Old friends bring new trophy to St. Joseph Regional

Sophomore Brady Shust circling the bases after his homer gave St. Joseph Regional the lead for good in a 5-4 win over Westwood in the Bergen County Tournament championship game.

DEMAREST -- St. Joseph Regional pitchers Jeff Germosen and Gabe Alvarez have built a trust in one another dating to their early days on the diamond. Friends from way back in their hometown of Haverstraw NY, they have leaned on each other so many times across the years and never more so than on Saturday in the championship game of the Bergen County Baseball tournament.

Germosen, the senior right-hander, had shot all of his arrows. He threw 107 pitches in six solid innings before turning the ball over to the bullpen with a two-run lead and just three outs to get. Alvarez was the second reliever called on to try to hold off Westwood in its final turn at bat and he could not have inherited a stickier situation.

The bases were load with one out and, after he struck out the first hitter he faced, Alvarez walked Mike Carcich to force in a run. Then he went 3-2 on the next hitter with nowhere to put him and the tying run just 90 feet away.

“Honestly, I knew Gabe had it. Me and Gabe have been best friends since we were four years old and I had so much faith in him,” said Germosen (6 IP, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 H, 7 K, 3 BB, HBP, 107 pitches, W). “Even when the count was 3-2 I felt a little something in my stomach, but I knew he was going to get it done.”

Alvarez had a quiet confidence.

“Obviously it was a big spot, but I just had to do my job and throw strikes. That is all I was thinking about. Next pitch, throw a strike,” said Alvarez. “It just comes down to attacking, really.”

Mardi Ekmedjian scroed two runs, includin the one in the bottom of the seventh that got Westwood to within a single run.

With the game on the line, Alvarez attacked the outside half with a fastball, hit his spot and got a called strike three to end St. Joseph’s 5-4 win and this year’s county tournament. The Green Knights dog-piled near the mound as they won their second championship in the last four years.

“There can’t be any more pressure. Bases loaded, 3-2 count, outside fastball on the corner and counting on the call… My heart was pounding,” said St. Joseph head coach Mark Cieslak. “It was a great game. It’s a lot of pressure out here, especially for these kids, but it was a great game on both sides.”

The momentum swung from one dugout to the other on multiple occasions as Germosen, as experienced a pitcher as there is in Bergen County, locked horns with Jack Walsh, Westwood’s sophomore right hander who plays well beyond his years. St. Joe’s applied the first bit of pressure with Myles Gomez driving in the game’s first run with a single back through the box that scored Ryan McCabe in the top of the second.

Westwood, the No. 3 seed, answered back in the home half with two two-out runs, on a Joe Cerritelli single that drove in Carcich clean and also allowed Sam Arcieri scamper home when SJR, the No. 4 seed, threw the ball around. The Knights tied the game at 2 in the fourth with a two-out double by Aiden Ogando out of the No. 9 spot in the order before Westwood edged back in front, 3-2, when Mardi Eckmedjian scored on an error forced by MD Cabral hard ground ball.

The score was the same and Westwood, playing in its first county final since 2010, needed six more outs to win a county championship for the first time since 1980, but those proved to be tough outs to get. Gomez greeted the Cardinals’ bullpen with a lead-off single in the top of the sixth and the next batter, sophomore leftfielder Brady Shust, lost one deep over the left field fence to put SJR up for good, 4-3.

After shutting out Don Bosco Prep last week, SJR's Jeff Germosen through six solid innings, picked up the win and was name the tournament's most valuable pitcher.

“It was a fastball belt high and I could not have asked for one in a better spot than that. You know you get it good when you don’t feel it at all. I hit one last week, got that same feeling and was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere in that at bat, ” said Shust, also a football standout who makes the hour-plus commute from Sparta every day to be a part of the SJR tradition. “I came here to play baseball and football, to be a part of winning programs and things are working out well for me right now. The best decision I have made in my life is coming to St. Joe’s.”

The Knights had the chance to break the game open in the top of the seventh when it loaded the bases with two outs, but had to settle for a single insurance run when Devin Buntzen was hit by a pitch that forced home Carter Grande, but Westwood limited the damage and went in for its last licks trailing 5-3.

Westwood had 8-9-1 due up, but that was the good news as the Cardinals were limited to three hits in the game but all three of them came from the bottom three spots in the lineup and the excitement started to build when Eckmedjian was hit by a pitch with one out. Then came back-to-back walks drawn by Walsh and Cabral. That was when Alvarez was summoned and he got the second out with a swinging three.

By the time Carcich walked to draw Westwood to within a run and the count ran full on the final hitter, it was loud on the pristine diamond at Northern Valley/Demarest High School, the home office of Bergen County baseball.

When the ump rang up the final called strike, St. Joseph stormed the mound and Westwood had to settle for the de facto public school championship. The Cardinals have little time to dwell on the loss as next up for them is Indian Hills, a league rival that they will see for the fourth time this season on Wednesday in the North 1, Group 2 state sectional quarterfinals.

St. Joe’s picked up its first county title since 2021 and will open its state playoff run on Wednesday against rival Bergen Catholic in the Non-Public North A quarterfinals. The Knights are the No. 1 seed in that bracket.

“We like this. We feel like [Demarest] is our home field. We want to come here and play a good game. At the beginning this is the one we gear up for, to be honest with you, the counties,” said Cieslak. “We are excited to get this one for sure and now we will try to do this again in the states.”