Finley's gem lifts Hamilton over Ocean
The difference between early peril and game-long precision boiled down to one pitch for Shane Finley.
Even as good as the Hamilton right-hander looked ringing up two strikeouts in the top of the first, a harbinger of things to come, Finley battled to find early consistency, abandoned by his curveball, one of the essential companions to his fastball, and had no easy time closing out his initial inning.
A one-out single by Mike Scagnelli, coupled with a hit by pitch and walk, loaded the bases for Ocean Township and presented it with what proved to be its best chance to rattle Finley. But, that’s virtually impossible.
Finley is immune to pressure, a product of being handed the ball in almost every big game the Hornets have been involved in this spring. In fact, it’s those critical snapshots in a ballgame that tend to offer the best examples of how commanding and composed he can be when nothing less will suffice.
The senior ace coolly extinguished the early uprising and was locked in from there, retiring a string of 14 straight en route to a tidy three-hit shutout that powered fourth-seeded Hamilton to a 2-0 triumph over 13th-seeded Ocean Township on Tuesday in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 tournament in Hamilton.
“When you get in that position in the first inning and get out of it, the rest of the game becomes a little easier,” said Finley. “We were in a close game so I can’t give up too much. If I leave a fastball up, no matter how hard I throw it, they are going to hit it.”
Those were words Finley lived by. By keeping his fastball around the knees while biding time for the arrival of his curve, he gave Ocean hitters very few attractive offerings to drive as he collected nine strikeouts and issued just the lone walk in the first.
“I thought we could have got to him early because he wasn’t getting his breaking ball over,” Ocean coach Cip Apicielli said. “Once, he settled in on the mound and just started pitching, he came after everybody. We stopped striking out but we were just hitting balls at guys. We couldn’t find a hole, which they found one time.”
After emerging from the first inning undamaged, Finley’s confidence only escalated as he struck out the side in the second. He registered eight ground outs in a 97-pitching outing that ran is mark to 5-3.
The performance of Finley was backed by a clutch base hit from first baseman Erving Nazario that supplied Hamilton (18-8) with all the run support necessary to advance.
In the bottom of the third, Vinnie Sorrentino and Brandon Kirk each drew a one-out walk and advanced to second and third on a ground out. Up stepped first baseman Erving Nazario, who fell behind 0-2 before pulling a pitch through the ride to score the game’s only two runs.
“I was looking fastball and I got it,” said Nazario. “I didn’t try to hit it out. I went with the pitch.”
Nazario’s clutch single was part of a 2-for-3 day as Ocean’s Dan Maguire stood tall on the mound. The righty (2-4) went the distance on a four-hitter with two strikeouts and three walks.
Ocean (12-14) challenged Finley one more time in the sixth. With one out, Scagnelli picked up his second single and went to third on a wild pitch. But, Finley responded in his usual fashion, striking out the next batter on a filthy changeup before tacking on another punchout to close the inning.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner