Don Bosco Prep grinds out a semifinal win over Bergen Catholic

Senior Billy O'Brien worked 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for Don Bosco Prep, which broke the game open late in a 13-3 victory over Bergen Catholic in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals.

DEMAREST – Don Bosco Prep against Bergen Catholic in any sport is a heated rivalry, but that clichéd description took on a more literal meaning on Saturday in the semifinals of the Bergen County Baseball Tournament. It’s a rivalry in baseball terms because the two programs met in last season's county championship game and three times during the regular season this year. It was heated because…boy was it hot on Saturday at Northern Valley/Demarest High School and there were casualties.

Don Bosco Prep lost two players to injury, starting third baseman Jonathan Cohen (hip), and starting catcher Justin Cabanas left in the top of the fifth inning with a full body cramp, which left him unable to leave the field without considerable help. The heat also took a toll on the respective pitching staffs with Bosco ace Matt Semon lasting just three innings and BC starter Michael Roll done after the same time length.

It was a battle of attrition and it suited Don Bosco Prep, the top seed, just fine. The Ironmen grinded out at bat after at bat and finally broke the opposition with a seven-run sixth inning to bring an end to a 13-3 victory that puts the Ironmen in the Bergen County Tournament final on Monday against second-seeded Pascack Hills.

“We told our hitters to forget about mechanics, forget about trying to do something, just absolutely toughen up and get it done,” said Don Bosco Prep head coach Mike Rooney. “It is something that has to be instinctive at this point in their careers and we just told them if it means more to you then you are going to have success today. It was really that simple.”

Chris Gerard connected on a solo home run to get Bergen Catholic on the board in the top of the fhird inning.

There was really nothing simple for either team in a game that moved like mud through a sieve in terms of pace of play. There was only one 1-2-3 inning worked by each team and that was in the second when both sides went down in order. Bosco got two runs in the bottom of the first to break the ice before Chris Gerard’s solo home run with one out in the top of the third got BC going. Gerry Siracusa and Matt D’Amato RBI singles later in the inning gave the defending champion Crusaders a 3-2 lead.

Cabanas (2-for-3, 3 RBI) batted three times before leaving with the dehydration issue and all three times he came to the plate with the bases loaded. He drove in a run with a fielder’s choice in the first inning and banked one off the pitcher for an RBI single that tied the game at 3 in the third. He also had a two-run single in the midst of Bosco’s three-run fourth inning that gave the Ironmen the lead for good. In a statistical anomaly, Cabanas’ replacement at catcher and in the No. 6 hole, Andrew Olsen, took his only turn at bat in the sixth with, you guessed it, the bases loaded and he singled in a run.

The difference in the game was the bullpens. Bergen Catholic, the No. 4 seed, ran through three relievers to get through the final 2 2/3 innings and could never get the final out of the sixth. Meanwhile, Billy O’Brien gave Bosco exactly what it needed as he stabilized the game in the middle innings. O’Brien threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball before handing the ball off to Drew Helmstetter with one out in the top of the sixth.

Bosco catcher Justin Cabanas drove in three runs before leaving with severe cramping.

“I knew coming into the game today that I had to be ready to get in the game if I was needed,” said O’Brien, a senior right-hander. “No matter who you are playing in the Bergen County Tournament it is going to be a tough situation and the biggest thing is going in there with the mindset to be tough and match the intensity. And if I am needed on Monday [in the county final], I will be ready to go again.”

BC got multiple runners on in the fourth and fifth innings, but could not push anything across and the inning ending double play in the sixth turned out to be the Crusaders’ final chance as they could not stop the onslaught of their own making in the bottom of the sixth.

Anthony Petrosino (0-for-2, 3 R, RBI) and Ryan Carr (0-for-2, 2 R, RBI) drew back-to-back walks leading off the inning against two different Bergen Catholic pitchers and Danny Helfgot (2-for-3, R) singled to load the bases. Tino Manganella, who did not have an official at bat but managed to finished with 2 RBI and a run scored, walked with the bases loaded for the second time in the game and for the fourth straight time overall to force home the first run. Olsen singled in another before Ryan Ayala came up as a pinch hitter and drew another bases loaded walk. Andrew Weiland was also issued a bases loaded walk when he came up as a pinch hitter and Tommy Courtney (2-for-3, RBI) and Petrosino were both hit by pitches in succession as two more runs scored to put the Ironmen up 12-3. Carr’s sacrifice fly brought an end to the festivities. In all Bosco send 11 hitters to the plate in the seventh inning, got two hits, worked out four walks and had batters hit by pitched balls all before BC could get the third out.

So now it is on to the final where the Ironmen will look for their first title since 2015.

“I was on the field last year when we played Bergen in the final and lost,” said Helfgot, Bosco’s junior shortstop and a New York City resident. “This year I just think we are little bit hungrier and a little bit more prepared. We are ready for it.”