By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It was a pitching matchup that will go down as one of the best showdowns in local high school baseball history.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my coaching career,” North Arlington head coach Paul Marcantuono said. “That’s either one of my pitchers or an opposing pitcher. It was an incredible performance for both kids.”
“No, definitely not,” Harrison head coach Sean Dolaghan said. “The first nine innings were over in an hour and 20 minutes. They were mowing people down and moving along. And it was two different pitching styles.”
North Arlington had senior right-hander Ryan Fego on the hill. Harrison had junior righty Tom Dolaghan. Combined, they put on a pitching clinic that will last a lifetime.
Neither pitcher gained the victory. Neither suffered the loss. They both pitched lights out into the gloaming, into dusk.
Dolaghan pitched nine scoreless innings, allowing just four singles while striking out 10.
Fego pitched 10 scoreless frames, also allowing just four hits. But Fego fanned an astounding 19 batters while walking just one. Fego’s 19 strikeouts is the third highest single game mark in the state this season and set a new school record.
Harrison won the game, 1-0, in 11 innings, but everyone is still buzzing about the performances of the two starters who matched zeroes all afternoon.
“He threw 125 pitches in 10 innings with 90 for strikes,” Marcantuono said of his ace. “I think he has more talent than he thinks he has. He’s confident and he’s super talented with a live arm.”
“Tommy was throwing his curve for strikes,” said Dolaghan, who is the cousin of the player. “While Fego was coming right at us and blowing us away, Tommy was just pounding the strike zone. It was an all-around great game with two great pitching performances.”
For their efforts in the classic, both Fego and Dolaghan have been selected as the Observer Co-Athletes of the Week this week. It’s the first time that opposing players have been selected as Co-Athletes of the Week. But the game, the pitching performances, deserved recognition.
“I was just hoping that Ryan or Dolaghan didn’t get the loss,” Marcantuono said. “Because both pitchers deserved to win and both teams deserved to win. They both pitched their hearts out.” Fego has been a member of the North Arlington pitching staff for the last three years, but he has really showed his talents this season.
“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten bigger and stronger,” Fego said. “I can attack people now in the count. I definitely feel like I have more velocity and my breaking ball is better. I spent a lot of time in the weight room and did a lot more cardio workouts to help with my stamina.”
Fego said that the workouts helped his stamina as well.
“My velocity was the same from the first inning through the tenth,” Fego said. “I wanted to do whatever I could to keep us in the game. It was a once-in-a-lifetime game and it just happened at the same time for both of us.”
Dolaghan said that he felt a sense of importance since he was one of only four returning players.
“I had to step up and be a leader,” Dolaghan said. “I worked out a lot to get ready for the season. I built up my strength by lifting. I also grew a little more. I’ve been throwing strikes. A lot of what I do is location. I’m not afraid to throw my curve or changeup at any time.”
Dolaghan also developed a special pitch.
“He now has a knuckleball,” Sean Dolaghan said.
“I watched R.A. Dickey (the former Mets Cy Young Award winner) and started throwing it with my friends,” Tom Dolaghan said. “I just started throwing it and it works. I use it maybe five times a game in key situations.”
Tom Dolaghan is also a confident pitcher now.
“I have five different pitches I can throw for strikes,” Dolaghan said. “This was one of the most fantastic games I’ve ever been in. I’m trying not to let it get to my head. But this really helped my confidence.”
Fego is doing the same.
“My velocity was up and I was trying to blow it by them,” said Fego, who might continue his career at the County College of Morris or Lackawanna Junior College in the fall. “Both of us had great pitching performances. It is almost fitting that neither of us lost. I’m still in shock about the game. I always thought I was capable of this. Now, I’m confident. It reminds me again that I am capable of it.”
Marcantuono said that Fego has enjoyed a great season thus far.
“His record doesn’t show how good he’s been,” Marcantuono said. “He’s been so valuable to us as a hitter as well. He had three hits and three RBI against Lyndhurst. He’s been dominant. He just doesn’t have the wins to show for it.”
Coach Dolaghan thinks his cousin is making strides toward consistent stardom.
“He’s also a better hitter this season,” Sean Dolaghan said. “He’s our No. 2 hitter and has been making solid contact every at-bat. He plays shortstop when he’s not pitching and doing a great job. He’s been very surprising thus far and he could turn into an excellent player.”
And both can say that they had a major part in pitching and playing in a game of a lifetime.