Baseball – Cougars’ Late-Inning Magic Burns Manalapan
COLTS NECK – High school baseball teams looking to win championships in May and June often begin their conversation with how they start games on the mound, but the Colts Neck baseball team has done it in reverse.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Cougars have been at their best when the game is on the line.
Colts Neck scored four runs over the final two innings Saturday to rally for a 5-4 win over Manalapan and advance to the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals on May 12 at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, where the third-seeded Cougars will play No. 7 Middletown South.
Junior left-hander Chris Murphy pitched a scoreless seventh inning to earn the win in relief and improve to 3-0 on the season. In 17 2/3 innings this season – all in relief – Murphy has allowed one run on eight hits and five walks while striking out 24. In addition to the 3-0 record, Murphy is 5-for-5 in save opportunities.
“He knows how much we appreciate him, but for as good as he’s been, we don’t tell him enough,” Colts Neck coach Mike Yorke said. “He’s been absolutely lights-out, and he’s really embraced the role. You can see him walking the hallways, he’s got that ‘swag,’ to borrow a term from the kids.
“That attitude is contagious for the rest of the guys: he knows he’s going to shut it down, we know he’s going to shut it down, and if we’re close, that gives us a huge edge.”
With Saturday’s win, Colts Neck improves to 7-1 in one-run games, with the lone loss coming against Christian Brothers Academy and sophomore ace Luca Dalatri, who is 6-0 in six starts after winning on Saturday at Wall.
“I’d say he’s absolutely the number one reason we’ve been so good in close games,” Yorke said of Murphy.
Murphy’s scoreless inning followed up a solid start by senior right-hander Gianni Magliaro, who allowed three earned runs on four hits and six walks while striking out 12 in six innings. Magliaro now has 48 strikeouts in 25 innings this season, his first as a pitcher.
“I thought today was the best game I’ve pitched since I started pitching,” said Magliaro, who struck out 16 in a one-hitter against Marlboro earlier in the season. “I had to battle out of some tough situations, and I thought I was able to make pitches when I needed to. It’s been a learning process, and I thought today I made some strides that I hadn’t been able to take before.”
“He’s been a catcher in the program, and we’ve talked to him about helping us out on the mound,” Yorke said. “He’s got a real live arm, and for a kid who is relatively new to the position, he’s done a real nice job.”
Magliaro also helped ignite the comeback by smashing a solo home run on the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth inning, cutting the Manalapan lead to 4-2. Colts Neck scored one more in the sixth and pushed two across in the seventh to win the game.
“That was a situation where I saw Wolf twice before in the game, and I went up looking for a fastball I could drive,” Magliaro said. “I was thinking about taking the pitch up the middle, and it was in a location and a speed where I hit it just right and got it over the fence.”
Facing Manalapan junior reliever Nick Serra – who came on for senior starter Alex Wolf with one out in the sixth – the Cougars began the seventh with back-to-back singles by junior designated hitter Tyler Kapuscinski and Magliaro. Center fielder Mike Antico then beat out a potential double-play ball to put runners on the corners with one out. After an errant throw on a steal attempt of second by Antico, Colts Neck scored the tying run while Antico scampered to third with the potential winning run.
With two strikes already on him, junior first baseman Jordan Gonzalez fouled off one breaking ball before lifting an offspeed pitch to center field, plenty deep enough for Antico to score the winning run.
“We all just have a belief in one another, and we genuinely believe that if the game’s close, we’re going to find a way,” Magliaro said. “It doesn’t matter who’s up or who’s on the mound, we know we’re going to get it done.”
Colts Neck trailed 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth before junior third baseman Kyle Murrin tripled home the Cougars’ first run of the game.
Manalapan scored two runs each in the third and fourth innings to go up 4-0. Right fielder Jon Strouse and shortstop Dan Russo delivered consecutive doubles to open the scoring and Russo stole third and scored when the throw went into left field.
Center fielder Stephen Hansen started the fourth-inning rally with a leadoff double and scored on a suicide squeeze bunt by second baseman Matt Parke, who later scored on a steal of home on a first-and-third play.
Colts Neck has already defeated Middletown South twice this season in Shore Conference Class A North play and both of those were one-run wins for the Cougars.