As good as Hanover Park’s Rick LaSalvia was on the mound, spotting fastballs on the corners, operating below the knees and doing it all in an economical fashion, the senior right-hander failed to deliver the strike of the day.
No, that one was unleashed by a rather unlikely source and from much further than 60 feet, six inches away.
Right fielder Frank Volante usually doesn’t have much time to conceptualize his throws. They arise in an instant, yet the senior is always willing to air out his arm on the rare occasions that a baserunner wants to measure his wheels against it. Those are the moments where Volante has a chance to remind everyone that his aggressive style is not exclusive to just fielding his position.
“The hallmark of me playing in the outfield is pretty much my arm,” Volante said. “I really haven’t had any chances this year but I guess one showed up at the right time.”
Twice in the bottom of the sixth, with Hanover Park clinging to a one-run lead, Volante displayed both his range and throwing accuracy but it was the second that proved to be a game saver. His laser from right connected with Matt Facas on the fly and the catcher applied the tag on courtesy runner Jack Hayes for the final out in the bottom of the sixth.
The defensive gem, which came on the heels of a go-ahead, two-run homer from Tom Pescatore in the top of the sixth, infused 14th-seeded Hanover Park, especially LaSilvia, who tossed a 1-2-3 seventh to stamp a sterling compete-game effort as well as a 3-2 victory over second-seeded West Morris on Saturday in the semifinal round of the Morris County Tournament at Delbarton High School in Morristown.
The win sends Hanover Park into the Morris County Tournament final on Saturday where it will face top-seeded Delbarton, a 4-1 victory over fifth-seeded Morristown-Beard in the second semifinal, at 7:30 at Horseshoe Lake Park in Roxbury.
Volante, who had no outfield assists prior to arguably the biggest of his career, provided himself a chance to show off his arm with another bold play earlier in the sixth. Charles Savite lined a shot into the right-center field gap and made a wide turn around first in search of a double only to retreat after Volante slid to cut the ball off and gave a glimpse of his arm strength with a dart to second base.
“If that kid got to second, a hit might score that runner,” Volante said. “I figured I had to keep him off second, so I slid and threw it as hard as I could.”
Thus, Hayes, who replaced Savite on the bases, only advanced to second on Tyler Amandos’ ensuing infield single and left from there in his pursuit of home when Will Anderson lined his base hit that resulted in Volante’s timely toss to the dish.
No one appreciated Volante’s precision more so than LaSilvia, who was exactly that throughout the contest.
“When that ball was hit to Frank, I knew we had a chance,” LaSilvia said. “He has a cannon. Once he let that ball go, I knew we had him. He threw it on the money. I owe him dinner or something.”
LaSilvia, who scattered eight hits, walked none and struck out five in a clean 81-pitch performance, owned the lower portion of the strike zone, effectively feeding fastballs on the inside corner to deny West Morris hitters a remote chance to extended their arms and flex their muscle.
“I try to keep the ball low because I don’t throw hard enough to work up. If I do, I’ll get hurt,” LaSilvia said, noting how potent West Morris can be turning on elevated fastballs. “I was able to keep it low and work in and out.”
Another determining factor in just how effective LaSilvia was revolved around controlling the count. Of the 26 batters he faced, 18 were started with a first-pitch strike.
“It was important to get ahead and stay ahead in the count,” he noted. “I knew, against their hitters, I couldn’t fall behind. I had to get ahead with the fastball. My curveball was there later in the counts and I could throw that for strikes. I was lucky enough to have everything working.”
Hanover Park (11-6-1), which extended its winning streak to four and has won six of its last seven since sitting at 4-5-1 on April 20, staked LaSilvia to a lead he didn’t surrender with a two-out rally in the top of the sixth.
Jim Sivolella grounded a single through the left side on an 0-2 pitch and Pescatore jumped on the very next offering and launched a two-run homer to left that erased a 2-1 deficit.
“The entire game, we were hitting the ball hard,” said Pescatore, a junior first baseman. “With a runner on first base and two outs, I just thought to myself if he gives me a fastball first pitch, I want to hit in play as hard as I can. I got an elevated fastball and was able to turn on it.”
Two-out, two-strike rallies proved to be a recurring theme for Hanover Park. The Hornets took a 1-0 lead in the second after Angelo Minnitti fell behind 0-2 before going the opposite way for a run-scoring double to right.
West Morris (12-5) countered in the bottom of the second. Amandos led off with single and, one batter later, Anderson drove him in with a slicing triple to right. Cameron Wanic knocked in Anderson with a ground out for a 2-1 lead.
West Morris starter Michael Feula and Savite combined to limit Hanover Park to five hits. Feula rebounded from Minnitti’s double to retire seven in a row and he worked out of a jam in the fifth, getting a strike out and fly ball to center to stranded runners on first and second.
Amandos and Anderson each finished 2-for-3 for West Morris.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner