The bases were loaded and nobody was out in the top of the sixth inning and South Jersey's most feared hitter stepped to the plate. Suddenly, that 2-0 lead that Clearview had over Millville seemed tenuous at best.

Clearview lefthander Kenny Mendoza got Millville junior and pitching counterpart Buddy Kennedy on a pop-up to first, recorded a strikeout, and ended the inning by inducing a grounder to short on a 3-2 pitch.

The key was the confrontation with the ever dangerous Kennedy.

"I wanted to put something in play and was anxious," said Kennedy, a North Carolina recruit who is a potential high draft choice in 2017. "That was biggest chance we had and I didn't capitalize."

Most others haven't capitalized this season against Mendoza, who improved to 9-1 after Clearview's 3-0 win over visiting Millville for the South Jersey Group 4 championship.

Mendoza led Clearview to its first sectional title since earning the South Jersey Group 2 championship in 1977, and it's fair to wonder what will happen when he gains some significant pitching experience.

It has been a remarkable ride for Mendoza, who began pitching in earnest just last season.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Mendoza never considered pitching much, even in youth leagues, and there was one simple reason.

"I love to hit," he said.

Yet big, strong lefthanders are often pointed to the mound and that is what happened with Mendoza. He said a summer coach first suggested the move.

Clearview coach Rocco Cornacchia, himself a former lefthander at Monmouth University, also got into Mendoza's ear.

So Mendoza threw a few innings as a sophomore on JV, but last year was his first true varsity test.

"Last year he was primarily a fastball pitcher and this year, he has developed into a more accomplished pitcher," said Cornacchia, whose 22-5-1 team will face Hunterdon Central in Tuesday's state Group 4 semifinal at Monmouth.

Last summer, Mendoza committed to Campbell University. Now his future college could be receiving competition. Baseball's draft is June 9-11 and Mendoza very well might hear his name called.

"I've been getting a lot of calls from scouts of various teams who appear to be more interested in him based on his upside," Cornacchia said.

If a team drafts him, there won't be a lot of tread. "As they say, I have a lot of bullets left in my arm," Mendoza said.

Some of them were displayed against a hard-hitting Millville team, which finished 17-9.

Mendoza also showed he hasn't abandoned his hitting instincts. He drove in the first run with an RBI single up the middle against Kennedy, who threw hard and well the entire game.

Mendoza doubled in the fourth inning and courtesy runner Dom Wojdyla eventually scored on Mike Decker's sacrifice fly. Clearview's final run came when Ryan Lauk walked and kept advancing on three wild pitches in the sixth.

That was more than enough cushion for Mendoza, who allowed three hits and struck out four, while watching Clearview's excellent defense to do the rest.

Mendoza continues to make up for lost time on the mound.

"He may be a late bloomer, but he worked his butt off and it's great to see," said Clearview junior shortstop Tim Dezzi, a St. John's recruit.

In the case of Mendoza, it's better late than never.

"The more I get out there," he said, "The more comfortable I am in getting used to pitching."

Millville 000 000 0 - 0 3 2

Clearview 100 101 x - 3 5 0

WP: Kenny Mendoza. LP: Buddy Kennedy.

2B: C-Kenny Mendoza; M-Nick Grotti, Andrew Richter