Six days, nine hits, five runs, and three lead changes later, Jefferson Township is finally moving on in the New Jersey Last Dance World Series.
Jason Taylor drove in three runs, one of which set up Tyler Ruban’s go-ahead RBI double that put Jefferson ahead of Bridgewater-Raritan for good on Tuesday at Skylands Stadium. A combined seven innings of work from Zach Roskowsky and Johnny Knox yielded only four opposing hits, and Jefferson earned a 5-3 victory in the Last Dance’s Round of 16 on the North Jersey side.
“We got another game together, so I’m excited,” Jefferson head coach Jason Kalish said in the aftermath. “What I’ve been saying the whole ride was that the more games I get with these guys, the better. Just to be in the final eight in North Jersey is an exciting time for us.”
Jefferson returned to action after a six-day layover. Weather and health scares delayed and later outright canceled a regional qualifying match with Sussex Red (made up of student-athletes from High Point and Wallkill) originally scheduled for last Thursday. The health issue threatened Jefferson’s own status in the tournament, as pulling out was definitely considered, according to Kalish.
“At one point, we thought we had a forfeit. At another point, we actually said that we were going to remove ourselves from the tournament,” Kalish said. “We were supposed to play three different teams. But our kids are here, and they just want to play. It doesn’t matter against who. It’s my job to make sure it’s in the safest situation possible.”
The Falcons, however, dealt with the stalling with the same feelings they’ve embraced throughout the process: camaraderie and unity.
“A pre-game day routine for us is that we all hit and then we all go to a pool and just chill in a pool. So we had to keep doing that,” Knox said with a smile under a protective face covering. “Since we had a whole weekend off, we probably hit four or five of the six days off. We were hitting, we were getting ready. Our pitchers were staying loose and we were ready for today.”
A team effort got Jefferson through their biggest Last Dance challenge yet. After a perfect inning from each team opened the game, the Falcons allowed their first run of the tournament on an error that put Bridgewater-Raritan ahead early on.
After Roskowky worked out of the two-on, one-out jam with a pair of strikeouts, Taylor gave Jefferson the lead back on a two-run double. Further trouble awaited the Falcons in the fourth, when walks and errors drove in two B-R runs, giving them the lead back in the game’s second half.
During each situation, Roskowsky met with Kalish on the mound to discuss the next steps forward. After each conversation, the senior wound up coming up big in double-duty. After snuffling out the fires on the mound, the future County College of Morris Titan got the fateful Jefferson rally rolling with a double in the top of the fifth. Taylor’s RBI single knotted things up before he himself came home on the de facto game-winning hit from Ruban.
“I was really excited, because I’ve been cold (at the plate) in the whole tournament,” Roskowsky said. “Coming off a good year like last year, and getting really cold this year, I had to step up a bit. I feel like it really pepped the team up.
“We’re all best friends. We hang out every day other than baseball. We practice pretty much every day. It just feels great to be on the team with our good friends.”
Justin Cece was there with insurance in the penultimate sixth frame, stealing second before advancing to third on an error before escaping a rundown on a pick-off attempt. Knox shut out B-R over the last three, including a perfect seventh, to ignite the celebration.
Jefferson will hit the road for the Round of 8 on the North Jersey bracket. They’ll face the Diamondbacks, student-athletes from Don Bosco Prep, at Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday
Follow all of Geoff’s Jefferson updates from The Last Dance on Twitter @GeoffJMags