Tommy Marcinczyk can’t help himself. And, because of that, the Middlesex junior inevitably does.
You see, Marcinczyk is passionate about defense. It shows in center field, where over the past three years, he’s established himself as the measuring stick for patrolling the middle ground. Hitters with ideas of taking two as their long drives head to the gap routinely slow their sprint to a trot as they make a U-turn back to the dugout, thwarted by his reads and exceptional jumps to make improbable grabs.
And, that defensive mentality has a way of coming to the surface when he pitches. He seeks to operate in the lower third of the strike zone through his heady mix of two-seam fastballs and off-speed pitches, determined to roll hitters’ hands in search of ground balls.
The approach would seem to put an onus on the infielders behind him to but Marcinczyk is simply unwilling to exclude himself from any defensive liability.
While second basemen Jeff Reinecke was the busiest, gobbling five of the 13 ground-ball outs recorded, Marcinczyk exhibited his athleticism on the mound to make a number of plays as well in a clean five-hit shutout that sparked third-seeded Middlesex to a 5-0 victory over sixth-seeded South Plainfield on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament at Community Park in North Brunswick.
“They have a lot of good hitters,” Marcinczyk said of South Plainfield (18-8), which came in riding a 10-game winning streak powered by an offense that averaged 7.3 runs and 9.5 hits during the run. “I had to keep the ball down and jam them inside. I had faith in my infielders. It all worked out.”
Marcinczyk, who was downright efficient in tossing a 72-pitch gem, set the tone right from the opening pitch, getting the dangerous Mark Tomei to ground out to Reinecke. Two pitches later, he got nearly an identical roller to Reinecke to record two quick outs and establish a rapid pace he never veered off of.
“The first thing I noticed was how well Tommy was keeping the ball down,” said Reinecke, who had five assists. “I didn’t expect to get that many balls hit my way but I was happy to make the plays.”
The game cruised along to the bottom of the third with South Plainfield getting its own quality outing from right-hander Ryan Hughes. But, Kris Fellin led off with a bad-hop single the skipped over the shoulder of shortstop Ryan Marcoux. Tyler Heisch followed with a single to left in front of Kyle Dotey, whose sacrifice bunt led to a throwing error that enabled Fellin to hustle home with the game’s first run. Marcinczyk then aided his cause with a sacrifice fly.
Dan Berardi padded the lead with an RBI single in the fifth and Middlesex (23-2) made it 5-0 in the sixth with a pair of unearned runs.
Marcinczyk experienced his only moment of modest concern in the sixth. Marcoux lined a one-out single and moved to second on a base hit by Tomei. A wild pitch advanced both runners one base but Marcinczyk ended the threat by snaring a line-drive comebacker and getting an inning-ending strikeout.
Marcinczyk had three assists, fanned three, walked none and avoided running a single count full on any of the 24 batters he faced.
“Tommy throws strikes and he’s going to get outs,” said Heisch, who went 2-3 with a walk and two runs scored. “I love his uptempo style. It always keeps you ready and awake.”
Second baseman Steve Petriello finished 2-3 with a double for South Plainfield, which got just one baserunner as far as third base.
Middlesex advanced to the semifinal round at East Brunswick on Tuesday at 4 p.m. where it will face 10th-seeded Monroe (14-9), which got a two-hit shutout from Dan Marsh (5-2) to upset second-seeded Perth Amboy (18-5), 7-0. Frank D’Agostino launched his ninth homer of the season, a two-run blast, and Andrew Cohen added a three-run shot.