EAST HANOVER − Nothing was going to get the 12 seniors of Hanover Park baseball off the field.
Nothing but the incoming lightning, that is.
An abbreviated celebration on the field spilled into the school's auxiliary gym, and pictures were taken under a basketball hoop instead of near home plate. Regardless of the change in scenery, the Hornets enjoyed one more victory at home on Friday, a 10-0 win over Rutherford in the North 2, Group 2 baseball sectional final.
Despite the big margin, it was actually small ball that put Hanover Park ahead early on.
In each of the first two innings, the Hornets had a leadoff hitter reach base, get sacrificed over to second base and come around to score. Mark Ruccio scored on a sacrifice fly for the first run, while Jack Massarano scored on a wild pitch that gave the Hornets a 2-0 lead through two innings.
"We work on bunting all the time," coach Doug Wear said. "We will bring out the machine and gas it up to about 85 or 90 and just work on bunts. People don't like to bunt anymore, but we knew if we were gonna beat a team like Rutherford, we would need to do the little things and do them right."
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Hanover Park broke through, batting around to score five runs and drive Rutherford starter Sam Kelly out of the game. With one run home and the bases loaded with two away, consecutive two-RBI doubles by Alex Cheringal and Joe LoPinto gave the Hornets a 7-0 cushion.
LoPinto did the rest on the mound, coming in during the second inning to relieve starter Toby Smith on a low pitch limit. LoPinto threw 66 pitches across 3? innings, getting Hanover Park through the fifth inning with a commanding 9-0 advantage.
What it means
It's the second title in three years for Hanover Park. But despite returning 12 seniors, the preseason outlook was not great after losing last spring in the sectional final.
The Hornets entered the season without some impactful players, but the current group of upperclassmen made an impact as the team went undefeated in the NJAC Liberty division and did not lose a single home game all season.
As for what is next, Hanover Park moves on to Monday's Group 2 semifinals to face Pascack Hills with a trip to the next weekend's Group 2 final at stake. In their final game on their home field Friday, Wear reflected upon the impact of his senior class.
"They're part of an era," Wear said. "It's the last game they'll ever play on this field so when they ever come back here, they'll know they left with some hardware."
Rutherford threatened all afternoon, leaving 13 runners on base without being to plate any of them. The greatest threat came with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning, trailing 2-0. Junior Cole Goumas laced a ball to right-center field but senior Charlie Rafanello was playing the shift and was able to slide for an attempt at the catch.
"My glove is really old, so I couldn't feel if it was in my glove at first," Rafanello said. "When I saw that it was there, I got hyped."
Rafanello's sliding grab kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard and preserved the Hanover Park lead. Rutherford did not have another batter reach third base again until the sixth inning.
"It's so euphoric," Rafanello said. "It's an individual moment and you don't know at the time how big it's going to be in terms of the entire game."
Senior Joe LoPinto was going to be handed the ball on Friday, but got it a little earlier than expected as Smith was unable to fend off fatigue. A Canisius commit, LoPinto faced Rutherford for the first time since last season's sectional semifinals, when he struck out 11 and held the Bulldogs to two runs on seven hits in a complete game.
LoPinto stabilized the game and and let the Hanover Park offense stand up, allowing four hits in 3? innings, striking out four and keeping Rutherford off the board to earn the win in relief.
"Joe is our strike thrower," Wear said. "He threw in the Group 2 final for us two years ago as a sophomore and we have been fortunate to ride him and Toby as a 1-2 punch for three years now."
LoPinto also laced a two-run double to cap off a five-run inning for the Hornets to put the game out of reach in his final home game. LoPinto was quick to rank this game atop his accomplishments in Hanover Park.
"It's gotta be No. 1," LoPinto said. "I've been playing with some of these guys since we were 6 years old, so to do this with them, there's nothing like it."
They said it
"It's very emotional. There's no words. It's hard to explain what these guys mean to me." − Hanover Park senior Joe LoPinto.
"Our team is so bonded. We don't leave the diamond and stop being friends. We're best friends everywhere. It's great to win anywhere, but it's special to do it in your home town with your best friends." − Hanover Park senior Charlie Rafanello.