Pascack Valley's rolls on to Group 2 state final

Sophomore Brendan Gaskin struck out 11 in six innings and got the win as Pascack Valley advanced to the Group 2 state final with a 6-2 win at Caldwell on Wednesday.

CALDWELL – Pascack Valley has not trailed in the postseason since top-seeded Glen Rock scored a first inning run all the way back in the quarterfinals of the North 1, Group 2 state sectional tournament in which Valley allowed just four runs in four games on the way to winning the title.

Venturing out into the four team bracket of Group 2 winners from around the state, PV made the trip to Caldwell and promptly fell behind by two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Sophomore Brendan Gaskin gave up four hits and a walk in that opening inning and threw way more pitches than is conducive to a long playoff outing.

Gaskin went 2-0 on three straight batters, gave up RBI singles to Julian Casale and Nick Arvanites and that was after Caldwell gave him a free out by trying to double steal after its first two hitters of the game reached safely. Nick Donofrio threw out the lead runner at third base by plenty or the early damage might have been worse.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a short outing and a glove switch on the way to taking his everyday position in centerfield. Gaskin (6 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 H, 11 K, 2 BB, HBP, W, 101 pitches) found the strike zone and everything else fell into place. Consistently carving out the inside corner he not only gave PV length, he dominated for long stretches, plenty long enough for his offense, which he also contributed to, to come around.

“I had to find the zone and once I did I just kept it rolling from there,” said Gaskin, a left-hander who leaned hard on his fastball. “I felt good after the first inning. My fastball was moving a lot, I was able to get it by them and my slider was breaking in on them. I was inside a lot today.”

Junior Nick Donofrio transferred back from Don Bosco Prep and has caught 30 of Pascack Valley's 31 games.

With the pitching squared away after Caldwell’s first turn at bat, PV turned to some more of its underclassmen at the bottom of the lineup to change its offensive portion. With freshmen twins Sam Stalb and Max Stalb serving consecutive doubles after Evan Biener, the lone senior in lineup, was hit by a pitch with one out, Valley tied the game. Gaskin’s multiple-hopper to deep short that went as an infield single also induced a hurried throw wide of first that allowed Max Stalb to score.

That made it 3-2 Valley and it kept adding on in a 6-2 victory that put the program formerly known collectively as the Indians in the Group 2 state final. That game will take place on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. against Governor Livingston at Veteran’s Park in Hamilton.

Gaskin allowed just four hits and one walk over his final five innings of work and was able to muscle his way out of tight spots when necessary. An error and a hit batter put two on with one out in the third and he got the next two hitters swinging and extended that streak to four when he K’d the first two Chiefs in the fourth.

He surrendered a walk and a hit leading off the fifth which got the bullpen stirring, but a called strike three, a shallow fly ball to Sam Stalb in right and another strikeout left Caldwell with nothing to show. In his final inning of work, the sixth, Gaskin struck out two and left two stranded.

“I don’t remember him even throwing a pitch in the dirt all game. Everything was right there. His first inning was rough and after that he picked it up. He found the zone and stayed there,” said Donofrio, the junior catcher. “He came in [to the season] having to prove himself. He has and he showed what he can do today.”

Luke Good recorded the final three outs for Pascack Valley, which will play Governor Livingston in the Group 2 final on Saturday.

Donofrio transferred back to his hometown school after spending his first two years at Don Bosco Prep. He filled the hole left by the graduation of Zack Novakowski and has caught 30 of PV’s 31 games this year. It stinks when public schools loose players to perceived greener pastures, but a welcome turn of events when they get them back.

“I am ecstatic to be here. I have no words,” said Donofrio, who is the clean-up hitter on the only Bergen County team to win a state sectional title and the only one left playing heading into the season’s final weekend. “I didn’t play at all on varsity my freshman or sophomore year. I talked to my parents, made the decision to come here and I didn’t know how it was going to go. Looking back at it now, I have a new family. I couldn’t have gone better.”

Sam Stalb (2-for-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) drove in two runs with a two-out single in the third to make it 5-2, Gaskin’s (2-for-3, R, 2B) leadoff double in the fourth set up Drew Kirkby for a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2 and then it was just about counting outs. Gaskin left having thrown 101 pitches in six innings, which left the last three up to Luke Good, who got the first two outs, then allowed two baserunners for dramatic effect before Sam Stalb gloved a pop-up in foul ground to end it.

Valley is now heading to a state final since going as a Group 3 in 2021 and playing one of the all-time classic championship games. Never mind that PV lost, it was a 14-inning marathon on Father’s Day against Ocean City. This year will be similarly daunting as Governor Livingston is a Top 10 team in the state and easily dispatched of Seneca, 10-2, in the other semifinal. JT DeRiso, the first-team All-County junior lefthander, will be on full rest and ready to take the ball on Saturday, which gives Valley more than a puncher’s chance.

“Governor Livingston is a powerhouse that I have known about for a very long time. Coach Chris Roof does an unbelievable job with that program. I don’t know how much scouting I will do. I am most importantly worried about us,” said PV head coach Will Lynch, who team now is nearly unrecognizable from the one that took the field on Opening Day. “We are not the same team, we are not the same players, we are not the same anything. We’ve morphed into something different than we started as and we are down to the final day.”