HAMMONTON - Considering his torrid stretch of home-run hitting during the Joe Graziano Little League State Championships, Jackson's Tommy Cartnick was not sure he would get a pitch to hit with a 3-0 count and the winner-take-all state championship game against Somerset Hills tied in the bottom of the sixth inning.

If he did, though, Cartnick was ready to do damage, and when he got a fastball over the plate, he made Jackson history.

Cartick launched a 3-0 fastball well over the fence in center field with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning for a game-winning solo home run that gave Jackson a 7-6 win and a state title. Jackson advances to the Regional Finals in Bristol, Conn., which begin Thursday.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

"It's an amazing feeling," Cartnick said. "To hear the crowd go crazy and all of a sudden, you think, 'Oh, we won states!' It's amazing."

During Jackson's five-game state tournament run in which it went 4-1 and came out of the loser's bracket to win, Cartnick hit six home runs - including five in the last three games. Somerset Hills starter Connor Goodman pitched around Cartnick in two of his first three plate appearances, both of which ended in walks. With no one on in the sixth, reliever Andrew Holmes decided to avoid walking the potential winning run by challenging Cartnick.

"I'm just feeling, 'If it's your pitch, you better hit it over the fence," Cartnick said. "(I was looking for) anything I could drive and hit hard somewhere. That's what I was thinking in my head and that's what happened."

"He has become so disciplined, especially on the offspeed stuff," Jackson manager Evan Glaser said of Cartnick. "We preach 'look fastball and adjust,' and he's got that down, so I was certainly going to let him swing the bat if he got something that he liked, and they obviously left one up and he hammered it."

This Jackson group finished off a state title this season after falling one win short of state titles as 10- and 11-year-olds in each of the past two seasons - losing to Monroe in the championship each season. Cartnick was not on either of those teams, but was allowed to join this year's group. The right fielder, pitcher and clean-up hitter turned out to be the missing piece.

Jackson defeated Monroe twice during the state finals, first in a combined no-hitter in an 8-0 opening-round win and again in the loser's bracket final, 12-4. After vanquishing the team that dashed their championship dreams in the younger age groups in each of the past two years, Jackson overcame a Somerset Hills team that won the first meeting between the teams by a score of 12-1 on Friday night.

Somerset Hills took a 5-3 lead with a four-run third inning, which included two of its three home runs in the game. Center fielder Joe Billotti launched a two-run shot to right field to tie the game at three and catcher Jack Kircher blasted a go-ahead two-run homer to center that made the score 5-3.

Jackson regained the lead with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, sparked by a solo home run by pinch-hitter Austin Parikh that cut the deficit to 5-4. Starting pitcher Sean Slusak was hit by a pitch with one out and pinch-runner Justin Burkert scored the tying run on a wild pitch. Cartnick also drew a four-pitch walk in the inning and scored on a two-out throwing error on a ground ball to third base by Joey Arcarese, which gave Jackson a 6-5 lead.

Parikh's home run came on a 3-2 fastball at the letters and was the first Parikh has ever hit in any organized game, according to Glaser and Parikh. He swung at two 3-2 pitches that appeared to be out of the strike zone prior to jumping on the elevated fastball and lining it just over the fence in left-center field.

"I knew I probably swung at two pitches that were high, but I felt like even though I didn't hit them, I fouled them off and I was able to time the pitcher," Parikh said. "I knew the pitcher was throwing a lot of offspeed pitches, but I still wanted to hit a fastball, and that's what I got."

"I'm just telling him to protect, but don't chase," Glaser said. "He got a ball up at the letters, and he stayed on top of it and drove it over the left-center field fence."

Parikh is one of three players on this year's Jackson team who did not play on either the 10- or 11-year-old all-star teams, and he is the only one of those three to miss the cut in the previous two years. Cartnick and Tyler Beck both transferred from Jackson's other Little League program and Parikh earned a spot this time around.

"That was outstanding,'' Glaser said. "It's his first home run, and to have it in the state tournament game and for it to make a difference, I'm so happy for him."

Somerset Hills tied the game with a run in the top of the fifth on an RBI groundout to third baseman Matt Potok. With runners on the corners and one out, Glaser elected to play his infield back and to get the sure out while letting the tying run score - a vote of confidence for an offense that scored 20 runs in an elimination game Sunday night and has been a strong suit of the team all summer long.

"I always like to have the hammer at the end," Glaser said. "Tonight, it worked out absolutely perfectly. We had a tie game, had the right part of the lineup coming up and Tommy Cartnick, who is clearly our MVP, just launched the ball 300-plus feet."

Slusak stranded the runner on second to end the fifth inning, as well as his night on the mound. Starting center fielder Ryan Lasko then worked around a one-out single for a scoreless sixth inning to set up Cartnick's heroics. Lasko also doubled and moved to third on an error with two out in the fifth, but Jackson could not push him home as the go-ahead run.

Jackson scored first in the bottom of the first, with first baseman Jake Wendell lining a two-out triple to right field and scoring on a wild pitch. After a home run by Drew Mulcahy tied the game in the top of the second, Jackson struck for two more runs in the bottom of the second. Catcher Jared Caruso singled to lead off the inning and scored on an error in the outfield on a single by Burkert. Burkert later scored on an RBI fielder's choice ground out by Slusak.

Caruso went 2-for-2 at the plate, while Potok walked in all three of his plate appearances. Lasko also finished 2-for-4 out of the leadoff spot while also picking up the win on the mound.

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