Clinton Knights Crowned State
Connie Mack Champ Again!
by Lowell M. Snare
On Sunday, July 20, it was indeed survival of the fittest as the Clinton Knights American Legion team gutted out a do-or-die second game on the day to outlast Erial in the AABC New Jersey Connie Mack Championship game played at Prince Rogers Field in Bridgewater, 15-7.
The Knights (18-7) outlasted not only the fine Erial team (14-6-1), but also the 99 degree heat, the fact that the team played six games over the span of three days, and two in a row on Sunday after losing the first game of the day’s double-elimination championship round, 9-7, to the kids from south Jersey after blowing a 6-0 lead.
It was the second straight state Connie Mack Title for the Knights, and this one was a battle which the Clinton kids gutted out according to proud coach Paul Sutor.
"It was easy, and it wasn’t pretty but we will take it," smiled a happy, but tired coach Sutor after the game. "Six games in three days and the kids just never stopped playing, through the adversity, the heat, the good teams we faced, and just stayed focused.. To come in here today, with this heat, and most of our pitching used up and battle the way they did - well, it is just a tribute to the kids. They deserved all the credit in the world. The way we hit the ball in the final game, and we needed to do that.
"We just got a contribution from everyone on this team at one time or another in this tournament, and it was a true team win,’ the coach went on. "All these kids peaked at the right time, in state tournament play. We got some great pitching to get us started, then we hit the ball when we had to. A tournament like this is tough on pitching, but we found a way to win. It is nice to win the state title again, and a tribute to these kids."
The team came into Sunday’s play at 4-0, and needing to win one of two to win the title again. The jumped to a quick 6-0 lead in the first game, but Erial came back and beat them 9-7 to force a sixth and deciding game in the tournament.
Both teams were hurting for pitching and it showed, but Clinton’s Matt Sutor came into the game with his team trailing 5-4, and pitched just five innings of baseball on pure guts. He gave up just two runs and scattered six hits in giving his Knights the opportunity to win.
"The last four were it was all on adrenaline I assure you,", smiled the North grad, who improved to 5-3 on the season with the win. "This is one we had to have, and I wasn’t going to stop throwing until we won. We scored the runs we needed, and it sure feels good. It was a long day."
North Hunterdon grad Shawn Mehring had a huge game with a pair of doubles and five RBI, one a bases-loaded bomb off the center field fence, and the other a two-run double ro deep right one-hop off that fence.
"I just was looking for something to drive and help us scored some runs," said Mehring. "We needed runs, and I wanted to hit it hard somewhere. It feels good to win the championship again and I was glad I helped us do it."
Sutor helped himself going 4-5 with two runs scored, a double and two RBI, while Billy Weiss also went 4-5 with a double and three RBI, and Jimmy Ray went 3-5 with a key RBI in the seventh for some insurance. Mike Iwaskow also had a big day, on base all four times, going 2-2 and scoring four runs.
Catcher Nick Dileo had a huge RBI single in the three-run fourth inning that gave the Knights the lead back for good.
"We had a ton of kids contribute, and that’s what it takes to win a tournament like this," smiled coach Sutor.
In the opening game the Knights jumped to a 6-0 lead as Gibson launched a bases-loaded double off the fence in left-center and Mehring and Sutor both had two hits, with Sutor getting two RBI. Iwaskow had an RBI single in the sixth as Clinton got back to within 8-7.
Erial came back with Mike Murphy’s bases-loaded double keying a six-run fourth inning, and Mike Amato went 3-4 with two RBI in the win.
TOURNEY TIDBITS - Clinton breezed through the first two days and four games of the tournament after a late start on Saturday with a pair of games. Thursday nights start in the tourney got pushed back to Friday afternoon for some crazy reasons, but more about that somewhere else.
Voorhees grad and lefty heaver Scott Gibson threw the game of his life, shutting down Pyramid Legion foe Ridge on just four hits, fanning three and walking none in a 2-1 win to open Connie Mack play.
Gibson was sharp as he gave up just one unearned run in the first inning and then shut down Ridge the rest of the way on just two hits to improve to 4-0 on the season. The lefty is headed to play at Washington and Lee University in the fall.
"Scotty did a great job, just a great job," said coach Sutor. "We had guys on every inning, but couldn’t get a run home, and he just kept us in the game. He threw strikes, hit is spots and gave us the opportunity to pull it out for him. It was a great pitching performance.
Clinton did pull the game out with two outs in the last of the seventh as Mike Iwaskow walked on four pitches with two outs. Shawn Mehring singled him to second and Matt Sutor laced an RBI hit to left-center to tie the game. Billy Weiss then got the game-winner, a screamer of a line drive to center for the RBI.
The second game on Friday was all Clinton as the Knights rolled to an 8-3 win over Buena of south Jersey. Matt Sutor (4-3) went six innings, allowed three runs on five hits and fanned three, with some relief help from lefty John Strony.
Shorstop Jimmy Ray for the big hit, a two-run single in a four-run fourth inning, and finished 2-4 with two runs scored and two RBI, while Weiss clubbed an RBI single and RBI triple and Mike Iwaskow went 2-3 with two RBI.
On an early Saturday morning (9 a.m.) game it was all Clinton over unbeaten Erial, a team from Big Timber High School in south Jersey, 10-2. Big Timber High won the South Jersey Group 3 Sectional title last spring in its fourth year of existence.
Jimmy Ray (2-2) got the win on the mound, going five innings, allowing just four hits, fanning five and walking just one. He got out of bases-loaded jams twice (once with on outs and one with one out) and didn’t give up a run. Brian Thorne closed it off in the sixth in the mercy-rule win.
Matt Sutor had the big bat going 3-4 with a two-run homer over the 365-foot sign in left-center at Prince Rogers Field. Lenny Racco went 3-4 with an RBI triple, while Weiss had two hits and scored twice, while Iwaskow had a big two-run double in a four-run fourth. Gibson had an RBI double, and Nick Dileo, Ryan Hoffman and John Borkowski all added RBI hits.
The second game on Saturday was a 10-4 win for the Knights over Newark as Gibson had another big game with two doubles and three RBI, the big hit a tow run double in the five-run fourth inning. Mehring, Sutor and Nick Dileo all had two hits, with Dileo driving in two runs. Lenny Racco went 1-2, but with a double and scored three runs. Weiss had a doubled, scored two runs and knocked in one.
Matty Leier (5-1) gutted out a great effort, going all seven innings, allowing just five hits and fanning three. He got off to a rough start, but settled down and didn’t allow a run over the final three innings.