Nick Covo hit one of three River Dell doubles in the top of the seventh inning that gave the Hawks the three runs they needed to post a 5-2 win over Glen Rock in the North 1, Group 2 state sectional semifinals.
GLEN ROCK – River Dell has been as consistent as any public school program in Bergen County in Brandon Flanagan’s tenure as head coach. The Golden Hawks have been to county finals, they have been to state sectional finals and been high seeds in both on multiple occasions. They are usually one of the favorites when the postseason rolls around. This year, however, River Dell had as many wins as losses in its first 14 games and saw its seven-year streak of making it at least as far as the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament snapped when they lost to Don Bosco Prep in the Round of 16.
Not much was expected when the Hawks entered the North 1, Group 2 state sectional tournament as the No. 7 seed, especially when they lost Aidan Tucker from the top of the rotation for a couple of games.
But rather than slinking away unnoticed into the offseason, River Dell is instead thriving in the playoffs. Junior right-hander Brendan Golden has slipped seamlessly into the role of staff ace and, after throwing a three-hit shutout in an opening round win against Hawthorne, his second postseason start in an even bigger spot was the best of his career so far.
Before running into the pitch limit with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, Golden had struck out a career-high 14 batters and allowed just two hits and two unearned runs. Instead of melting down when errors cost him a pair runs, Golden just kept throwing BBs until his offense finally broke through in the top of the seventh.
Drew Famularo had both of Glen Rock's hits and both of its RBI.
Jack Racine, Nick Covo and freshman Christian Hay all doubled deep to centerfield in the span of four batters and the three runs that those hits produced made a winner out of Golden and the Golden Hawks, who advanced to the North 1, Group 2 state sectional championship game with a 5-2 victory on the road at Glen Rock (16-10).
“I was just dialed in. It is easier to pitch in the hot weather and I just stayed focused on picking my teammates up,” said Golden, who improved his personal record to 7-1 on the season while River Dell has now won 12 of its last 15 games to get to 19-10. “We made a couple of errors, but I could not let that affect me. If something like that gets to the pitcher then it spreads to the whole team. If the defense makes a mistake you deal with it and move on to the next hitter.”
Golden had to do that twice as an error on a two-out pop fly hit by Ian Dorsey allowed Glen Rock to extend the bottom of the third inning long enough for Drew Fulminaro to get an at bat and he crushed a triple to centerfield to give the sixth-seeded Panthers, who upset No. 3 Mahwah in the quarterfinals on the road, a 1-0 lead. Golden got the next hitter to ground out weakly to third.
River Dell, which could do nothing with the five baserunners it put on against Glen Rock starter Mike Maratea (4 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 K, 4 BB) through the first three innings, got the gift of a leadoff walk to start the top of the fourth. David Estevez was the beneficiary and he moved to second on a wild pitch before James O’Connor’s grounds-rule double that bounced over the centerfield fence knotted the game at 1. O’Connor later scored on another wild pitch to give River Dell its first lead at 2-1.
Freshman Christian Hay had two hits, including a double in the seventh that game River Dell a two-run cushion,
Golden struck out the side in the first and fourth innings and technically did so again in the fifth, but even that was not enough to keep Glen Rock from tying the game. A two-out error on a chopper hit by Ethan Waller gave the Panthers a baserunner and then a rough relay on both ends on a swinging strike three in the dirt extended the inning even further. Famularo, who had both of Glen Rock’s hits in the game and both of its RBI, singled into right field to send Waller home with the run that made it 2-2.
O’Connor led off the sixth with a walk but River Dell could do nothing with the baserunner and Golden (6 1/3 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 14 K, 2 BB, W), who has now struck out 25 in 13 2/3 playoff innings, mowed down Glen Rock in the bottom of the inning with a groundball and two Ks.
River Dell had the top of the order coming up in the seventh and that was a comforting thought for Flanagan.
“We had the right part of the order up. We knew when we turned it over in the sixth that we had the top coming up and we knew we had a pretty good chance of getting one [run],” said Flanagan. “We stepped up in the seventh inning and that is something that we haven’t done too much of this year. To put some good at bats together in the seventh was nice to see.”
Mike Maratea went the first four innings on the mound for Glen Rock, which finished the season at 16-10.
Racine whacked a one-out double to get it started and Covo followed with a ringing double of his own to just about the same spot deep in straight away centerfield to drive home what turned into the game-winning run. It was Covo’s throw down to first that went awry and allowed Glen Rock to tie the game and his extra base hit that put his team ahead for good.
“Things happen in a game and Coach always talks about having a short memory. Errors happen and I knew I had to help my team out when I got the bat in my hands again,” said Covo, the RD catcher. “I told Jack Racine, our centerfielder, that it was top of the order, right where we want it in the seventh inning of a tie ballgame and we had to do our jobs. Jack started it off, I had a guy in scoring position so I just tried to do my job; move him over or get him in and I got into one.”
With first base open, Glen Rock walked Estevez, the cleanup hitter, and chose to pitch to Hay (2-for-4, 2 RBI). The freshman DH and the son of Paramus softball coach Brian Hay, split the left-centerfield gap as courtesy runner Kyle Bollinger scored followed closely, very closely, by Estevez, who got the perfect read.
Golden entered the bottom of the seventh inning having thrown 99 pitches. He got a groundball for the first out, but his walk to No. 8 hitter Eddie Felipe pushed him up against the 110 pitch limit and brought Teddy Loquet out of the bullpen. Loquet, who threw a complete game shutout in River Dell’s 8-0 win over second-seeded Newton in the quarterfinals, grabbed a come-backer and for the second out and a strikeout to secure the Hawks’ spot in the section final.
River Dell has flown beneath the radar to reach the championship game, but the stage is about to get awfully big. Next up is top-seeded Pascack Hills (27-2), the newly-crowned Bergen County champion that dispatched Jefferson, 14-6, in the semifinals.
The Cowboys swept the regular season series, but one of those games went to extra innings and River Dell will be back at full strength. Tucker will be well-rested and ready to make the start for the Hawks, while Pascack Hills will have Ryan Ramsey, who last threw on Saturday in the county semifinals, ready to go.
“All we are doing now is playing for another practice, playing for another bus ride and anything can happen,” said Flanagan. “We played [Pascack Hills] tough one of the two times we saw them. We lost in extra innings, 3-2. We’ll prep, we will get to be together for at least two more days and we just have to be the better team for one day.”