RUMSON - It is a pitching formula that came about due to circumstance, but it has worked beautifully all season for the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School baseball team.
The formula was in evidence again Friday at Hal Lorme Field as Rumson-Fair Haven cruised to an 8-3 win over Spotswood in the NJSIAA Central Group 2 championship game.
For the most part, the formula has consisted of using as starting pitcher either senior right-hander Jackson Hinchliffe or senior right-hander John Goodes, then going to the likes of sophomore right-hander Owen O'Toole and senior right-hander Matt Bruno, with senior right-hander Cal Champeau also playing a major part starting and relieving and junior left-hander Jackson Gallagher getting action as a starter.
Friday, Goodes pitched the first 3 1/3 innings and he allowed one run on four hits, struck out three and walked six while throwing 75 pitches.
Hinchliffe, who had thrown 67 pitches this past Tuesday in the Bulldogs' 2-1 win over Ocean in a Central 2 semifinal, retired all five batters he faced in 1 2/3 innings with three strikeouts while throwing 20 pitches.
O'Toole, who was also the starting quarterback for Rumson-Fair Haven's football team that reached the NJSIAA Group 2 championship game in 2022, pitched a 1-2-3 sixth with two strikeouts on 10 pitches and Bruno pitched the seventh and gave up two runs on two hits, walked one and struck out two and threw 30 pitches.
In the Ocean game, it was Hinchliffe to O'Toole to Bruno. In the sectional quarterfinal, it was Goodes to O'Toole to Champeau to Bruno.
At the start of the season, Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Owen Stewart and his coaching staff figured Goodes, a Rutgers University recruit, and Hinchliffe, a Richmond recruit, would be going six or seven innings in most of their starts.
But, things quickly changed.
"We had some arm shutdowns,'' Stewart said. "Jackson (Hinchliffe) had an arm shutdown. Johnny (Goodes) had an arm shutdown. So those games, we'd end up having to start Jackson Gallagher, who is a really good lefty, and he'd go five innings and then we'd go to the other guys (O'Toole, Bruno and Champeau).
"Then, we had to use Cal as a starter a lot. Pitched in relief a lot against some really tough teams. Those games, Cal had to start, he was coming off throwing two out of three days, so we knew we weren't going to get more than three innings out of him. It just kind of presented itself as this was a formula we could go to. We could keep them fresh all year, and they really are. They are at their freshest right now.''
The pitching by committee also results in batters not being able to get a set pattern on a plan of hitting.
"They all have just a slightly different arm angle, a slightly different attitude, little different pitches and little different style they can throw to guys,'' Stewart said.
Stewart said the way Bruno, a George Washington University-recruit, pitched in the preseason scrimmage schedule, was a key to the way the plan evolved.
"He would come in with an attitude and just fill up strike zones, try to get in and out of there in 10 pitches and get himself off the field,'' Stewart said. "It really started there with the way to use him.''
O'Toole, after a long football season, did not start focusing on baseball until late January.
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"I think he said, his first outing, he threw 68 miles per hour,'' Stewart said. "He's just grown with each outing, and he's calm and he's cool out there.''
WHAT IT MEANS
It was the second straight Central Group 2 championship for Rumson-Fair Haven (21-5). This one was not nearly as dramatic last year's 4-3 win over Wall when it rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh and was down to its final strike three times.
The Bulldogs, who won their third sectional title overall, will host Seneca (13-13) Monday at 4 p.m. in a Group 2 semifinal.
Seneca, which was seeded ninth in South Group 2 and began the state tournament with a 9-13 record, defeated Haddon Heights 5-0 in the South 2 championship game Friday. Haddon Heights defeated Rumson-Fair Haven 4-2 in last year's Group 2 semifinal.
Rumson-Fair Haven has never advanced to a group championship game.
Stewart said there is a chance Hinchliffe could get the start Monday. It would be the third time Hinchliffe has been on the mound in seven days if he pitches in the game.
The first inning set the tone for a Rumson-Fair Haven team that for much of the season has had trouble scoring runs.
The Bulldogs have been involved in four 2-1 games, three of which they have won. They also won a 1-0 game against Hamilton North in the first round of the state tournament in which Hinchliffe threw a complete-game no-hitter.
There were no run issues Friday as the Bulldogs scored three runs in the first inning, had at least one run each of the six innings they batted in and had 11 hits.
Sophomore center fielder Parker Shenman, who went 4-for-4 with a triple, double, RBI and scored two runs, led off the bottom of the first with a single. He scored on a single by Jack Riva. Brayden Dill added an RBI single and Spencer Hobson a run-scoring ground out later in the inning.
Riva had a run-scoring ground out in the second, Shenman an RBI ground out in the third, senior catcher Owen Kenney an RBI single in the fourth, Reece Moroney and Dill had sacrifice flies in the fifth and sixth innings.