Allentown falls just short in Group 3 state baseball final


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Brett Carroll
Staff Writer

A repeat state championship was not to be, but Allentown High School’s baseball team will just move forward and cherish this 2018 season.

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Allentown was denied in its bid to retain the Group 3 state tournament championship when the Redbirds were defeated by Somerville High School, 3-2, in the title game that was played on June 10 at Veteran’s Park in Hamilton Township.

Allentown coach Bob Nice reflected on the enter season and the defeat as well.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Nice said. “I told them at the beginning of the season, we’re the defending champs and there’s going to be a huge target on our backs. We owned up to that all year. We played a real good year of baseball, except for maybe a two-week stretch in the middle of the season. But, with the things we were able to do over the past few weeks, we’ve played some outstanding baseball. We have nothing to do but hold our heads high. Can’t win them all. We put some good swings on it today, but in the end, they were just a little bit better than us today.”

The game featured a serious pitchers duel to start off with only on run scored in the first four innings. As the team’s started to get used to the other’s pitching, the hits started piling up,

and the game speared ahead to an exciting finish with Allentown going down on strikes in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded.

The Redbirds entered the seventh inning faced with a 3-2 deficit. Allentown then mounted a rally and loaded the bases with one out.

But Somerville’s pitcher escaped the jam with two strikeouts to end the game and hand the Group 3 championship trophy to the Somerset County school.

Nice was impressed with how Somerville was able to stay composed in the seventh inning.

“Bottom line, we have to give credit to the pitcher,” Nice said. “It’s not like our guys weren’t executing, their guy was throwing some great pitches down the stretch. Give credit to that kid for getting out of there. I mean, bases loaded and one out. That’s a hell of a job by him. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap off to the other guy. That’s what we had to do today.”

Allentown, which defeated Cranford High School, 5-1, in last year’s Group 3 state title game, ended the 2018 season with a 22-7 record.

Along its drive to the state title game, Allentown won its second straiht Central Jersey, Group 3 championship with a 6-5 victory in the sectional final on June 1. Allentown then knocked out Seneca High School, 13-0, in the Group 3 semifinal on June 5.

Nice was proud of his group, which had to make up for the loss of many key players who graduated from the 2017 championship team.

“It was the biggest challenge we had,” Nice said. “We lost about five position players and pretty much all of our pitching from last year. We had guys step up. Whether it was [senior] AJ [Ariano], or [sophomore] Jack [Nitti], or [freshman Dan] Merkel. I can keep naming guys that stepped up for us on the mound. Our offense carried us all year. Our offense was tremendous. So, yeah, it’s also exciting that we have a young core for next year. It’s definitely something to look forward to.”

The Redbirds will lose 11 seniors this year, including leaders Chris Reeder and Austin Ferrier.

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