MIDDLETOWN - Asked how he has been able to virtually avoid walks altogether during his increasingly remarkable senior season, Christian Brothers Academy right-hander Luca Dalatri had an answer that sounded as simple as he's made pitching look.

"I just know I have to throw three strikes before I throw four balls," Dalatri said. "It's simple, but there's not much more to it than that."

As easy as the answer seems, Dalatri made shutting out a capable, senior-laden Manalapan lineup Saturday in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 look as easy as that. The senior right-hander struck out 14 and walked none during a two-hit shutout and also hit a two-run homer to carry the top-seeded Colts to a 2-0 victory.

Luca Dalatri rounds third after getting congratulations from coach Marty Kenney for his fourth-inning home run Saturday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Since returning from a two-week absence due to a hamstring injury, Dalatri has been nearly untouchable. He threw two one-hitters just four days apart in Monmouth County Tournament wins over Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic and struck out 26 batters in those two games while walking none.

"I thought it was incredible when he only walked seven guys last year. This year it's two," veteran CBA coach Marty Kenney said. "You expect to see him throw a little harder every year and he's added a pitch every year. He was predominantly fastball-curveball as a freshman, then he added a changeup, then a slider this year. Whenever he adds a pitch, it turns out to be really good. He's just a phenomenal talent."

Saturday's start came off a nine-day layoff, but that also had little effect on the Colts ace. Dalatri did not throw three balls to any one batter and reached a two-ball count just three times all game. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 22 batters he faced and never fell behind 2-1 in any count. In total, Dalatri threw 69 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

"With a lot of batters, I'm surprised they don't swing (at the) first pitch because they know it's going to be a strike," Dalatri said. "I just go out a try to get ahead because I think pitching it just a lot easier when you're ahead."

With his 14 strikeouts and zero walks, Dalatri has now struck out 92 this season while walking only two. With his 10th strikeout on Saturday, his career strikeout-to-walk ratio reached the 10-to-1 mark and Dalatri now has 344 strikeouts to 34 walks in his four-year varsity career.

"A lot of guys try to cut the corners and see what the umpire is giving them, but I try not to get caught up in that," Dalatri said. "You just have to go after guys, and that's what I try to do."

"Command is a skill," CBA coach Marty Kenney said. "Everybody talks about how you can't teach velocity. Well it's really difficult to teach command. We have a number of guys who throw the ball well but they don't throw strikes. You don't try to get high school pitchers to throw as many strikes as (Dalatri does) because it's next to impossible."

Dalatri improved to 7-0 with Saturday's win and lowered his season ERA to 0.15 (one run in 48 innings). He has won 27 straight decisions dating back to the beginning of his sophomore year and is now 32-2 overall as a varsity pitcher. Dalatri is now two wins shy of matching Toms River East alumni Casey Gaynor as the Shore Conference's all-time wins leader with 34 wins.

"It's mind-boggling," CBA coach Marty Kenney said. "Every time he goes out, you think you've seen it all and then you see more. I said from day one, I've never come across a high school pitcher with his control. He just has command and adding that fourth pitch this year (a slider) has made him even more dominant."

For Manalapan, Chris Rodriguez reach on an infield single in the second and was erased on a double play and Mike Mollica singled through the left side to lead off the sixth before being stranded at second base.

CBA's offense again struggled to figure out Manalapan junior John Pudder, who made his third appearance in three games against the Colts. Pudder shut out CBA in his first outing before the Colts scratched three runs across in a relief appearance on Monday.

Pudder pitched three scoreless innings Saturday and retired catcher Brandon Martorano on a long fly out to left for the second out of the fourth before Dalatri broke the scoreless tie. On the first pitch of the at bat, Dalatri jumped on a fastball on the inner half of the plate and lined it over the left-field fence to put the only two runs of the game on the board.

"Everything they threw me was either a breaking ball away or a two-seamer running in on my hands," Dalatri said. "I saw him hang a slider to Brandon and as a pitcher, I know he's probably thinking he doesn't want to throw that pitch again after he almost got beat on it, so I went up there ready to see a fastball on the inner half."

Senior left fielder Evan Menendez singled for the first of his two hits in the fourth and scored on the Dalatri home run.

Kenney did not rule out Dalatri as Wednesday's starter against No. 9 Middletown North in the SCT quarterfinals, but said there was a good chance he would not pitch again until CBA opens up the NJSIAA Tournament on May 31. The Colts earned a first-round bye as the No. 3 seed in the South Jersey Non-Public A section and will play the winner of the first-round game between No. 6 St. Augustine and No. 11 St. John Vianney.

Dalatri pitched the Monmouth County Tournament final on May 11 on three days rest and threw a one-hit shutout with 15 strikeouts against a 20-5 Red Bank Catholic team. Dalatri pitched a two-hit shutout with 15 strikeouts in his one start against Middletown North this year.

"We were hoping to get him out of there after four or five innings at maybe 50 or 60 pitches today," Kenney said. "He ends up throwing (85) and you've got to leave him out there the whole game in a 2-0 game. I don't know if he'll be coming back Wednesday. We'll talk, but I'll pretty much leave it up to him."