In 16 years as Bloomfield’s head baseball coach, Mike Policastro has had Bengals teams with the talent capable of making deep runs in both the Greater Newark and state sectional tournaments. This year’s version was not one of them, or at least that’s what Policastro thought.
The team that in March seemed too young, too inexperienced to play deep into the Greater Newark Tournament, has now done something no Bloomfield team has done in 25 years.
Despite a 9-12 record overall, Bloomfield is heading to the final for the first time since 1997 after a 9-0 semifinals victory over neighboring rival Nutley at Doc Goeltz Field in Verona.
The Bengals, who at one point earlier this season endured an ugly stretch where it had lost seven out of eight, will now play Seton Hall Prep for the championship at Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University on Saturday, May 21 at noon.
Bloomfield has won the GNT four times in its history, the last coming in 1996.
“If you told me at the beginning of the year, with the inexperience and lack of innings we had on the mound, I would have said you’re crazy. We have no shot of making it to the GNT final,” said Policastro, who graduated virtually the entire pitching staff from last year’s 10-14 team. “You look at teams like Millburn, Caldwell who has had a great year, Livingston and some of the other teams in the county have better pitching than we do.”
One of those inexperienced arms is junior Tyler Bell, who only had 4 ⅓ varsity innings under his belt entering the spring. This year, Bell has emerged as Bloomfield’s ace. The righty, who has pitched far better than his 2-5 record would indicate, delivered a sparkling performance in the semifinals, tossing a three-hit shutout with five strikeouts and three walks.
“Tyler’s not a kid that’s going to blow anybody away, he’s going to nip corners, he’s going to throw strikes and utilize his defense,” Policastro said of Bell, who has a 1.93 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 36 ⅓ innings this spring. “He didn’t even have his best stuff today and he threw a three-hit shutout. He battled and he battled himself today.”
Another junior at the top of the rotation is Brandon Piacenza (2.07 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 30 ⅓ innings), who threw a complete game four-hitter in the quarterfinals against Barringer on Wednesday. Senior Logan Kot, who has 2.29 ERA in 18 ⅓ innings, threw four stellar innings in relief of Bell in Monday’s first round game vs. Glen Ridge as the Bengals bounced back from a 4-0 deficit to win 10-6.
All year long, Bloomfield has had a knock for scoring runs in bunches like when it plated six in the third inning against Glen Ridge, three in both the first and second innings against Barringer, and on Saturday, when it put the game away against Nutley with four runs in the top of the seventh.
Against Nutley, Bloomfield had 13 hits and seven walks as a team with every starter getting at least one run or RBI in a game Policastro said was their most complete performance of the season.
“We came out and we got contributions from everyone in our lineup, one through nine today. Every kid contributed today, whether it was a sac bunt or a sac fly, a walk, a RBI single or double, whatever it may be,” Policastro said. “We also played flawless defense and turned two double plays, which was huge.”
Piacenza, who was at shortstop, gave Bloomfield a 1-0 lead just two batters into the game when he launched a home run over the left field fence. Junior left fielder Daniel Murawinski broke out of a mini slump by going 4-for-4 with two RBI. Sophomore second baseman Evan Fried continued his breakout season, going 2-for-3 with three runs scored, and right fielder Jackson Laub added two RBI.
Laub is one of just four seniors in the starting lineup, the others being UMBC-bound catcher Nico Ong, who is hitting .353 while also leading the team in walks (16) and stolen bases (13), DH Liam Hempstead and 3B Isaiah Ortiz.
Bell, who leads the team in hits (21) and RBI (15) and Piacenza (team-high 18 runs) split the shortstop position depending on who is on the mound. Junior Christopher Sanchez is at first base and another junior, Michael Rosamilia, has emerged as Bloomfield’s leadoff hitter and center fielder.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)