New Jersey in US Final Four

A closer look at the Jackson, New Jersey 12-9 win over Rancho Santa Margarita, California, Monday at Lamade Stadium:

PLAY OF THE GAME: Ryan Kinsman’s double play. California made a furious comeback after trailing 12-1 in the third inning and already had scored two sixth-inning runs and had two runners on with no outs. New Jersey needed a big play and Kinsman provided it. Kinsman fielded a hard bouncer, ran and tagged second base and then made a quick throw to R.J. Vashey to complete the play. One batter later, pitcher Chris Cartnick induced a game-ending groundout and New Jersey was U.S. semifinal bound for the first time since 1999.

“The double play was a huge play by Ryan Kinsman,” New Jersey manager Rob Grano said. “Had he not made that play I don’t know if I would be sitting here (following a win).”

NEW JERSEY PLAYER OF THE GAME: New Jersey first baseman R.J. Vashey is one of several power hitters on this explosive team and he had the power turned on high Monday. Vashey went 3 for 4 with two home runs and three RBIs. Vashey set the tone with his home runs and helped New Jersey score 12 runs in the second and third innings.

CALIFORNIA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Drew Rutter, a talented five-tool player, ended his tremendous summer with another strong game. Rutter went 2 for 4, smoking two doubles and driving in three runs. Rutter’s RBI double ignited a third-inning comeback and he delivered a two-out double in the sixth inning as California nearly pulled off an improbable comeback.

BIG INNING: New Jersey’s third. The Mid-Atlantic champions continue scoring in bunches and put on a hitting display in the third when they pounded out nine hits and scored nine times while opening a 12-1 lead. Seven different players had hits during the barrage and both Vashey and J.R. Osmond went 2-for-2 during the third. Vashey hit his second home run and was one of six players who had at least one RBI that inning.

BEST EFFORT: California’s comeback – The West champions lost, 16-0, on Sunday and trailed 12-1 after 2 1/2 innings on Monday. Many teams would have rolled over, but not this one. California came fighting back and scored five times in the third inning to pull within, 12-6. Joey Gray and Tommy Woods pitched outstanding over the last three innings, allowing no more runs and just two hits.

HOME RUNS: R.J. Vashey ignited the New Jersey offense in the second inning when he crushed a long home run into the bushes beyond center field. That blast tied the game, 1-1 and ignited a big rally. Two batters later, Charlie Meglio kept the power turned on, slamming the first pitch he saw near the same spot in the bushes where Vashey’s landed. Meglio’s 2-run home run gave New Jersey a 3-1 lead. Vashey did it again his next time up. Like Meglio, Vashey jumped on the first pitch, driving it over the left-center field fence for a 2-run home run that gave New Jersey a 5-1 lead.

FLASHING LEATHER: Joey Gray helped his cause on the mound in the first inning when he showed quick reflexes and took a hit away from J.R. Osmond. Gray put his glove down just in time, stopping the rocket up the middle and making a clean throw. Gray’s brother made a sensational play two innings later when he fielded an Anthony Abbonizio grounder down the third-base line and made a beautiful throw across his body to first baseman A.J. Gamulao for the second out. California shortstop Mason Kellerman turned an unassisted double play an inning later, snaring a hard-hit Vashey liner and tagging second to end a threat.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “The biggest victory for us today was seeing how they responded,” California manager C.J. Ankrum said. “They kept plugging along. We were a home run away from tying it. We have nothing but positives and can keep our heads held high.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “Chris (Cartnick) told me he was throwing first-pitch fastballs down the middle,” Vashey said. “I went up there looking for a first-pitch fastball. I saw it and I hammered it.”

WHAT IT MEANS: New Jersey becomes the first team from its state since Toms River in 1999 to reach the U.S. Final Four. New Jersey plays again tonight against Connecticut or Washington in its third straight elimination game. California put together an outstanding summer and finishes as one of the country’s six best teams.