By Bob Behre
Perhaps Kyle Kokoskie wanted to see the Kentucky Derby. Or maybe he just wanted to get to school on time on Monday. If not for his timely double, the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Baseball Tournament semifinal may still be playing.
Voorhees and Delaware Valley threw one haymaker after another at each other and the two heated Hunterdon County rivals stood dead even at 10-10 when the Vikings came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth.
It was a day when both teams’ No. 9 hitters batted like Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, so it seemed appropriate that Voorhees’ No. 9 hitter David Kurzrock ignited his team’s winning rally with a two-out single through the right side.
Kurzrock (2-for-2, 3 RBI) reached second on a wild pitch before leadoff batter Kendall Pierson drew a walk. Kokoskie then laced a 2-1 pitch the opposite way and down the right field line for a double that chased both runners home for a 12-10 lead.
“It was a fastball outside and I took it the other way,” said Kokoskie. “I saw the right fielder playing over toward the gap and wanted to go that way, which I like to do anyway.” Kokoskie was 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and scored two runs.
Voorhees reliever Drew Conover then closed the door on sixth-seeded Delaware Valley with a 1-2-3 seventh, the first 1-2-3 inning of the game, to send the Vikings to the HWS final.
Second-seeded Voorhees (11-4) advances to meet top-seeded Hunterdon Central (17-2) in the 9th Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex championship game at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Phillipsburg. Hunterdon Central, ranked No. 3 in the NJ.com Top 20, edged Newton (11-3), 2-1, in the other semifinal.
Voorhees has never won a tri-county title in baseball but has four Hunterdon-Warren championships to its credit, the most recent in 2000. Hunterdon Central won tri-county crowns in 2010, ’13 and ’14 to go with 10 Hunterdon-Warren championships. Delaware Valley picked off defending champion and third-seeded Pope John, 2-1, in the semifinals.
The seesaw semifinal in High Bridge saw Voorhees strike for five runs in the second inning before Delaware Valley answered with two runs in the third and four more runs in the fourth to tie the game at 6-6. The game had taken on a very different look than the teams’ first meeting on April 6 when Delaware Valley prevailed 3-2.
The crooked numbers kept popping up on the scoreboard as Delaware Valley scored three runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-6 lead. The Terriers lefty hitting No. 9 hitter Kurt Talke (3-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 runs) hooked a two-run double down the right field line and Ian Kulik brought him home with a two-out grounds rule double to left.
Voorhees would not be outdone and scored four runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 10-9 lead. Kurzrock came up with the bases loaded and brought the first run home on a sac fly to left. The throw came home as the runners tried to advance. The Delaware Valley catcher fired to third base but the throw got away all the way down the left field line, allowing the other two runners to score and tie the score at 9-9. Pierson and Kokoskie drew back-to-back walks and Pierson scored the go-ahead run from second on an infield error.
Delaware Valley tied the game at 10-10 in the top of the sixth on Matt Hlinka’s two-out, two-strike single to right field that scored Michael Bonaguidi.
“Delaware Valley games are always a dogfight,” said Kent. “You can feel it in the air when we get together. It’s been that way during my five years here and I know it was before that.”
The prospect of facing Hunterdon Central in the championship game has Voorhees tickled for the opportunity.
“We wanted this game (against Hunterdon Central) so bad,” said Kokoskie. “They are a great team and we are looking forward to playing them.”
Says Kent, “It’s the next thing on our checklist. We wanted a top four seed in the tournament, to beat North Hunterdon (they did, 4-3, on April 13) and we want to win the county.”
NOTES: In a game that took more than two hours and 30 minutes to play, there were many big moments, including Voorhees batting around in the second and fifth innings and Delaware Valley batting a round in the fourth and sending eight batters to the plate in the fifth. … Both teams showed an ability to hit throughout their lineups. Besides the big games by their No. 9 hitters, the No. 8 hitters had excellent efforts, too. Delaware Valley’s Matt Hlinka had a double and a single in four trips to the plate and Voorhees’ Brian Bednarz went 2-for-4 and scored two runs. … Delaware Valley had 12 hits to Voorhees’ 11. … Athan Magalio’s two-out, two-run single capped the five-run second for Voorhees. … Kulik was 2-for-5 with 2 RBI. … Voorhees’ Matt Kroll was 2-for-4 and scored twice.