By Andy Loigu
High school baseball teams are not blessed with deep pitching staffs, particularly in this part of the state. And Hackettstown found itself in a situation last week that had it searching for an extra arm.
Facing his team’s third game in a week last Thursday, Hackettstown coach Gary Poyer had to give Matt Arcona a start on the mound, after the senior right hander had been a late-innings reliever all season. Arcona responded by throwing a season-high 97 pitches in a five-inning performance. He was the winning pitcher as the Tigers won 16-5 at West Morris.
Batting in the leadoff spot (he started the team’s previous 16 games as the centerfielder) Arcona was 4-for-4 at bat, including three doubles, and scored five runs. His batting average rose to .430. “He plays his best when the lights are the brightest,” Poyer said. “We needed a start and some innings from Matt and he rose to the challenge for us.”
Throwing fastballs and late-breaking cutters, Arcona struck out five batters while allowing five hits and three walks. Joey Rodriguez pitched in the closer role this time. “We needed this win, coming off a loss at Vernon,” Arcona said. “It was a bounce back win for us. We need to maintain a winning momentum with the state tournament coming up. All the guys were into the game and they certainly gave me plenty of run support and good fielding.” The Tigers are 11-6 and will open state tournament play against Whippany Park unless there is a seismic shift in the North 2 Group 2 power points this week.
Arcona started the game with a hit and the Tigers capitalized on three West Morris fielding miscues to grab a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, but it was a six-run fourth which produced the add-on runs Hackettstown would need to win. Arcona and Jake Hall (batting .480 with a .615 on-base percentage, six home runs and 31 RBI) were walked in the inning, but Mike Danza and Wayne Evans drove in runs with base hits as the Tigers batted around and took an 11-0 lead. Twice, with runners at second and third each time, Hall was hit by pitches.
Danza and Evans drove in four runs apiece in the game. Hall and Dom Desiderio, each had two hits and three runs scored. Desiderio plated a run with a sacrifice fly. As Arcona’s velocity, understandably, started to diminish, West Morris scored three runs in the fourth and two in the fifth.
“I reminded Matt that he does not need to strike everybody out,” Poyer said. “I told him to just keep the ball in the park and let his fielders help him. Then, when Joey took the mound, I moved Matt to third base and he made a great play coming in on a slow roller to make a great throw and get an out. Hitting, running the bases, and fielding, he gave us a marvelous performance to lift the team.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.