HARRISON TWP. – In the biggest of moments, Clearview Regional High School senior Kenny Mendoza had confidence on Friday in the Pioneers game plan.
“I knew what we had been successful at earlier in the game against (Millville’s Buddy Kennedy),” Mendoza said. “I wanted to come in on him. He wasn’t going to beat me if I got the pitch in.”
Mendoza worked out of a huge sixth inning jam and went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored as Clearview, ranked No.2 in the SJSD Top 10, beat Millville 3-0 to win the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 title.
Clearview advances to play Hunterdon Central, a 12-2 winner over South Brunswick on Tuesday in a 4 p.m. start at Monmouth University in the state semifinal round.
“This is about the kids,” said Clearview head coach Rocco Cornacchia, who in 24 years at the helm made his third appearance in the final finally coming through with a win. “They deserve all the credit. That sixth inning was a bit tough but I had faith in this team to come through.”
Clearview held a 2-0 lead after five innings and Mendoza had kept Millville off balance throughout the game. But the Thunderbolts had shown plenty of resiliency this year and Friday proved to be no different.
Andrew Richter, who hit seventh in the lineup, led off the inning with a double. A single and a walk loaded the bases with no outs and the top of the Millville lineup headed to the plate.
“We had all the faith in the world in (Mendoza),” senior utility man Dom Wojdya said. “But we knew he had a challenge ahead of him. We all know how good Buddy Kennedy is, he may be the best hitter in the state but we still believed in Kenny.”
Mendoza, as the Pioneers (22-5-1) planned, worked Kennedy inside and eventually got the junior to pop up to first for the first out of the inning.
“Once you get that first out you can see the end,” said Mendoza, who struck out five and walked just one batter on the day. “That’s a huge confidence boost and they have a lot of good hitters but to get that first out was huge.”
“Buddy is a great player and we felt the best thing to do was challenge him,” Cornacchia said. “That was our mindset, to bust the ball in on his hands to see if he could hit someone with Kenny’s velocity. Obviously he can and when he took one of those big cuts he scared the beejeebies out of me. But what can you do, we weren’t going to walk him. We went after him and this time it worked.”
Mendoza followed that up with a strikeout and a ground out to end the threat.
At the same time, Mendoza helped himself out at the plate. In the first inning, Clearview got on the board as Mendoza singled home Trip McCaffery with the first run of the game. In the fourth, Mendoza lumbered into second with a leadoff double into left.
“I saw they had the ball when I was halfway to second so I decided to stay there,” Mendoza said with a smile.
With the courtesy runner rule in place, Wojdya – who celebrated his 18th birthday on Friday – took the pitcher's place at second. An error moved him up and then a fly into left opened the door for a mad dash home.
“I was going to whole way,” Wojdya said. “Not many people can say they won a sectional title and I bet even less can say they scored in one on their birthday.”
The 2-0 lead gave Clearview some breathing room until the sixth when Millville fell short in its biggest opportunity of the afternoon.
“It’s weird, but when that last out happened I wasn’t upset,” Millville head coach Roy Hallenbeck said. “I’m sure it will hurt tomorrow and for the next few days but at that moment, I just felt so proud of this team and how far they came. This was a good game and we played as hard as we could. There’s nothing for us to feel bad about and they played a great game and won.”
South Jersey Group 4 Championship
Clearview 3, Millville 0
Millville 000 000 0 -0 3 1
Clearview 100 101 x -3 5 0
WP: Kenny Mendoza. LP: Buddy Kennedy. 2B: Nick Grotti, Andrew Richter, M; Kenny Mendoza, C.
Senior left-handed starter Kenny Mendoza struck out five and walked just one in a 3-0 win over Millville. Mendoza also went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI and a run scored.
The Clearview High School baseball team raises the South Jersey sectional trophy after defeating Millville 3-0 in the Group 4 final.
Senior utility infielder Dom Wojdyla scored the second run of the day as a courtesy runner for Kenny Mendoza. Wojdyla was one of a number of unsung heroes in the Pioneers trip to a sectional title.