The long season ended in frustrating fashion for the Eastern High School baseball team.
North Jersey champion Ridgewood scored two runs on sacrifice flies to edge Eastern, 2-1, in a taut, tense Group 4 state title game Saturday night at Bob DeMeo Field in Veterans Park in Mercer County.
Eastern, the South Jersey champion, managed just two hits off three Ridgewood pitchers and scored its lone run on an errant pick-off throw.
Ridgewood (25-4) got strong work from senior right-hander Kevin Seitter, a Quinnipiac recruit, allowed just two hits and struck out 10 in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory.
Eastern junior Cole Boyan pitched a masterpiece in a losing effort.
Boyan worked 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs, one earned. He surrendered just two hits with three walks, two hit batters, and three strikeouts.
Boyan left the game after reaching the 110-pitch limit with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. He earned a standing ovation from Eastern fans in the bleachers along the right field.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Eastern senior catcher Dylan Stezzi said of Boyan. “Everybody thought Ridgewood was going to roll us, they were scoring 10 runs a game in the playoffs.”
Eastern (23-9) didn’t win the Olympic Conference American Division or make a run in the Diamond Classic, as in recent seasons.
But the Vikings made a deep playoff run and came within a few missed opportunities of capturing the program’s second state title. Eastern also won the state crown in 2013.
“Nobody expected this team to do anything,” Eastern coach Rob Christ said. “But we kept proving the doubters wrong.”
Eastern cut Ridgewood’s lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth as A.J. Funari reached on a walk, stole second, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a pick-off throw at first that skidded down the right-field line.
Eastern missed a couple of opportunities to score in the early innings.
The Vikings’ first three batters of the game reached safely but they failed to take advantage because of a pick-off at second base.
Nick Zellner led off the bottom of the first with a ringing double to the gap in right-center. Matt Karpousis and Jack Winsett both were hit by pitches.
But the rally was short-circuited by the pick-off and Seitter worked out of trouble with a pair of strikeouts.
In the second inning, Eastern again had three batters reach base but failed to score. Funari walked, Isaac Fendrick was hit by a pitch, and Zellner was safe after striking out when the pitch escaped Ridgewood’s catcher.
But Seitter wriggled free again, this time recorded the final out with the bases loaded on a fly to left field.
“We had the opportunity to do some positive things but give them credit,” Christ said of Ridgewood. “Those were three of the best pitchers we saw all year.”
Ridgewood took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as David Kleiman walked and took third on a hit-and-run single by Bret Thompson.
Kleiman scored on a sacrifice fly by Sam Favieri, whose drive to the gap in left-center was tracked down by a diving Zellner.
Boyan settled down after the first inning and kept Ridgewood batters off balance with a mixture of off-speed pitches. He retired 14 of 16 from the first inning through the fifth, allowing just one hit with two strikeouts.
Ridgewood made it 2-0 in the top of the sixth without a hit. With one out, Brian Skettini hit a cue shot up the first-base line that resulted in a three-base error when the throw skipped into no-man’s land down the right-field line.
Anthony Stephan drove home the run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
“It was a weird play,” Christ said of the three-base error. “But that’s baseball.”
Ridgewood 100 001 -- 2 2 1
Eastern 000 001 0 -- 1 2 1
WP: Kevin Seitter. LP: Cole Boyan.