EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Teams aiming for a state championship can't give away outs, and Haddonfield's baseball team learned that the hard way.
The Bulldogs had a third-inning hiccup in which they committed four errors leading to three unearned runs and they never recovered in Tuesday's 5-1 state Group 2 semifinal loss to Raritan at East Brunswick Tech.
Thus Haddonfield (17-6) finished one game shy of playing for its first state championship since 1991.
In that inning, Raritan had just one hit, a bunt single, but Haddonfield's four errors led to the three runs.
"You can't do that against anybody, especially in a state semifinal," Haddonfield coach Bob Bickel said. "We were playing good defense but the wheels fell off today."
The next inning Raritan hit the ball hard, getting four hits including RBI singles by Tyler Bruno and Ryan Kasner.
So even if the Bulldogs didn't commit the errors, they were in for a long afternoon due to the presence of righthander Zack Johnston.
Headed to Division II Felician College, Johnston (8-1) had a good fastball, but Haddonfield has seen that type of heat. What Johnston did was change speeds adeptly.
"First time I wanted to start them with fastballs and then the second time I would start them with curveballs," said Johnston, who limited Haddonfield to three hits. "I wanted to keep them off-balance."
Consider it done.
He also hurt the Bulldogs with his bat, reaching base three times, drilling a double and scoring two runs.
The one Haddonfield player who got good hacks was senior catcher John Cristino, who delivered the Bulldogs' lone run with a solo home run to left field. He also hit two other balls hard to the outfield that were held up by the wind.
Cristino, who has a scholarship to Rhode Island and could hear his name called in Wednesday's final day of the MLB first-year player draft, finished the season hitting .519 with three home runs and 26 RBIs.
He was the offensive catalyst of a Haddonfield team that won the Colonial Conference Liberty Division in addition to the South Jersey Group 2 crown. Haddonfield also earned a berth in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic and lost to eventual champion Eastern, 3-1, in the first round.
So there was a lot that was accomplished and, as the players, especially the seniors, shared hugs afterward, they tried to keep things in perspective.
Ending a career while on the wrong end of a score is never fun, but Haddonfield's players, beginning with Cristino, are mature enough to realize that this team created some lifelong memories.
Winning has a way of bonding teams forever.
"You couldn't ask for a better senior year," Cristino said. "Winning a state championship would have been amazing but I can't complain."
No, the competitor in him and his teammates desperately wanted to keep their season going, but Haddonfield was realistic enough to realize that it was beaten by a truly talented team.
Raritan (21-5) has now allowed five total runs in winning five NJSIAA tournament games. The Rockets have won with great pitching, strong defense and timely hitting.
All were on display and all were needed to finally end Haddonfield's dream season.
Raritan 003 200 0 – 5 9 1
Haddonfield 000 100 0 – 1 3 4