By Bob Behre
Thomas Babalis, Preston Scott and Danny Belford accounted for eight of Somerville’s 12 hits as the Pioneers used two big innings to defeat Skyland Conference rival Delaware Valley, 17-5, yesterday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Babalis capped a seven-run bottom of the sixth with a three-run inside-the-park home run that gave Somerville (3-0) the victory via the 10-run mercy rule. Junior righty Bobby Wortman picked up the victory with 3.2 innings of work.
“We preach to the kids about putting the ball in play,” said Somerville coach Chris Banos. “You don’t have to defend strikeouts. We’ve pretty much done that our first three games and have been able to capitalize on our opponents mistakes.”
Delaware Valley (2-3) certainly gave its coach Marty White reason to be encouraged, specifically on the offensive of the ball. But the underclassmen heavy Terriers also showed there is room for improvement. Delaware Valley hammered out 10 hits but committed six errors, some albeit on rockets hit by Somerville batters.
While Delaware Valley started just two seniors – shortstop Ian Kulik and second baseman Matt Chiarino – the Pioneers first four hitters are seniors and the first three inflicted serious damage.
It seemed every time Delaware Valley would creep closer, Somerville had an answer and the final Pioneer response turned a not-completely comfortable 10-5 lead into a 17-5 victory.
“You always want to answer back,” said Banos. “The three innings they scored we answered with runs. It’s been part of our philosophy.”
Belford started Somerville’s decisive rally in the sixth with a leadoff single but Delaware Valley reliever John Raymond got the next two batters to nearly escape unscathed. Somerville, however, followed with five hits and a walk to put the Terriers away. Vincent Mele singled home two runs, Matt Miceli beat out an infield single for another run and Scott singled to right for the fourth run of the inning and a 14-5 lead.
That put runners on the corners with Miceli standing 90 feet away with the decisive run that could secure the mercy rule victory. Babalis stepped in and launched a long rainbow to straightaway center that tipped off the top of the center fielder’s glove. The ball bounded all the way to the wall as Babalis raced around the bases for the game-ending inside-the-park homer run.
Somerville exploited three Delaware Valley errors in the second inning with four hits to score six runs and take a 7-1 lead. Babalis and Belford each drove a run home with a double in the rally. Delaware Valley had tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the second when Matt Hlinka scored from second on an infield error.
Delaware Valley knocked out Somerville starter Bobby Wortman (1-0) with two runs on four hits in the fourth. Kulik and Brett Godown started the rally with inning-opening singles. Justin Wagner and Zach Zuchowski followed with consecutive one-out RBI singles to shave the deficit to 7-3.
Wortman struck out the next batter for the second out but, with his pitch count up, Banos hooked him for senior righty Jordan Antonelli. Wortman permitted three runs, two of which were earned, on five hits, struck out four and walked none.
Antonelli closed it out from there but had to navigate a pesky Delaware Valley lineup that reached him for two runs on five hits.
“Delaware Valley is a scrappy team,” said Banos. “It’s never easy when you play them.”
Preston doubled and scored in the bottom of the fourth and Belford singled home Babalis, who had reached on an infield error, to boost the Somerville lead to 9-3. Dante Bozzuti led off the fifth with a walk, stole second, reached third on a fielder’s choice and scored on Mele’s sac fly for a 10-5 lead.
Delaware Valley added two more runs in the top of the sixth to draw within 10-5. Zuchowski ignited the rally with a single. Chiarino’s two-out single chased him home before Raymond capped the rally with an RBI triple down the right field line.
NOTES: Somerville’s Seton Hall University-bound center fielder Devin Hack, a longtime Diamond Jack, played two innings in center field but did not bat as he works his way back from a stress fracture in his back.
Scott went 3-for-4, scored three runs and had an RBI. … Babalis was 2-for-5, scored four runs and drove in four runs. … Belford went 3-for-4, scored twice and knocked in two runs. … Bozzuti singled and walked twice and scored three runs. … Raymond was 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI. … Godown went 2-for-3 and scored a run. … Wagner and Zuchowski both went 2-for-3 with an RBI.