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Bats power Ranney Panthers to Non-Public B state baseball championship

Four years ago a winning season would have been a huge accomplishment for the baseball program at the Ranney School of Tinton Falls.

Ranney School senior Charlie Chropukva remembers those challenging days, but now the program has come full circle.

On June 15 at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, Chropukva and his teammates celebrated the program’s first state championship after the Panthers scored nine runs in the final two innings to roar to a 10-1 victory over Immaculata High School of Somerville to win the 2022 NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship.

The Panthers have won 26 games during the 2022 season.

“There’s no better feeling,” Chropukva said. “Coming (to the Ranney School), I had no clue it would end like this. I knew this group was special from day one. We showed that tonight and during this state tournament run. I’m so happy right now. I love every kid here.”

The Panthers relied on junior A.J. Gracia at the plate and on the mound. Gracia led off the game with a home run in a 10-pitch battle with Immaculata’s Josh Thompson to give Ranney a 1-0 lead.

The solo shot was the start to a night Gracia said he will never forget. He threw 5.2 innings of one-run ball and struck out nine hitters, which was his season high. At the plate, Gracia reached base four times in five at-bats. He scored three runs and drove in two runs.

The achievement was still settling in for Gracia after the game as he said, “It’s crazy. We’re really state champions.”

With the score tied 1-1 in the sixth inning, Gracia came to bat and drew a walk. He stole second and third to as the Panthers put runners on first and third with one out.

Junior Jack Tallent drove in Gracia with a hard hit infield single as the Panthers took a 2-1 lead.

Junior Glen Cantalupo delivered a successful bunt to put runners on second and third with two out.

Junior Diego Tavarez came to the plate and after going hitless in his first two at-bats, Tavarez ripped a single to right field to score two runs and give the Panthers a 4-1 lead.

“It was big insurance (for us),” Tavarez said of his two-run single. “I was just trying to stay on top of the ball. With a 3-1 count, I knew (Thompson) was going to try to come in with a fastball. The pitch came middle in and I just took it to right and thank God it went for a single.”

The Panthers wrapped up the state title by scoring six runs in the seventh inning. Junior Brett Wehringer got his team started with a single to left field that scored a run and gave Ranney a 5-1 lead.

Tallent drove in his second run of the game to make it 6-1, before Cantalupo delivered a two-run double down the left field line to give the Panthers an 8-1 lead.

The Panthers added two more runs on a sacrifice fly by Louis Spadafora and a walk by Gracia with the bases loaded to extend the lead to 10-1.

“With the lineup we have, we know that whoever is up will get the job done,” Wehringer said. “That’s been a part of us all year and that’s what happened during the last stretch of the game.”

Junior lefthander Marcello Mastroianni pitched 1.1 scoreless innings in relief to seal the victory for the Panthers. Mastroianni struck out two hitters in his relief appearance.

It has been a long journey for Coach Pat Geroni and the Panthers, but the players accomplished their goal of making the Ranney School’s baseball program a place of champions.

“This team separated itself with their complete will to not fail. These kids are so gritty. They are really a team,” Geroni said.

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