Pascack Valley fills the holes en route to section final

Trevor Kirkby crushing one of his three hits, an RBI triple in the fifth inning that was a part of Pascack Valley's 5-0 win over Indian Hills in the North 1, Group 2 state sectional quarterfinals.

OAKLAND – Try to follow this…Pascack Valley’s starting first baseman, its starting second baseman and its shortstop are all out due to injury. In order, Ryan Shea is in a walking boot, Joe Tammaro hurt his shoulder and has not played since the 12th game of the season and James Narlinger is scheduled for shoulder surgery next week.

Freshman Drew Kirkby was called up to take Tammaro’s spot at second base and also in the leadoff spot and then was moved over to shortstop when Narlinger got hurt. Two more freshman, the Stalb twins, Sam and Max, were pulled up to fill the other two holes and when the eighth-seeded Panthers took the field on Friday in the North 1, Group 2 state sectional semifinals, Evan Biener was the only senior in the lineup and catcher Nock Donofrio was the only starter playing in the same position that he was on Opening Day.

The line-up shuffle out of necessity is not necessarily conducive to postseason success, especially on the home field of Indian Hills, which thrives on the fundamentals and gives away little through errors, physical or mental.

So it was understandable why longtime PV head coach Will Lynch was visibly emotional after his team got out of Oakland with a 5-2 win and a spot in the section final where it will play No. 7 Lakeland on Monday in Wanaque.

It’s not like Lynch has never been here before. He’s won two section titles and been to the final two other times; it’s just that this one hit him a little bit different.

“I never put us here, never had us here at all,” said Lynch. “We had one senior, three freshmen and two sophomores out there and we just had a sophomore got out there and throw 106 pitches and leave it all on the mound and it was a junior that got us here the other day.”

Brody Diers reached safely in three of his four plate appearances and scored one of Indian Hills' two seventh inning runs.

The junior was JT Deriso, who went the distance on a six-hitter as Pascack Valley knocked out top-seeded Glen Rock in the quarterfinals on Wednesday and the 106-pitch sophomore is left-hander Brendan Gaskin, who went 6 2/3 innings and left having given up just two hits and without having surrendered a run against an experienced Indian Hills lineup with seven senior starters.

Gaskin’s stature might suggest that he is a prototypical soft-tossing, crafty southpaw, but then there is the hiss of the fastball and pop of the catcher’s glove that tell a different story.

“Everyone thinks that I am going to throw a little slower, probably because of my size, but that gets me going. It makes me feel like I have something to prove,” said Gaskin, also a switch hitter who had hits from both sides of the plate batting out of the No. 9 hole. “I came in here today knowing that we had a chance to reach a goal that we have set as a team. I worked from behind a little bit, and struggled at times, but I was able to bear down and throw strikes when I needed to.”

Brody Diers, the first hitter Gaskin faced, led off the bottom of the first with a double and the senior second baseman had both hits that Indian Hills could muster against Gaskin, who worked efficiently out of trouble the few times he got into it. He retired the next three hitters to close the first inning, side-stepped a leadoff and two-out walk to strand two in the second inning and did the same in the third when he walked Nick Vitelli and hit James Zwolinski with one out in the third. His first 1-2-3 inning game when he struck out two in the fourth and by then he was pitching with a three-run lead.

Trevor Kirkby’s (3-for-4, 2 RBI) leadoff single in the top of the second followed by Evan Biener’s gave PV a 1-0 lead and Sam Stalb’s RBI groundout made it 2-0. Biener, the only senior in the lineup, led off the fourth with a walk, stole second and scored on Max Stalb’s RBI single back through the box to make it 3-0 and, in the fifth, a Trevor Kirkby two-out triple scored Donofrio to make it 4-0.

The Kirkby triple came after a short conference and some rare advice from his head coach.

Sophomore Brendan Gaskin threw 6 1/3 solid innings for PascacK Valley, which will visit Lakeland in the North 1, Group 2 final slated for Monday in Wanaque.

“[Lynch] called an offensive [conference], he called me over and he said, ‘I don’t normally say this to you, but try to hit one in the trees. He thought I was getting too slappy with my hands and he wanted to see me drive one,” said Kirkby, who bounced one off the wall under the 383 Feet sign in right-centerfield. “I slid into third and I was like, ‘Is that good enough?”

Meanwhile, Gaskin retired 9 of the 10 hitters he faced in innings four through six before walking Mitch Folina leading off the Braves’ final turn at bat. After getting a strikeout and a flyball to push the game to the brink, Diers kept his team alive with a hard hit ground ball to shortstop.

The ball took a high hop and into the upper body of the defender, so the book keeping aspect of Gaskin’s final line is open to interpretation. Score it an error and, despite Nick Vitelli’s two-out triple against the bullpen that scored Diers and Folina, Gaskin allowed just two hits and no earned runs (6 1/3 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 7 K, 4 BB, HBP, W). Score it a bad-hop base hit, which it probably was, and the two runs become earned and Gaskin (6 1/3 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 H, 7 K, 4 BB, HBP, W) allowed three hits.

Either way, it was a gem that was finished when Luke Good induced a game-ending infield pop-up.

Pascack Valley is now 21-8 on the season, it has not lost in three weeks and it will carry a 7-game winning streak into the section final.

“We are coming into our own. Our last loss was to [St.} Joe’s in the county [tournament] and [Lynch] always talks about getting the balls on the wall [on the banners in the gym]. You get a green for a league [title], a yellow for a county and black for a section. As soon as we lost to Joe’s he told us just to focus on the black ball now and I feel like that has been our motto. It was disappointing. Obviously we wanted to play at Demarest [in the county semifinals and finals], but our focus turned here to the states and that has been the best thing for us. We are locked in on a common goal and we are one win away.”

The loss brought the curtain down on an Indian Hills season that could only be classified as a smashing success. The Braves finished 19-7 despite entering the season with myriad injuries and a total of 39 players in the entire program, 38 of them from Oakland in a three-town sending district that it shares with Ramapo.

There were 11 seniors on this year’s roster and none of them too keen on leaving the dugout for the final time.

“We have just an amazing group of kids. When I say we have the great kids in the world, I mean we have the greatest kids in the world and this is a family, our family. There had to be 25 former players here today and that is the way it is here,” said Indian Hills head coach George Hill. “No one was expecting much from us and then we had all of the injuries, but I have known every one of them since they were this big, since they were coming to my baseball camp when they were 7 or 8 years old. They all grew up together and this is the blueprint. They stayed here, they played here and they don’t want to go home.”