By Jeff Appelblatt
As great as Woodbridge High School’s baseball season was, the team couldn’t have been satisfied by the way it closed.
The second-seeded Barrons (25-6) were beaten, 3-1, by the No. 1 squad from Millburn High School in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) North Jersey, Section II, Group IV tournament.
Millburn pitcher Connor Lally was almost unhittable. Only Zach Joe got a hit for Woodbridge. He got on base another time when he was hit by a pitch. Lally struggled to control the ball a few times, also hitting Josepher Gutierrez.
Zach Delvalle threw well for Woodbridge, but he was no match for Lally. He gave up four hits and two earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched.
Even in prior years before a pitch limit was established, the Barrons couldn’t match up their ace with the one from Millburn. The Rutgers University-bound senior, Harry Rutkowski, was on the mound for the final time in high school May 30 vs. Bayonne High School. The lefty gave up only two hits, struck out 11 and drove Woodbridge to the championship game.
That win was No. 27 for Rutkowski, moving him into a tie for the most wins by a Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) pitcher. Bobby Brownlie notched 27 wins at Edison High School, Willie Beard got to 27 at Spotswood High School and Tommy Marcinczyk won 27 at Middlesex High School.
The Barrons knew for years their top pitcher was bound to set or tie records. The lefty, who finished this season with a 0.68 ERA, gave a verbal agreement to play baseball at Rutgers University in 2015 when he was only a sophomore. The Woodbridge record for wins was only 21 — a number Rutkowski passed in April.
Woodbridge’s coaches couldn’t have predicted its ace would be as good as he was this year with the bats. He made it a habit this year to hit regularly for the Barrons — and hit with power. The lefty hit 11 home runs this season — the most of any high school baseball player in New Jersey.
Overall, Rutkowski batted .483. In addition to the 11 dingers this year, he knocked in 35 runs and stole four bases.
With Rutkowski, the GMC player of the year, leading the way, Woodbridge made it to its first sectional title game since 1959.
But with its main hurler unable to step to the rubber in the recent trip, the Barrons have yet to win a state championship.
Still, many in the school and in the town will consider 2017 the best baseball year in Woodbridge.