Christian Campbell is always thinking, breaking down the nuances of the game to their finest degree.
The Sayreville junior was whacked over the head with the talent stick. There’s the graceful footwork that gives him limitless range at shortstop. The same hands that are soft and quiet when fielding a ground ball are just as capable of delivering thunderous power, whether the 6-2 standout is unleashing his fastball on the mound or uncoiling bat speed at the plate.
But, beyond all that unmistakable ability, there is another aspect to Campbell that no one can visually observe. This is a thinking man’s ballplayer with an acumen that sets him apart from most of his peers. He relishes those situations in a tight contest that challenge a player to be more reflective and less reflexive. To go a little deeper into thought and survey the moment, devise a plan and challenge conventional wisdom.
Thus, after teammates Chris Eveigan and Corey Benko drew consecutive walks in front of Campbell to load the bases in the bottom of the fifth, Campbell wasn’t interested in taking pitches until he saw strikes. Instead, he opted to think not like an eager hitter anxious to deliver a clutch hit, but put himself in the role of a pitcher eager to find the strike zone.
“I’ve seen him throw eight straight balls and I’m thinking as a pitcher, because I’m a pitcher myself, and I’d want to get a strike over,” Campbell said. “So I was looking for a fastball down the middle of the plate to just bang it.”
The perceptive Campbell got exactly what he envisioned and laced a bases-clearing triple that erased a one-run deficit and stamped a six-run outburst that, coupled with the gritty pitching of Jimmy Kraivec in his first career start, propelled Sayreville to a 6-2 triumph over North Brunswick on Thursday at South Amboy Waterfront Park.
“He is a Division 1 recruit and a big-time player,” Sayreville coach Mike Novak said. “He’s the only person in our lineup I would say you can zone up on one after eight straight balls. Anybody else is getting the automatic take. He’s the kid I want up in that situation. He’s not going to swing at a bad pitch. That’s a spot where I have trust in him and he came up huge for us.”
While Campbell did his part for Sayreville (3-0), the rally in the fifth was a team production as the Bombers paraded 10 men to the plate in the frame. Liam Campbell reached on an error to lead off and Andrew Rifkin singled before Eveigan drew a walk to load the bases. Benko, who doubled in his first at bat, forced in a run with his walk before Campbell lined a shot to left that cleared the bases to give Sayreville a 4-2 lead. Matthew Bouthilette drove in Campbell with a ground out and the Bombers tacked on an earned run to cap the surge.
Kraivec, whose pitching role had been limited to relief duty prior to Thursday, embraced his debut as a starter, scattering seven hits, fanning six and walking one in improving to 2-0. He picked up a win on Monday against South Brunswick with two innings of work out of the bullpen.
“He threw strikes and he commanded his breaking ball,” praised Novak. “And, he showed a lot of composure.”
Kraivec retired six of the first seven batters he faced before yielding a leadoff single to Joe Manley and his only walk to Brian Wistreich to start the third. With one out, Kraivec thought he got the ground ball he was looking for, which produced a double play, only to have the play overturned on a catcher’s interference call. Placido Torres drove in Manley on a ground out and North Brunswick (2-1) loaded the bases before Kraivec induced a ground out to end the inning.
“Minimizing the damage there was big,” Kraivec, a senior right-hander, said. “That was key because it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Michael Pfeiffer led off the top of the fifth with an infield single , moved to second on a base hit by Torres and took third on a wild pitch before scoring on an error to push the lead to 2-0. But, from that point on, Kraivec was dialed in, allowing just one more hit over the balance of the game. When Torres, who was 2-4, got aboard on an error to start the top of the seventh, Kraivec responded by getting a 4-6-3 double play and a fly out to complete his victory.
Chris Iocca and Dominick Scialabba combined on a three-hitter for North Brunswick.
North Bergen 4, Hoboken 2: PJ Cardone had a triple and two RBI while Willie Cruz and Pasquale Andreula each belted solo homers for North Bergen (2-1), which scored twice in the top of the 10th. Kenny Roder struck out 15 over nine innings for Hoboken (1-2).
No. 3 Red Bank Catholic 6, Colts Neck 1: Senior Ryan Spahr limited Colts Neck (1-1) to three hits over six innings and sophomore Brendan Madigan went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBI for Red Bank Catholic (2-0). Matt Kleinstein had a solo home run for Colts Neck.
No. 12 Wall 6, Brick Memorial 4: Alex Taylor collected two hits and three RBI to pace Wall (3-0), which rallied from a 4-1 deficit through three innings. Luke Malone struck out five in the complete-game victory.
Toms River South 6, Monroe 5: Andrew Hourigan doubled home a run and Rob Cashin and Russ Messler each supplied an RBI single as Toms River South (2-1) scored five times in the fifth to erase a 5-1 deficit. RJ Devish, a senior right-hander, picked up the win in relief. Toms River South coach Ken Frank ran his career record to 753-232 and is one triumph away from tying the state’s all-time winningest coach, the late Tony Ferrainolo of Memorial of West New York, who owned a mark of 754-208.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner