Considering his recent tear, it’s hard to fathom Bryan Prohaska struggling at the plate. But when St. Joseph of Metuchen opened its season, it did so with the senior on the bench for the first two games while he rediscovered his swing.
Playing a hunch, Steve Bucchignano penciled Prohaska into the Falcons’ starting lineup for their third game against Peddie and the senior left fielder made his coach look like a prophet, going 2-for- 4 with an RBI in a 10-4 triumph. He’s been a staple of the batting order from that point forward.
“I figured lets give the guy a shot and see what happens,” Bucchignano recalled. “Ever since then, we’ve never taken this kid out. He’s just a bulldog. He’s a leader. He does it all for us. He comes early, he stays late. He’s done everything we asked of him.”
Including develop into menacing presence with a bat in his eager hands.
Regardless of where he was in the count, it didn’t matter on Saturday. For almost two weeks, Prohaska has been locked in the type of hitting groove most players only dream about. It stems from the quiet confidence in a quick, compact swing that’s rendered pitchers practically defenseless in their attempts to retire him.
Prohaska powered an offense that took full advantage of the ample opportunities it was given by going for 4-for-4 to complement the dominating pitching of senior left-hander Steve Guarriello as St. Joseph cooled off red-hot Dunellen with a 7-0 victory in the quarterfinal round of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament at Community Park in North Brunswick.
Prohaska, who entered the contest batting .339, raised his average a whopping 41 points to .380 upon its completion. Over the last five outings, he’s gone 13 for 20 with three doubles, eight runs and seven RBI.
His single that drove in two in the second was part of a four-run uprising in which the Falcons marched nine batters to the plate and parlayed the combination of four hits and four errors by Dunellen (21-3), which had its 16-game winning streak snapped, into a 5-0 advantage.
“The most important thing to do is take advantage of mistakes,” said Prohaska, who collected two singles, two doubles and three RBI, and scored twice. “We had a good hitting day all the way around the lineup and that was big for us.”
Senior third baseman Bobby Dudik finished 2-for-3 with two singles and two RBI while senior second baseman Nic Accardi chipped in with an RBI single and a run scored as St. Joseph (17-9) collected nine hits.
While the offense hummed, Guarriello was a picture of poise and precision. His two-seam fastball was spot on from the first inning when he picked up two of his 10 strikeouts over six innings of work. He allowed five hits and walked three before giving way to junior lefty Sean Rappleyea, who set down Dunellen in order in the top of the seventh, including two strikeouts.
“The best thing I did was locate the ball down,” said Guarriello (6-3), who threw 46 pitches over the first two innings and yielded four hits through three frames but showed the fortitude work out of that early trouble, stranding six runners in the process before settling in to retire eight straight before walking Casey Wenzel to start the top of the sixth. .
“The whole team gets motivated when he’s throwing that good,” Prohaska said of Guarriello. “Our goal is to help him out. We don’t want to leave him hanging.”
Mike DeMaria, Jeff Puckett, Wenzel, Dylan Hoski and Kirk Hasson each had a single to account for Dunellen’s five hits.
St. Joseph moves on to the tournament semifinals on Tuesday at East Brunswick. The Falcons will face top-seeded Sayreville, No. 4 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, who ousted ninth-seeded Edison, 11-2, behind Christian Campbell. The junior right-hander allowed five hits but struck out six over four innings to improve to 8-0 and went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer while his cousin Liam Campbell finished 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBI.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner