Jeff Granger stressing out on the mound is about as rare as one of his offerings straying outside of the strike zone.
One relates to the other. The Bergen Catholic junior doesn’t have to concern himself with being too fine because of what resides behind him, which enables him to operate with clarity and no restraint when it comes to filling catcher Zach Cerbo’s mitt.
“I have a really good defense behind me,” the right-hander said. “So, I know all I have to do is throw strikes and pitch to contact. I have trust in my defense to make the plays.”
Given the luxury of the slick gloves that are always ready in wait, Granger liberally dealt strikes unencumbered and got just the results he anticipated. His two-hit shutout was complemented by an offense that created runs in resourceful fashions as Bergen Catholic, No. 15 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15 blanked DePaul, 6-0, on Friday night at Overpeck Park in Ridgefield Park.
“He’s even keeled,” Bergen Catholic coach Jim Burt Jr. said. “I think it’s his mentality. He goes out and throws the ball and lets his defense work. Pitching isn’t always about having great stuff. It’s about hitting your spots, knowing how to mix your pitches and he did a great job of that. He doesn’t let anything get to him. He throws to the catcher."
Granger (1-1) was touched for an infield single by Mike Lembo in the first and line-drive base hit by Matt Betz in the fifth. His two-seam fastball that ran in on the hands of hitters was offset by a breaking ball that became more prominent in his mix as the game progressed.
“Early on, my curveball wasn’t working,” said Granger, who struck out seven and walked one. “But, it got more and more on. My fastball was working the best.”
Bergen Catholic (6-1) got all the run support Granger would need in the bottom of the second. Cerbo led off with infield single and courtesy runner Dan Maita raced to second on an errant pickoff attempt. After A.J. Gallagher singled to put runners on the corners, Maita scored on the front end of a delayed double steal for a 1-0 lead.
Alec DeMattheis walked with one out in the fourth, moved to second on an infield single from Joe Esposito to load the bases and, following a force out at the plate, scored on an error, one of seven committed by DePaul (3-4).
The Crusaders, who loaded the bases three times in the first four innings but only generated two runs out those situations, broke the game open in the sixth. DeMatthies drew a leadoff walk and Esposito, who went 3-for-3 singled before Jordan Attilio dropped a safety squeeze to extend the advantage to 3-0. Mike Martinez put down a perfectly-placed bunt to load the bags once more.
“Coach told me to execute a bunt,” Martinez, who was 2-3 with a double and reached base in all three plate appearances, said. “I moved the runner over and wound about being safe at first.”
The bags filled once more, Ryan Kelly delivered with a two-run single to center and the senior left fielder scored the final run on a throwing error committed on a ground ball by Mike Sutherland.
“We have kids that can beat out a bunt or a base hit in the infield,” said Esposito, who counted two infield hits amongst his three singles. “There is speed on this team that we didn’t have a year ago.”
The pitching quartet of Lembo (1-1), who started and worked four innings, Joe Cangelosi, Matt Cox and Nick Fondacaro combined to collect nine strikeouts four earned runs.
Bergen Catholic played error-free while getting defensive gems from Gallagher, who hustled in from third to barehand a slow-roller and fire a dart to first to get Fondacarao by a stride in the fifth, and Martinez in right, where he made a diving stab of a line drive by John Scarr to end the fourth.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner