Baseball – Brick Knocks Off Colts Neck in Extras
COLTS NECK – The Brick baseball players were well aware of the late-game prowess of Colts Neck – the team in the opposing dugout during Saturday’s Shore Conference Tournament round-of-16 game – as the game crept into the final outs, and sophomore Trevor Rowe was all too aware of the situation when he came up to for the second time after coming off the bench.
Brick survived another seventh-inning comeback by the third-seeded Cougars thanks to a go-ahead RBI single by Rowe in the top of the eighth that propelled the Green Dragons to a 6-5 win in eight innings. After road wins at No. 14 Matawan and No. 3 Colts Neck, the No. 19 seed Green Dragons will travel to face either No. 6 Wall or No. 11 Toms River North in Wednesday’s SCT quarterfinal, depending on the winner of Sunday’s game between the two teams.
Rowe and his coach, Jason Groschel, did not even initially realize he was due up in the eighth inning. Steve Schirm started the game as the designated hitter in the No. 5 spot in the batting order and was pinch-run for in the third inning and after re-entering for an at-bat in the fourth, Rowe pinch-hit for Schirm in the sixth.
“Trevor and Steve have split the DH duties this year, so I was fine with Trevor getting to hit there,” Groschel said. “Trevor usually faces lefties and Steve gets the righties, so it’s kind of a platoon we have going. I was confident in either guy in that spot, which is why both guys played.”
After the home-plate umpire pointed out the discrepancy and sent Schirm back to the dugout, Rowe strapped on his batting groves, hurried to the plate and promptly struck the first pitch he saw from Colts Neck reliever Matt Schaeffer into left field between shortstop and third base to give Brick a 6-5 lead.
“I thought I was going to throw up putting on my gloves,” Rowe joked. “I was definitely thinking about the situation walking up the plate, and I just figured the best thing to do was to swing at the first pitch as long as I could hit it.”
Colts Neck center fielder Mike Antico kept Brick from scoring another run when he picked up Evan Lobato’s single on the bounce and fired a strike to home plate – in the air – to nab catcher Brian Gallagher. That play handed Colts Neck its third one-run loss of the season after it entered the game 8-2 in such contests.
“We knew all about how good Colts Neck was in close games, and we expected this to be a close game,” said senior third baseman Nick Zbranak, who went 2-for-3 with two doubles, two walks and two RBI. “We went and watched them play in the Monmouth County Tournament and you could see they have good at-bats. We were actually looking forward to the challenge. We’ve been in some close games, and we felt we were battle-tested enough to win a game like this.”
Antico followed by starting a potential eighth-inning rally with a one-out double to deep right field and moved to third with two out following a Tyler Kay walk and a fielder’s choice ground out by Kyle Murrin. With runners on first and third and left fielder Guiseppe Varile at the plate, Colts Neck attempted a double steal to try to score the tying run. Brick sophomore Nic Chirichello threw over to first base on the play and when Antico broke for home on the throw, Nick Moglia fired the ball to Gallagher at the plate to cut him down by a step.
“The ball usually goes to second on that play, but I knew (Antico) was probably going to break so I got the ball to first as quickly as possible,” Chirichello said.
“Nic is very composed on the mound, beyond his years,” Groschel said. “Nothing fazes him out there, and he’s also very good controlling the running game, so he’s good to have out there in that situation.”
Chirichello earned the win with three innings of relief and bounced back from giving up runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to shut the Cougars down in the eighth.
Colts Neck rallied from 4-0 and 5-2 deficits to send the game into extra innings. Junior first baseman Tyler Kapuscinski hammered a two-out, RBI single to right on a 3-and-2 count in the bottom of the seventh to plate shortstop Paul Marinello with the tying run. Marinello started the rally with a one-out single to center, stole second base on a pickoff attempt by Chirichello and took third on a wild pitch, both with Kapuscinski at the plate.
Before Antico’s throw to home plate halted Brick’s rally in the eighth, Green Dragons right fielder Evan Lobato did the same to Colts Neck in the seventh when he threw out courtesy runner Tim Cavrak trying to advance to third base from first on a single by Gianni Magliaro, ending the inning.
“I was disappointed to give up the lead, but I know I have a defense behind me and we have an offense that can score,” Chirichello said. “We still had a chance to win the game, so I just had to go back to work.”
The two throws were the late-inning highlights of a game that featured no errors and several standout defensive plays. Marinello made a diving play up the middle and flipped to second base for the final out of the second inning, robbing Gallagher of a potential two-run single and stranding the bases loaded.
Colts Neck cut Brick’s 4-0 deficit in half with two runs in the third inning, with second baseman Sam DeVitis blooping a two-run single into right field.
Antico struck for his first extra-base hit in the bottom of the sixth when he blasted a two-run triple to the fence in right field, cutting Brick’s lead to 5-4.
The Green Dragons scored twice in the first inning, highlighted by an RBI double to the right-center gap by Zbranak, who also drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run in the second inning. Matt Olsen drove in the fourth run in the third when his ground ball got past the middle infield of Colts Neck, but it slowed down enough for Marinello to chase it down and flip to DeVitis for the force at second.
Brick junior left-hander Stephen Cole pitched five solid innings and left with a 5-2 lead. He allowed only three hits – all in the third inning – walked two and struck out two while throwing 86 pitches.
The Green Dragons chased Colts Neck starter Gianni Magliaro in the second inning. Magliaro, coming off one of his best starts of the season in a no-decision in the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals, needed 35 pitches to get through the first inning. Kyle Murrin allowed two runs in 3 1/3 innings to keep Colts Neck in the game.
“The kids actually had a pretty good idea about what to expect from (Magliaro) from travel ball and going to watch him pitch,” Groschel said. “To be fair, I don’t think he had his best stuff today. He had a good amount of walks, and we were able to lay off his breaking ball. Usually he’s striking out a lot of guys, but we were able to fight off some tough pitches and make him work.”
Brick will look to continue its SCT run Wednesday against either Wall or a Toms River North team with which Brick spit the regular-season series in the Shore Conference Class A South. The Green Dragons will have to make their run without junior shortstop Carmen Sclafani, who is dealing with a leg injury that will keep him from playing the field for the rest of the year, according to Groschel. Sclafani was recently named to the coaches’ all-division team in Class A South.
“We’ve got a good group here,” Groschel said. “They’ve been battling all year in a tough A South. We’ve lost some close games, but we’ve been in pretty much every game. We’ve got a challenging week coming up, but I like my chances with this group.”