Clifton upsets defending champion Pompton Lakes

Anthony Delgado, a senior on a Clifton team with six freshmen in the lineup, shined in six shout out innings as the Mustangs upset defending champion Pompton Lakes, 2-0, in the opening round of the Passaic County Tournament.

POMPTON LAKES – Coming into this season the Clifton baseball team knew there were going to be some growing pains. With six freshmen in the starting lineup the young Mustangs have shown flashes of sky-high potential and also committed plenty of rookie mistakes. The result has been an up-and-down season, but the start of the Passaic County Tournament brought forth an opportunity not only for the youngsters to mature, but also for a Clifton senior to shine in a pressure situation.

Senior right-hander Anthony Delgado threw six shutout innings and freshman Justin Rivera came up with the biggest hit of the game, a two-strike, two-out double in the fifth inning that brought home the only two runs of the contest. There will be a new champion crowned in Passaic County this spring as 10th-seeded Clifton knocked off defending county champ Pompton Lakes, the No. 7 seed, by a score of 2-0 in the first round of the Passaic County Tournament on Saturday at Hershfield Park.

“It’s been a tough season but we honestly felt that we could come in here today and get it done,” said Delgado. “We feel like we can play with anyone when we play well. Bottom line is that if we stay focused we win games.”

Delgado got himself into several jams but slithered his way out by mixing his fastball with a power curve. Pompton Lakes had a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings, highlighted by its best scoring chance in the bottom half of the fourth.

Kyle Shafer took the hard-luck loss for Pompton Lakes, the No. 7 seed.

The Cardinals got the leadoff runner aboard when Dhruv Patel hustled down the line on a ground ball to force an errant throw to first. After a walk to Evan Cornwell, Jack Gorstein got hit by a pitch to loaded the bases and bring up the biggest power threat in the Cardinal lineup, Kyle Shafer. Delgado buckled down and got a ground ball for a force at second base to end the threat.

“We had to focus on every pitch in every at-bat,” said Delgado. “I just wanted to throw the first pitch for a strike then hit my spots and let my team do the job.”

While Delgado wiggled his way through six innings his counterpart, Shafer, was dealing early. He did not allow a runner past first base through the first four innings before an error to start the top of the fifth inning opened the door for the Mustangs.

After the error, Shafer got two quick out before consecutive walks loaded the bases for Rivera. Even with the most important at-bat of his young varsity career right in front of him, Rivera stepped to the plate with a simplistic approach.

“I was looking for a pitch in the strike zone that I could hit,” said Rivera. “With the bases loaded in a tie game I knew I’d see some pitches to hit. I just wanted to stay back and get the good part of the bat on the ball. Keep it simple, see the ball and hit it.”

Clifton freshman Justin Rivera drove in the only two runs of the game with a two-strike, two-out double in the fifth inning.

Rivera did just that by turning on a 1-2 fastball that went over the left fielder’s head and rolled to the fence with the only two runs of the game coming across.

Delgado settled down by retiring six straight batters before being lifted for the seventh inning due to pitch-count restrictions. Junior Pete Wilk came on for the save opportunity and was quickly greeted with a leadoff single from Cornwell. That brought both the heart of the order and the tying run to the plate. The southpaw was unfazed and bore down to close it out. He got a strikeout before inducing a game-ending double play to secure the Mustangs’ biggest win of the season.

“This was a good high school baseball game and it comes down to getting hits in the right spot. They got it and we didn’t,” said Pompton Lakes’ head coach Paul Tanis. “Hats off to Clifton, they pitched well and played good defense. It’s a tough loss because I think our half of the bracket in the county tournament is wide open. But I think we’ll rebound in the second half of the season and we can make a run in the states.”

Delgado allowed just three hits with two walks and seven Ks for Clifton (5-7). Senior Michael Algieri reach twice and scored a run.  Despite not allowing an earned run, Shafer took the hard-luck loss for Pompton Lakes (5-4). The senior righty gave up five hits, walked three and struck out six.

Clifton moves onto to the Passaic County quarterfinals next Saturday where it will travel to face second-seeded Hawthorne. It will be another chance to show that this is a baseball program on the rise that will be a factor for years to come.

“To have no returning starters and start six freshmen and beat the reigning county champs is a huge win for us,” said Clifton head coach Joe Rivera. “Every pitch, every at-bat, every play in the field we had the focus of a team with potential. We play for moments like this in close games. We’ll see how far we can run with it and we’re excited for the rest of the season.”