Lyndhurst mounts amazing comeback to capture North 2, Group II title
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It will go down as one of the most thrilling and improbable victories in Lyndhurst High School baseball history _ especially since there was a state sectional championship involved.
Last Friday, Lyndhurst was rolling along toward the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship. The Golden Bears held a 5-1 lead over Garfield going into the final inning. Senior righthanded pitcher Max Hart was in complete command. Things looked extremely promising.
Then, disaster struck, almost too fast to fathom. Garfield scored six times in the top of the seventh inning to take a 7-5 lead. Hart wilted a bit in the 95-degree heat and the Golden Bears had no answer to stop the Garfield onslaught.
“Max just got tired,” veteran Lyndhurst head coach Frank “Butch” Servideo said. “It was heartbreaking to watch that.”
When the Golden Bears came into the dugout to start the bottom of the seventh, Servideo brought his team together.
“We’re not a good team,” Servideo said. “We’re a great team. Great teams come back and never give up.”
The players also believed. “We were all very confident,” second baseman Michael Perry said. “We all had faith.”
“I knew it wasn’t over,” Hart said. “I wasn’t about to let anyone get down. I was as loud as I could be. I definitely had faith we could come back.”
“We all had too much pride to go down like that,” catcher Austin Meeney said. “We saw the lead slip away, but we weren’t done.”
So the Bears gave it their all one last time. They heard what their coach had to say and believed in fate.
They scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving Lyndhurst the unbelievable 8-7 victory and the school’s first state sectional title since winning the overall Group I state crown in 2008.
Lyndhurst was slated to face Mahwah, which captured the North 1, Group II title Friday, in the overall Group II semifinals Tuesday at Kean University. A win there would elevate the Golden Bears to the overall Group II state finals in Toms River on Saturday.
After giving up the four-run lead so suddenly in the top of the seventh inning, the Bears (23-6) wasted little time to mount their winning rally in the home seventh.
Bobby DeMarco led off the inning by getting hit by a Chris Castillo pitch and Franky Deleva (who had a double, triple and three runs scored) kept the rally going with a double down the right field line, putting the tying runs in scoring position with no one out. Up stepped Lyndhurst catcher Meeney, who had two doubles and two RBI in his prior at-bats.
For some reason, Garfield head coach Charlie Rigoliosi went against pure baseball wisdom and intentionally walked Meeney, putting Meeney on base as the potential winning run.
“I was smacking the ball,” Meeney said. “I would have put me on, too.”
With Brandon Karlok at the plate, DeMarco scampered home on a wild pitch, cutting the Garfield lead to 7-6. Karlok drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly to right, his second RBI on the day, with Deleva somehow sneaking in past the tag at the plate, moving Meeney all the way to third.
After Peter Zeoli was hit by a pitch, Perry, the Lyndhurst No. 9 hitter, strode to the plate with the chance to be a hero and knowing full well what Servideo was going to call.
“I knew that the squeeze was coming and I feel like I’m a good bunter,” said the diminutive second baseman. “I was confident I could get it done. It was an outside strike, but I put it down.”
“I always believe that if you can’t bunt, you can’t win,” said Servideo, who has had a habit of using the squeeze play to his advantage. “All of our kids can do it and we all practice it. Mikey just had to put the bat on the ball.” When Castillo went into the wind-up, Meeney sprinted toward the plate and Perry got down the bunt for the game-winning hit that capped the delirious comeback and madcap final inning.
Incredibly, the last time the Golden Bears won a state sectional title in 2008, they defeated Whippany Park, 1-0, on a suicide squeeze bunt from cleanup hitter Glenn Flora. History repeated itself.
The rally made a winner out of Michael Polito, who pitched two-thirds of the seventh in relief of starter Hart, who went the first six innings surrendering just one unearned run on three hits, but was touched up for six runs on four hits in the seventh.
Hart was ecstatic after the game.
“This is the best experience in my life,” said Hart, the sadness of losing the lead in the top of the seventh long gone. “I felt like I let everyone down with the way I pitched. I’m glad we came back strong and got the win.”
“We stayed focused and never gave up,” Perry said. “We worked really hard to get this. We all believed we could come back.”
“This means the whole world to me,” Meeney said. “Before the season, we heard that we weren’t that good of a team. People thought that we could never go anywhere. But we stayed together and stayed strong and came away with the win.”
Just like great teams do.