By: Brad Vangeli

It’s rare for fans to walk away from a game and truly believe that neither team deserved to lose. After Steinert (5-1-1, 3-1-1) and Lawrence (2-2-2, 2-2-1) played on Friday, most would leave Steinert High School with that feeling, as the teams played through constant wind and on-and-off rain to a 6-6 tie after nine innings. The game was called due to darkness following the ninth.

Lawrence began the three-hour long game plating three runs in the first inning on three walks, two hit batters and just one hit (Ean Dauer two-run Single) off of Steinert starter Joe Swindasz. The Cardinals had a chance to add even more runs, but Swindasz struck out Druv Indelicato with his 40th pitch of the inning.

“Joe has made two starts and the first inning has been tough for him both times,” Steinert Head Coach Rick Freeman said. “We’re going to have to find out a better warmup plan for him so that he can go deeper into the game.”

After facing nine batters in the first, Swindasz settled in nicely, retiring nine of the next eleven Cardinals, three coming via strikeouts. He allowed just one hit through four innings pitched, while surrendering three walks, hitting three batters and striking out six.

Steinert quickly responded in the first inning with an RBI single by Brendan James. Cj Pittaro added an RBI single in the third to cut the deficit to 3-2.

After Lawrence starter Ryan Sullivan (4 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) retired the first two Spartans in the fourth, Steinert strung together four consecutive hits with two outs and nobody on. The final two hits during that stretch were RBI singles by Mason Walczak and Brady Plunkett to give Steinert a 4-3 lead after four innings.

The Spartans lead wouldn’t hold up for long, as Lawrence tied the game at four with a run in the fifth inning off of Steinert reliever Josh Lyons. Catcher Nick Ciuffreda drew a one out walk and was replaced on the base paths by courtesy runner AJ Guilamo, who made an immediate impact. Guilamo swiped second and third base with designated hitter Chris Nevius at the plate. With a 2-2 count, Nevius poked a ground ball to first base to bring home Guilamo with an RBI groundout.

Steinert would regain the lead, 5-4, in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Joshua James scored on a wild pitch with two outs.

Lawrence would continue to battle in the seventh inning, however. Nevius found himself at the plate with runners on second and third and one out, with another chance to tie the game for the Cardinals. He grounded the first pitch to shortstop, where CJ Pittaro couldn’t make a throw home, allowing Hunter Rivera to score the tying run. Pittaro was able to record the second out by catching Guilamo in a run-down trying to advance to third.

With the game tied at five and a runner on second base with two outs, Roshan Aiyar lined a single to centerfield. Lawrence Head Coach Andrew Septer sent Nevius home to score the go-ahead run. Brady Plunkett had other thoughts however, as he fired a perfect one hopper home to cut down the go-ahead run.

“I had concerns when the season started with how good our defense would be,” Freeman said, “but it’s been great through seven games. I can confidently say we’re a good defensive team.”

In the bottom of the seventh, Steinert had their own chance to win it. Jordan Nitti stepped to the plate, as Pittaro stood on third base with one out. Nitti hit a ground ball to short, but Hunter Rivera threw home, and the Cardinals tagged out Pittaro in a rundown.

After a scoreless eighth inning and darkness looming, it looked as if the game would be stopped, but the umpires allowed for one more inning of play.

Lawrence left fielder Shea McGuire started the top of the ninth with a single into right field. After stealing second base and being sacrificed to third by Hunter Rivera, Rick Freeman decided to intentionally walk the cleanup hitter Nick Ciuffreda. Chris Nevius found himself at the plate in a pressure situation yet again, with the go ahead run on third base. He chopped a ground ball to third base and the Spartans were only able to force out AJ Guilamo at second base, as McGuire came across to score to give Lawrence a 6-5 lead. Nevius finished 0-for-4, but ended with three RBI’s, two coming on fielder’s choices and one on a groundout.

Much like both teams would do throughout the game, Steinert responded in the bottom of the ninth. CJ Pittaro led off with a walk and then stole second. With one out, Lawrence reliever Colin D’Angelo attempted to pickoff Pittaro, but his throw sailed into centerfield. A slight bobble by Druv Indelicato was just enough to allow Steinert third base coach Mike Hastings to wave home Pittaro to tie the game at six.

With darkness setting in, the umpires decided to end the game after nine innings, resulting in a 6-6 tie.

“Both teams played hard and left it all out there,” Freeman said. “In pressure situations, both teams reacted well for the most part. I thought we both had opportunities to win, but the other team (Lawrence) was tough too and refused to lose.”

Lawrence scored their six runs on just four hits, three of which came in the final three innings.

Brady Plunkett went 3-for-4 with a run scored, an RBI and a hit-by-pitch for Steinert. He was the only player in the game with multiple hits.

Both teams returns to action on Saturday, as Lawrence visits Franklin and Steinert takes on Colonia in the Autism Awareness Challenge at North Brunswick Community Park.