Wolves Stave Off Elimination in Class A Semifinals with Shutout Win Over Fox Lane



Freshman Jacob Storch slides into home plate.

John Jay students packed the bleachers at the John Jay baseball field on Wednesday to see their
Wolves take on Fox Lane, with their backs against the wall.

The ace of the John Jay staff, Nick Fassert, toed the rubber attempting to get the Wolves to Purchase College for the championship game for the first time since 2016. Fassert, the team’s ace to the tone of a 1.73 ERA over 64 innings, was pitching on just 3 days’ rest, something uncommon for high school pitchers. “As entered Sectionals, I told Nick that he was going to be our workhorse, the guy I wanted on the mound on the mound in big games,” said John Jay coach Ted Lawrence. Fassert responded triumphantly over his previous two playoff starts which included 15 innings of only 2 earned runs against Eastchester and Harrison. He started his afternoon with strong stuff keeping Fox Lane scoreless over the first two frames, striking out three Foxes.

In the top of the third, Fox Lane loaded the bases against Fassert with their cleanup hitter, Will Rudolph digging in. Rudolph grounded one sharply to the shortstop Jacob Storch, who flipped to second for the sure out but Brendan Willingham’s return throw to first was wide of first. As Fox Lane began celebrating, the second base umpire pointed at second base and raised his fist, signaling an interference on the runner, enabling the Wolves to escape the jam unscathed. Willingham told the FOCUS, “As soon as I was looking to throw, I felt my front leg being taken out by the runner. My throw was off line and I looked at the umpire to see if he saw what went down. He immediately called both runners out and I was fired up. It was a big call in a big moment and that was a huge turning point for the team.”

A turning point it was for the Wolves. Following the chaos that had just transpired, John Jay immediately got to work. Following a Fassert single and a walk from catcher Scott Esposito, Nick Russo rolled a slow grounder to third. Upon charging, third baseman Cooper Furst’s throw had the runner dead to rights but it pulled the first baseman off the bag, enabling Russo to reach and a run to score, breaking the tie. Nolan Rhodes then followed by dunking a soft fly ball into right field, scoring a pair and putting the Wolves up by three. John Jay had the momentum and didn’t stop there as sophomore infielder Will Civetta pulled one through the right side and score Rhodes from second base. The offensive onslaught would end there for the Wolves but they had gotten all they’d need.

Fassert went back to work and squashed any attempt at a comeback by striking out four of his next seven batters over two scoreless frames. In the 6th, the Wolves called on their reliable closer, Will Matthews, to record the final 6 outs of the ballgame. After a clean 6th, Matthews got back on the mound for the 7th. After two quick outs, the Wolves found themselves an out away from a Section Championship Berth. With two already retired, “We want [Walter] Panas!” chants began to erupt from the student Section. Their wish was soon granted as Furst swung first pitch and rolled one out to Fassert at shortstop. His throw was true and the dugout quickly emptied, mobbing Matthews on the mound in celebration.

Despite the jubilation, John Jay had a tall task ahead of them. Due to a previous playoff loss to Panas, the Panthers needed just one win to clinch the Section Championship, while the Wolves needed two. Saturday night was a game to witness as sophomore Mitchell Hammer went to the mound for the Wolves against arguably the best pitcher in the state, Eastern Carolina commit, Jackson DiLorenzo. DiLorenzo, who had beaten the Wolves twice already this year including a 12-strikeout complete game masterpiece on April 14th, got off to a good start striking out 5
batters over the first 3 frames, sidestepping baserunners in every inning. However, Hammer matched him pitch for pitch mowing through the gauntlet that is Panas’s lineup with ease. The Panthers were seeing Hammer for a third time this season which could be problematic for the Wolves given such a deep and talented lineup. Hammer however wasn’t fazed by the challenge as he, “stayed with my approach of getting ahead early,” he said, adding that, “I had a gameplan and we just tried to execute that gameplan.”

In the third, two runners reached against Hammer turning over the lineup card to Clemson commit Sammy Stafura, a consensus MLB Draft Player come July. After a long battle Stafura popped one into shallow center field for the second out of the inning. DiLorenzo followed with a bullet to center, sure to be a hit before always surehanded Andrew Lombardi entered a slide and rather effortlessly made the catch, robbing DiLorenzo and keeping at least one run off the board.

As the game went deeper into the night, Hammer and DiLorenzo continued to match zeros until the top of the 6th inning. Nick Fassert started the inning with a four pitch walk and in the words of color commentor Marco DiRuocco, “Those leadoff walks will kill you.” Marco Maiuolo followed with a soft ground ball to the third baseman which advanced Fassert to second. Hitting with a 2-0 count, Scott Esposito grounded one in the direction of the surehanded Stafura. He glided to the left with ease and smoothly fielded the ground ball but his throw was wild to first. A rare miscue from the Panas defense allowed Fassert to score from second and Esposito to take his place. After rebounding by striking out Lombardi, DiLorenzo issued another four-pitch walk, this time to Nick Russo, bringing up freshman phenom Jacob Storch. After working the count full, Storch recognized past pitching patterns citing, “I know he likes to throw it past you with fastballs so I tried to make sure I was on time and I just turned on it.” Storch, connected sending the heater high and deep into the left center field gap, beyond the reach of left fielder Mike Scozzafava, bringing in two more runs for John Jay. Mike Aiello then followed with a single to right center, chasing Storch home with another run.

Hammer went back to work now pitching with a lead. “Having the lead was certainly in the back of my head that inning…Scott [Esposito] came to the mound and made sure we treated it like a 0-0 game,” the lefty said. He attacked the Panther’s hitters with fastballs enabling swings early in counts and getting quick outs. He set down Danny Witters, Randy Wiesner, and Tony Humphrey Jr., on just 7 pitches going through the middle of the order with no issue. Then in the 7th, Scozzafava grounded out, Derek Hawley flew out, and Austin Pagliettini was called out on strikes
to end the night.

Photo by Lohud

While John Jay celebrated on the field and on the bus ride home, they had one more game to win to clinch the title they were hoping for. Sunday afternoon hosted a winner-take-all game to decide the Section 1 Class A champion. The Wolves sent Fassert back to the mound facing Panas sophomore Nick DiMaso. This game followed the same narrative as the last one with both starters dueling for the early part of the game. The 5th inning saw a leadoff single from Mike Scozzafava followed by an error by the pitcher Fassert. After Scozzafava was lifted for a pinch runner, Fassert looked to have him picked off at third base, but a controversial safe call sent the John Jay fans into a frenzy. Pagliettini immediately jumped on the opportunity and delivered a two-run single. After a hit batsman, Stafura delivered a well struck doubled to the fence which added to Panas’s lead. Witters then flew out, scoring Michael Torres but the throw into the infield went awry, allowing Stafura to score the fifth Panthers run of the inning. After the Panthers added on two more runs, and Ian Maslow struck out to end it, the Wolves season came to a close two months to the day that it started.

Under first year head coach Ted Lawrence, the Wolves finished the regular season 11-8-1 and
won 5 postseason games, unending the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, and 12th seeded team, all but one of those games on the road. With many of the stars of the season being underclassmen, the Wolves will once again be a force in Section 1 Class A next year hoping to build on the successes of this year.