St. Joseph’s Green team staying hot in state play


Staff Writer

UNION — The St. Joseph Junior American Legion Green team was looking to make the best of the new state tournament format for the junior league by winning the eight-team tourney.

In years past, the state was split in half with a North champion and a South champion and the two teams would meet with state bragging rights at stake.

In 2005, league officials organized an eight-team tournament; the top two teams from Districts 1-4 qualified, and a tournament/state champion will be crowned this week at Teener Field in Union.

“This year we will have the first actual, bona fide state champions at this level,” St. Joseph head coach Bob Yunker said. “The schedule does take its toll, but it is a good thing for the kids and the league.”

Unlike the Senior American Legion League, which also pits top teams against one another with regional and national tournaments, the junior league will terminate its season with the state round.

St. Joe’s opened the states with the 2005 District I runner-up team from Phillipsburg and recorded a 3-2 victory. In the first inning, St. Joe’s jumped ahead when Ed Brown doubled and reached third on a passed ball. Dan Rizzolo plated Brown on a groundout to shortstop to begin the scoring.

The Junior Greens doubled its lead in the fifth courtesy of Tim Furey’s solo blast to right field, but Phillipsburg battled back in the sixth.

Starting pitcher Matt Owens retired Phillipsburg’s number nine hitter to lead off the inning, but ran into trouble when the top of the order came around. Phillipsburg’s leadoff man singled, the next hitter drew a base on balls, and the number three hitter Tyler Jones knocked in both base runners with a triple to center.

“That was the one mistake Matt made on the day,” Yunker said. “He hung a curveball to Jones, and Jones made the best of it.”

Aside from the hanger, Owens pitched seven innings of flawless baseball. He finished the game scattering two hits, walking two, giving up two runs and striking out 13.

“He was extremely sharp,” Yunker said. “He was spotting his fastball perfectly. His fastballs were constantly knee-high and never down the middle.

This made his curveball more effective. Even if he missed with his curve the hitters had to take a hack at it because his fastball was untouchable.”

After the Tyler Jones triple, Owens regrouped and kept the score tied at two and his offense responded in the bottom half of the sixth. Jason Rodriquez hit a one-out single and Brown followed with another base hit.

Rizzolo knocked in his second run of the day with a single, and St. Joe’s went up 3-2. Owens retired the Phillipsburg’s batters in order in the seventh.

“Dan Rizzolo made the best of his 1-for-4 day at the plate, knocking in two runs and the game-winner,” Yunker said. “In the seventh, Phillipsburg sent the bottom of the order up and it worked out perfectly for us. Owens struck out the first guy up, the next one grounded out, and Owens got the last one looking.”

After scoring 30 runs in its final two district tournament games with a 21-1 win over Lincroft and a 9-3 victory over Haddon Heights in the title game, St. Joe’s proved it can win close ones at the highest level in its state opener.

“The eight-team format makes for competitive tournament,” Yunker said. “Hopefully, we can stay hot and play our best baseball.”

They entered last night’s final needing one more win.