-caliber players. So, a lot of times, the pitcher takes a deep breath and starts to refocus with me. I got a nice, first-pitch fastball and my dad has been telling me the whole tournament to capitalize on that. It felt like that sparked us.”
Paramus was dealt a blow when D’Errico felt tenderness in his shoulder while warming up to start the bottom of the third. Morrisette lifted him in favor of ace right-hander Frank Colasante.
“He kept hitters off balance with his good curveball working and a changeup off that,” Morrisette said. “They were uncomfortable at the plate and that’s exactly what we wanted. Unfortunately, something happened in Anthony’s shoulder.”
While Mike Mecca (Villanova), Grant Van Orden (West Point), Joe Purritano (Dartmouth), Matt Dacey (Michigan) and George Iskenderian (South Carolina) all sport the kind of credentials that can consume a pitcher with understandable dread, the less-celebrated but quietly dangerous lower portion of the Bosco lineup deserves plenty of credit.
Senior right fielder Ted Cebulski energized the Ironmen by legging out a leadoff double in the third and No. 9 hitter Pete Petrosino was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Both advanced on a passed ball and, following a one-out walk, Purritano knocked in Cebulski with a fielder’s choice. A throwing error on the play provided Petrosino to score on the play for a 3-0 cushion.
Cebulski got things started again in the game-breaking fifth with a single and Bosco loaded the bases with one out. Purritano forced in a run with a walk, Dacey pushed across another on a hit by pitch and Iskenderian contributed the first of his two RBI singles.
“I always have to prove to myself that I belong in this lineup,” said Cebulski. “Coming up leading off the inning, it’s a big part to get on base and start something up.”
The Ironmen continued their effective station-to-station approach with a bases-loaded walk to Herrera before Joe Manganella, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, lined an RBI single for an 8-0 cushion.
Van Orden doubled in the sixth and scored on a line-drive single to left by Iskenderian, who expressed the importance of a tempered celebration.
“You’re happy for the first 30 minutes after it happens but you’ve got to move on,” Iskenderian said, referring to Bosco’s preparation for Tuesday’s NJSIAA North Jersey, Non-Public A quarterfinal encounter with Pope John. “Now, that this is over, and we wanted this one bad, we have to start looking forward. We know what happened last year under the same situation. We’ve got to stay on it and can’t let anything get in our way.”
A year ago, Don Bosco defeated Ramapo in the BCT final to run its mark to 25-0 only to be derailed by Bergen Catholic, 3-1, two days later in a sectional quarterfinal upset.
Burns, who was named the Most Outstanding Pitcher, exited after five, having allowed six hits and a walk. He was replaced by senior Mike Gomez, who fanned two and yielded a leadoff single to Mark Diaz in the seventh but got a double play and strikeout to stamp the championship, Don Bosco’s sixth overall, all of which have been captured since 2001.
Rob Bonastasia had two singles for Paramus.
Tournament notes: Former Wood-Ridge and Hackensack coach Dennis Mamatz was honored in a pre-game ceremony as the Baldwin/Hunt Baseball Service Award recipient and Doug Parcells, who has been an active umpire for 34 years, was honored with the Peter Amoruso Umpire Service Award.
Herrera, Manganella, Cebulski and Petrosino combined to go 4-for-9 with five runs scored and three RBI.
Burns (7-1) went 3-0 in the tournament. He had 24 strikeouts, four walks and allowed 13 hits over 17 innings.
Paramus senior second baseman Giancarlo Rozon came up with arguably the defensive gem of the day. He robbed Manganella of a single with a diving stab to his right in the fourth.