It’s OK to trumpet the talents North Bergen’s loaded pitching rotation. A staff that features nearly as many aces as a deck of cards understandably merits that type of notoriety.
The fastballs that senior Gianni Zayas, who his committed to North Carolina State, and juniors A.J. Gale or Marco Hernandez can paint on the corners or at the knees, impressive for both the velocity and control in which they are delivered, elicit their share of attention, especially as the strikeouts they compile mount up. However, all three would be the first to tell you they are no more invaluable than the Bruins’ appreciation for the value of fundamental baseball.
In fact, it’s something as remedial as hitting a cutoff or as complex as the execution of a rundown that are the kind of things that get as much of a rise from whoever happens to be on the mound as any punch out they earn themselves by blowing a pitch past a hitter for strike three.
“Just to know I can make a mistake pitch, throw one right over the middle of the plate, and someone hits it as hard as they can, and I have a good shot that my defense is going to make a play is big,” said Gale. “It’s a great feeling to know that is behind you.”
The attention to the finer points also permeates through the batting order. Byron Fernandez, the No. 9 hitter, attentively making a wide turn on a single so he can hustle to take second base through his anticipation of a potential overthrow. Leadoff man P.J. Cardone noticing some added space on the infield and exposing it with perfectly-placed drag bunt. The actions emphasize furthermore just how much North Bergen has grown to embraced the importance of getting a job done even when the fashion of choice to achieve it isn’t exactly of the awe-inspiring variety.
“We practice the fundamentals all the time,” North Bergen coach Pat Brady said. “We preach defense, for our hitters to be patient and not cheat themselves out of at bats. We get runners on, we like to hit and run and steal bases as best we can It all adds up.”
No kidding. North Bergen confirmed that and then some, complementing a powerful pitching display by Gale over six innings with its headiness in the field and at the plate to post an 8-2 victory over Union City on Monday in Union City.
The wind that continuously swept over the unique rooftop confines of the field set atop the high school proved no match for the piercing heater repeatedly fired by Gale.
“I think I threw about 85 percent fastballs,” Gale said of his pitch choice. “It was on and I wanted them to hit my best pitch. In the bullpen before the game, I felt great. When I feel good out there, I usually carry it out to the mound.”
That he did. The junior right-hander struck out 11 to offset five hits and two walks over six innings before giving way to Hernandez, who struck out a pair in the seventh to stamp the triumph. Gale (2-0) fanned two batters in the first, second and fourth innings and, despite being touched for two runs in the sixth, he still managed to strike out the side in the sixth before exiting.
“He hits his spots very well,” Brady noted. “His fastball is his out pitch but he mixes in a great curveball. But, when he’s hitting his spots, A.J. is one of the best pitchers in the county.”
North Bergen (4-1) handed Gale a 2-0 lead in the top of the second. With one out, Brandon Diaz lined a triple into the right-center field gap and scored on a ground out by Jordan Guzman. Sean Pagan, who was hit by a pitch, came home on the first of two singles by Fernandez.
Pasquale Andruela doubled off the wall in right-center with one out in the fourth and scored on a throwing error to extend the advantage to 3-0. The first baseman finished 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
“I was locked in and seeing the ball better than I have in the last few games,” Andruela said. “I went with where the ball was pitched, waited on curveballs and turned on the inside fastball.”
North Bergen tacked on an unearned run in the fourth and Jose Moreno laced an RBI triple in the sixth before scoring on a base hit by Andruela. Cardone capped the scoring for North Bergen with a two-run double in the seventh as part of a 3-for-5 showing.
“We’re smart and we play together to put runs on the board,” Cardone said. “When we can put three or four runs up, we know our pitchers are going to get the W for us.”
Union City (1-4) clicked for two runs in the sixth. Javier Estevez unloaded an RBI triple and scored on a single by Robert Herrera, who was 2-for-3 with a double.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner