Interchangeable parts put Westwood in county semifinals

Sophomore Joe Cerritelli turned in 6 quality innings for Westwood, which top Indian Hills, 3-2, in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament on Saturday.

WOOD-RIDGE – To have a varsity ready sophomore, one that can become a trusted member of or even a top line starter in a pitching rotation and then hold it down at shortstop on the days when he is not on the hill, would be a luxury for any public school baseball program. Westwood has two of them.

In Jack Walsh and Joe Cerritelli the Cardinals have interchangeable parts, two important ones that have pushed Westwood well into the deep end of the Bergen County Tournament. Cerritelli threw six innings of shutout baseball, and then switched spots with Walsh, who threw two scoreless frames, one of them in extra innings.

Walsh then got the game-winning hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning to push Westwood past Indian Hills, 3-2, in the quarterfinals played at the Wood-Ridge Athletic Center. The Cardinals, the No. 3 seed, advance to play No. 10 Ramapo, a 1-0 winner over Ridgewood, in the semifinals next Saturday in Demarest.

“I was really fired up and I knew as soon as I got up that I was going to get a hit,” said Walsh. “If I got a first pitch strike I was going to swing, but he threw me a ball in the dirt. Then I was sitting fastball because I knew he was trying to throw a strike. I was sitting on that pitch right down the middle and he threw it right there.”

Walsh’s two-out single back through the middle that scored Eli Tavares, the courtesy runner for catcher MD Cabral, ended Round 3 of what has been an incredibly evenly matched series between Westwood and Indian Hills, the No. 6 seed. The two teams split the regular season series with Indian Hills winning 1-0 in the opener, Westwood winning 2-0 on the back end and they were scoreless on Saturday through four innings with Cerritelli and Walsh locked in a duel with three different Indian Hills pitchers.

Both teams backed by solid defenses made even more air-tight by the true hops given on the turf in Wood-Ridge.

Cole Babaian getting on top of the double that drove in both of Indian HIlls' runs.

“It’s just a fight. Three times in a row and it has been a fight every time,” said Westwood head coach Nick Urbanovich.  “They don’t make any mistakes. Our pitchers threw awesome, they threw great. We played good defense and our guys kept battling until we could figure out their pitching a little bit.”

Neither offense had anything figured out until the bottom of the fifth with Walsh’s leadoff double setting the table. He went to third on Joe Klein’s infield single and scored when Andrew Dillingham got down a safety squeeze. As a bonus, Dillingham reached safely on an error and the Cardinals were threatening for more with two on and no outs, but the Indian Hills defense regrouped quickly.

The Braves spun a 6-4-3 double play with Brody Diers in the middle of it and the second baseman who will play next season at Montclair State University, then race into shallow centerfield and went high up on the backhand to snag the final out of the inning and limiting Westwood to a slim 1-0 advantage.

Cerritelli (6 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 6 K, BB) was pounding the zone and Indian Hills had not scored against Westwood in 17 straight innings coming into its turn at bat in the top of the sixth. Nick Vitelli finally got something going with a leadoff single and a steal of second, but two can-of-corn flyballs to Sam Arcieri in left field followed. LJ Renshaw kept the inning alive with a two-out walk, the only one Cerritelli issued in the game, and Cole Babaian came through with a big hit, a two-run double that gave the Braves a 2-1 lead.

Westwood scratched out the tying run in the bottom of the sixth without getting the ball out of the infield. Cabral reached on a fielder’s choice and Tavares took over at first base and stole second. Mike Carcich’s chopper on the infield got the defense moving and Tavares came all the way around to score to tie the game.

MD Cabral had the hit that got Westwood's winning rally started in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Walsh took over on the mound to start the seventh and worked around a leadoff with the help of Andrew Dillingham, the third baseman who took out the lead runner on a bunt attempt for the first out and also cleanly handled the final out of the inning.

“We work on [reading hands and charging the bunt] so hard in practice and the little things can change the outcome of the score when it is a 2-2 game and we won 3-2,” said Dillingham, who noticed the hitter run his hands just slightly up the bat on a throw over to first base. “We practice those plays and when it was time to execute we executed and I am happy about that.”

Westwood loaded the bases with one out in the seventh but, with the infield in, Sean Pimley, recently back from injury, got a swinging strike three and a groundball to Diers to end the threat and force extra innings. Indian Hills went 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth and Cabral’s one-out single and Tavares’ stolen base set up Walsh, whose single made him the winning pitcher.

“Walsh is the real deal, absolutely the real deal. This was not his first game-winning hit, he has three this season,” said Urbanovich. “He’s got a slow heartbeat. Nothing really bothers him and he is only going to get better.”

It was a tough one to swallow for Indian Hills, which has had come from nowhere to put itself on the cusp of the Bergen County semifinals, but you would not have known the outcome by trying to read the face or words of Braves head coach George Hill.

“That was some good baseball, huh? These are two good baseball teams going at it again,” said Hill, with a smile. “As much as it hurts right now, I just love these kids and I just told them how much I think of every one of them as a son. It hurts them and you can see how much they care. They play so hard and I am so proud of them.”

There may be a Round 4 in this rivalry this year in the circular firing squad that is the North 1, Group 2 state sectional tournament. That is where Indian Hills will turn its attention, while Westwood has more work to do. The Cardinals will play Ramapo next weekend with the assurance that there will be one public school team in the county final. Top-seeded Don Bosco Prep and No. 4 St. Joseph Regional will square off in the other semifinal.

“This is the furthest I have been in my six or seven years here and I am looking forward to getting to Demarest,” said Urbanovich. “It’s going to be a helluva battle. We have played [Ramapo] already and we won 9-8 in a crazy game that could have gone either way. It’s gonna be a good one.”