Margate Green Wave lean on former EHT stars Riggs, Kessler to upset Northfield in opening game of ACBL playoffsBy DAVE O'SULLIVAN
NORTHFIELD — Brandon Riggs is one of those guys who opposing hitters look at while he's warming up and think they have a 3-for-4 day in store. By game's end, many times it's an 0-for-4 night with a couple of strikeouts.
Riggs, a former standout pitcher at Egg Harbor Township High School who recently finished up his freshman year at Penn State-Abington, used pinpoint control and a devastating curveball to stymie host Northfield on Monday night as the fifth-seeded Margate Green Wave scored a 4-2 upset win in the opening game of the Atlantic County Baseball League playoffs. The best-of-3 series shifts to Margate on Tuesday night, with the upstart Green Wave looking to close out fourth-seeded Northfield.
Second-seeded Hammonton got past Egg Harbor City, 5-1, in its opening game, while No. 3 Absecon got a walk-off home run from Gio Contreras to beat Ocean City, 4-2.
"I felt really confident, because I threw against these guys two or three times (during the regular season). I knew if I got my curveball in — like I didn't in the other starts — I knew I could be effective today," Riggs said. "I actually throw more of a 12-to-6 rather than the knuckle curve I was throwing in high school, and it just has better bite and comes in harder. I'm just trying to locate it more and keep hitters off balance."
"I've been seeing Riggs pitch since even before high school, probably since we were 10 years old on the Riptides. He's not overpowering, but he hits his spots every time. People don't realize that about Riggs. He doesn't throw extremely hard, but he hits his spots. We saw it in this game, he'll paint that outside corner and the hitter thinks it's a ball, but it's a strike every time," said Brady Kessler, who just finished up his freshman year at Stevenson University and was a high school teammate of Riggs at EHT. "I love watching Riggs pitch, I get so pumped when he's out there, especially with his curveball. It's probably the filthiest pitch I've ever seen. He was a three-year starter in high school and always gave a great performance."
Riggs was able to out-duel Northfield ace Z.J. Zabinski, a Germantown Academy (Pa.) product who recently finished up his freshman year at Davidson University and helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA Super Regionals against Texas A&M. Zabinski allowed just four runs in 21 appearances during his first season at Davidson, and was on target through the first three innings against the Green Wave, mixing a mid-80s fastball with a sharp slider. Dan Healey staked Northfield to a 1-0 lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the first, but things unraveled a bit for the Cardinals in the top of the fourth.
Kessler started things off with a single over the third-base bag and stole second, then Antonio Caraballo laid down a bunt single. Absegami grad and ACCC player T.J. Neil followed with an RBI single down the right-field line to tie the game, 1-1, and Shane Adams delivered a run-scoring single to left to put Margate up 2-1. The Green Wave (13-12) loaded the bases on a bunt by Dante DiPalma (EHT 2017), and after a strikeout, Joe Hartley (Holy Spirit 2016) was hit by a pitch to drive in Margate's third run. Mainland rising junior Devin Sharkey drew an RBI walk to push the lead to 4-1 before Zabinski fanned the next two batters to get out of the jam.
"He's a pretty good pitcher," Kessler said of Zabinski. "He lived away, so we had the approach to look away and hope he left one over the plate that we could do something with. We started slow, but I had that single to lead things off (in the fourth) and stole second, and To (Antonio Caraballo) had that great bunt, and that bunt started it all."
Northfield (14-11) pulled to within 4-2 on a solo home run in the fifth by Buena Regional graduate Dom Lopez, and put the tying runs on base in the bottom of the seventh as Margate's outfielders lost two fly balls in the twilight sky. But Riggs fanned Lopez on a wicked curveball to end the game, stranding runners at second and third.
"The only thing I was thinking was to try to keep the ball low to get ground balls and strikeouts. That's the only thing you can do at that point," Riggs said. "The pitches that got rocked today, that was my problem in college also. There were a couple of pitches when there were two outs and I'd give up a bomb. I need to work on stuff like that, just finishing my innings."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays