The Pope John XXIII Regional High School baseball team is headed back to the tri-county final.
Massimo Mondi led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run to deep center to lift the top-seeded Lions to a 4-3 victory over fourth-seeded High Point in the semifinal round of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament on Saturday afternoon, May 13 in Sparta.
Pope John was scheduled to meet third-seeded Hunterdon Central for the H/W/S title for the third straight season at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 at Phillipsburg High School.
Hunterdon Central defeated Pope John, 12-3, in last year’s final and also in the 2021 final, 2-1.
The season was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Pope John won the last of its three H/W/S titles in 2019, defeating High Point, 5-2. It also bested High Point in 2017 and Hunterdon Central in 2011.
The win Saturday was the fifth straight for Pope John (13-6), marking the second time this season that the Lions have accomplished that feat.
“This is an exciting and fun team to coach,” said first-year head coach James Manco. “I’ve been assistant here since 2013 so I’ve seen us on the losing and winning sides in the final. They work very hard and are very cohesive and I’m very proud of them.
“Even though Hunterdon Central is the third seed, they’re still the defending champions. We have to play our game, go in with attitude and effort. This is a great opportunity for us.”
Against High Point, Pope John also was steered offensively by Mac Tufts (2-for-3, three stolen bases, walk, run), Michael Gallaway (2-for-3, double, walk) and Brian McKenna (2-for-3, walk, stolen base, run).
Gallaway, a senior catcher, has 30 hits and 16 RBI to lead the team. Tufts, a junior shortstop/pitcher, leads the Lions in runs with 16.
Senior right-hander Anthony Bubba scattered 10 hits over the first seven innings with four strikeouts and one walk before giving way to Tufts, who pitched the final two frames with three strikeouts, no walks and no hits.
“High Point is a good team but Bubba had good stuff and grinded it out for us,” said Manco. “We started to use Tufts out of the bullpen a little bit more and he had a good game.”
Sparta High School, seeded seventh, fell to third-seeded Hunterdon Central, 7-2, in the semifinal round of the H/W/S Tournament on May 13 in Flemington.
Liam Gallagher was 2-for-2 and Colin Gallagher went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Sparta had advanced to the semis with a 5-4 decision over second-seeded North Hunterdon in the quarterfinal round Wednesday, May 10 in Annandale. The Spartans scored three times in the top of the seventh to erase a 4-2 deficit.
The scorers included Liam Gallagher, who hit a two-run home run.
Josh Brancy added a single, a walk and two runs, and Anthony Patrickio singled and scored. Evan Saulya pitched a three-hitter with five strikeouts and three walks and allowed just one earned run in a 107-pitch effort.
Pope John/Sparta softball
The Lions, seeded sixth, bowed to second-seeded North Hunterdon in the semifinal round of the H/W/S Tournament on May 13.
Grace Bobbie, who was 3-for-4 with three singles, a run and an RBI paced the offense.
Pope John (11-8) had advanced to the semis by defeating third-seeded Sparta, 5-4, on the road May 10.
Pope John snapped a 3-3 tie with two runs in the top of the seventh. Sparta scored a run in the bottom of the seventh but its rally fell just short.
Steering the offense for Pope John were Meghan Sabo, who went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI; Ryleigh Manning, who was 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run; and Remmi Joustra, who was 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI. Olivia Cilli hurled a six-hitter with eight strikeouts, six walks and one earned run.
Sparta (11-6) was led by Mason Munier, who hit a solo home run, Rylee Munier (2-for-3, two RBI, run) and Alexa Berry (2-for-3, double, RBI).
Even though Hunterdon Central is the third seed, they’re still the defending champions. We have to play our game, go in with attitude and effort. This is a great opportunity for us.” - James Manco, head baseball coach, Pope John XXIII Regional High School