WEST WINDSOR: Locals helped Mercer win Carpenter Cup

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   When play resumed in their Carpenter Cup semifinal game Tuesday morning, Matt McCann and Scott Feryus stood at first and second base after a pair of hits.
   The day ended with the two celebrating the Mercer County all-star baseball team’s second Carpenter Cup title in the event’s 28-year history after a 9-2 win over Lehigh Valley at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
   ”This definitely is probably the biggest win I’ve had in my career,” said McCann, who just graduated from West Windsor-Plainsboro High South. “At South, we made it all the way to the Mercer County final and played at Waterfront Park. We ended up winning. To win at Citizens Bank Park, after I was ecstatic.”
   It was the perfect sendoff for a group of seniors that had come together quickly over five days to win Mercer’s first title since 2004. The tournament began in promising fashion with an 8-4 win over defending champion Burlington County last Friday. It was Mercer’s first Carpenter Cup game victory since 2009. Feryus helped to break open the 2-1 game in the sixth inning with an RBI double in the six-run inning.
   ”We all went in with a little confidence thinking we have a very good team,” said Feryus, who just graduated from West Windsor-Plainsboro High North. “And we were also thinking every other team is an all-star team and good if not better than us. We came out and played with a lot of passion and we played well.”
   The Mercer team won four straight games to earn the Carpenter Cup. Packet-area players on the team are pitcher Paul Balestrieri of WW-P South, shortstop Matt McCann of WW-P South, outfielder B.J. Dudeck of Princeton Day School and Feryus, a catcher who served as designated hitter throughout the tournament, and McCann, a shortstop. WW-P North head coach Mike Santoro served on the coaching staff. Hun’s Steve Wells was on the roster, but could not play due to injury.
   ”I remember at the Carpenter Cup meeting, (Mercer manager Brian) Giallella was saying anything can happen,” McCann said. “What happened was awesome. I missed the first game for graduation, and I was so upset. When I found out we won, I was so excited.”
   McCann and Balestrieri were back with the team in time to be a part of their final three wins. They were happy to join a team that will forever have the title bond.
   ”When you’re playing against all these guys, a lot of them I didn’t know that well,” McCann said. “When you’re playing against them, you hate them. You don’t want to see them succeed. I think we bonded well and became friends and the team chemistry helped us along the way.”
   Mercer’s talent was evident throughout the tournament.
   ”I think we had the complete package,” Feryus said. “Our pitching set us up a lot. We had a bunch of great pitchers like Dylan Malinosky (of Hightstown), Paul Sparano (of Ewing) and Paul Balestrieri. They all came out and pitched their tails off. We also hit the ball.”
   Feryus did so in a new spot. The everyday, every inning catcher for WW-P North, he had to adjust to being in the DH role. As such, he didn’t have the usual rhythm of the game to help him.
   ”You kind of had to get in the flow of the game by yourself,” Feryus said. “As a DH, you don’t get to go out and play defense. You just have to hit, hit, hit. You have to take your on-deck swings seriously and pick up tendencies. Even when you’re not on deck, you have to watch on the bench and pick things up.”
   Hitting wasn’t a problem for the Mercer all-stars. In their second game of the tournament, they crushed Delaware County, Pa., 14-2, Saturday. Dudeck was 3-for-3 and drove in three runs in the win, while Balestrieri combined with two others to allow only five hits while striking out 10. Pitchers in the Carpenter Cup are limited to a maximum of three innings per game. Starting position players can’t go more than six innings in the showcase event.
   After their win over Delaware County, things got interesting and much closer for Mercer in the semifinals. They held a narrow 2-1 lead over Jersey Shore when inclement weather forced the final three innings back to Tuesday. It began with McCann and Feryus on base, and ended with Mercer scoring three runs in the ninth inning for what ended up being a 8-6 comeback win after Mercer trailed for the first time in 25 innings in this year’s Carpenter Cup. Feryus had a pair of hits in the semifinal win.
   ”That win kind of gave us the confidence to go into the final knowing we could beat whoever our opponent is,” Feryus said. “We felt like, we’re moving and we’ll keep moving.”
   One hour later, they were able to turn around for the title win over Lehigh Valley. The semifinal game gave them all the momentum they needed.
   ”With the way it ended, we were all extremely amped up,” McCann said. “We were all extremely hyped. We had an hour in between before the championship. The entire time, we were running around high-fiving. The way it ended, it had us all excited to play.”
   Mercer kept hitting in the championship. Dudeck was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning and scored on a two-out single. McCann hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning for some insurance and did his job in the field to secure the crown as he had throughout the Carpenter Cup.
   ”Everyone was swinging the bats and the pitching was great,” McCann said. “Any time they put the ball in play, we fielded it. Everything was great.
   ”It was definitely a unique experience,” he said. “In the championship and quarterfinal, we were winning by a lot when I got thrown in the game. That took a lot of pressure off me at shortstop. In the semifinal, because it was such a close game, when I came in I was totally focused and knew I had to do my job at short.”
   Next year, McCann will be trying to do the same for Fairleigh Dickson University in Teaneck. He and the Cornell-bound Balestrieri helped to represent WW-P South well.
   ”I thought representing South was awesome,” McCann said. “I’ve been playing against all these players throughout the years. When we all came together, it was the definition of an all-star team, and getting to represent South was nice.
   ”I’m having so much fun right now. In the spring, since high school season started, I’m having a blast. I cannot wait for Legion playoffs to start. I know we can make a run.”
   Feryus is playing with McCann on the West Windsor-Plainsboro American Legion team. He was a late addition to the Mercer all-stars, and he jumped at the chance to represent WW-P North.
   ”Steve Wells, he broke his ankle, and Coach Giallella emailed Coach Santoro and asked if I wanted to play,” Feryus said. “Of course I did. It’s so much fun. I was not even thinking about the championship game. I was just thinking I get the chance to represent Mercer County in this prestigious tournament.”
   Feryus fit right in, and next year he is hoping to walk on at the University of Pittsburgh. He proved in the Carpenter Cup that he can hit top-level all-star caliber pitching, and he would like that chance in college.
   ”It’s a great way to end my high school baseball career,” Feryus said. “The past three years on varsity, we haven’t really done this well. This tournament shows what Mercer County baseball is about and how talented we are and how competitive we are.”
   The win was the perfect send-off for a group of seniors that had grown up playing against each other in high school, but during a march to the Carpenter Cup could show what the could do together.
   ”I definitely think this past weekend and playing Legion every day, it’s all leading up to next year when I’ll be at Fairleight Dickinson,” McCann said. “Playing Legion every day has been awesome for my game. Coming to the Carpenter Cup and getting to play with all these all-stars, it gives you an experience you can take with you for the rest of your career.”