Baseball – Dan Chiusano Pitches a Perfect Game in Freehold Boro SCT Win over Manasquan
FREEHOLD BOROUGH - After pitching the best game of his high school career to date back on April 11 against Colts Neck, Freehold Borough junior Dan Chiusano walked off the mound just a little unsatisfied knowing what could have been and what almost was.
Chiusano pitched a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts that day, but it was nearly even more special: he lost a no-hitter in the top of the seventh on a leadoff infield single.
Wednesday against Manasquan in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament, there were no postgame what-ifs and it's safe to say that near-no-hitter in mid-April is no longer Chiusano's career highlight.
Chiusano pitched a perfect game Wednesday and his Colonials - the No. 14 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament - beat the No. 19 Warriors and their junior left-handed ace Tommy Sheehan, 3-0, to advance to the round of 16 Saturday against No. 3 Toms River North.
"Throw strike three: that's all I was thinking," Chiusano said of his final pitch. "It was very exciting. It was awesome. It's great for this team because we needed a big boost."
The junior left-hander needed only 66 pitches to slice through 21 straight Manasquan hitters and he threw 49 of those pitches for strikes. He struck out four Warriors and got the majority of his outs in the air. Nine of the 21 outs were outfield fly balls, three were infield pop ups and five were ground ball outs.
"I want to say I'm a veteran going into the seventh inning with no-hitters," Chiusano joked, referencing the no-hitter he lost on April 11 in a 4-0 win over Colts Neck. "I competed those last three batters and I had the same mindset I had the whole game. I just competed, I didn't give in and it worked out."
"We felt like it was going to be a 1-0, 2-1 type game and it was 1-0 before we got a couple of breaks in the sixth inning," Freehold coach Jon Block said. "You could just see (Chiusano) was getting more confident as the game wore on, the defense was playing behind him. The changeup coming around that second time through the order had them all off-balance. Him throwing the way he did made everything else work - perfectly, actually."
In the top of the seventh, Chiusano fell behind leadoff hitter Jack Sheehan 3-0 but battled back to 3-2 and induced a fly out to right for the first out. Ethan Thompson then hit a sinking liner to right that Marco Meleo again caught for out No. 2.
"I was feeling a little nervous going back out for the seventh," Chiusano said. "I took that deep breath and in my head, I was just thinking, 'I really don't want to lose this perfect game right here.' I just battled those last three pitches and it happened to work for me."
After falling behind Tommy Sheehan 2-0, Chiusano fired in two strikes and Sheehan fouled the first 2-2 pitch away. Chiusano then went to the curveball and Sheehan swung and missed at the pitch in the dirt. Catcher Nick LaMorte scooped it cleanly and flipped to first base to complete the perfect game for his pitcher.
"The dugout called for a curveball and I felt pretty confident that he was going to strike him out," LaMorte said. "I didn't expect it to be in the dirt though. Fortunately, I was able to handle it and that was probably the most nerve-wracking throw to first I've ever had to make. I was relieved once it got there and then I was pumped to run out to celebrate."
Manasquan's best contact against Chiusano came early in the game in the form of three long fly outs. Jack Sheehan hit a long fly ball to lead off the game that left fielder Ryan Yee tracked and settled under. Both freshman James Harmstead and junior Adam Shreck just missed squaring the ball up on fly outs to left in the second, with Harmstead ripping a hooking line drive that went right to Yee. After the second inning Chiusano had thrown only 15 pitches.
From there, Chiusano overmatched the bottom of the Manasquan order in the top of the third, during which he notched his first strikeout.
"He started getting that breaking ball over better that second time through the order," Block said. "We pitched them entirely differently that second time around, which was the gameplan going in. We had some good reports on them."
The closest Manasquan came to a hit against Chiusano was a shallow fly ball off the bat of Jack Sheehan leading off the fourth. Center fielder Nick Zuppe charged in and made a sliding grab in shallow center field for the first out of the inning and Chiusano followed by inducing pop outs by Thompson and Tommy Sheehan.
Chiusano struck out the first two batters of the fifth and induced a comebacker to the mound to make it 15 straight batters retired to start the game. The junior left-hander faced a minor scare to open the sixth when Manasquan center fielder Pat Kinneally hit a slow-roller along the first-base line, but Chiusano pounced on it and flipped it to first base for the first out. He finished off the sixth by coaxing Ricky Flynn into a ground out to shortstop Chris Cassandra and Parker Day into a soft line drive to first baseman Tom Holdorf in foul territory.
Chiusano's performance came on a day in which he squared off against a fellow junior left-hander who is already committed to pitch at the University of Notre Dame and has been among the most dominant pitchers in the Shore Conference this season. Sheehan entered play Wednesday with a 4-0 record and a 0.44 ERA with 49 strikeouts and four walks in 32 innings.
"I think he was up for the challenge against Tommy," Block said. "We talked before the game, we thought Tommy is probably the third best pitcher in the Shore (behind Christian Brothers senior Luca Dalatri and Barnegat senior Jason Groome)."
For his part, Chiusano has not exactly been a slouch either. He entered Wednesday with a 0.86 ERA but only a 4-4 record to show for it.
"This kid was pitching to a 0.86 earned-run average and he's four-and-four," Block said. "He's lost 1-0, 2-0 - just like Tommy's losses were 1-0 and 3-0 today. I think (Chiusano) is relatively underrated, but I think he was up for the challenge going up against Tommy."
Sheehan breezed through the first two innings in only 11 pitches but the Colonials scratched an unearned run across against him in the third. Zuppe led off the inning with a single to center and, after moving to second on a bunt and to third on a ground ball out, scored on a two-out error to open the scoring.
Freehold Boro added two insurance runs in the sixth when junior shortstop Chris Cassandra singled home courtesy runner Matt Granato and junior first baseman Tom Holdorf added a sacrifice fly that plated Meleo. LaMorte led off the inning with a walk and Meleo dropped a single into shallow left to set Freehold Boro up with runners on first and second with one out.
Sheehan struck out just four on Wednesday and the Colonials avoiding strikeouts by attacking early in the count. Sheehan got to two strikes just seven times in six innings and Freehold Boro put the first pitch in play six times.
"We knew he throws a lot of strikes and he is good at getting ahead with the fastball," LaMorte said. "He has a good curveball and a good changeup so we didn't want to get in counts where we had to worry about those. He has a good fastball too and he keeps it down, but we felt like we could handle the fastball down in the zone if we went up there looking for it."
Chiusano's perfect game marks the 15th official no-hitter of the season in the Shore Conference and the first perfect game. It is believed to be the first perfect game pitched by a Shore Conference pitcher since 2011, according to Asbury Park Press records. Austin Thomas of Neptune pitched a perfect game against Lakewood that year.
"I've never seen a perfect game (in high school)," said Block, who is in his 25th season as the head coach at Freehold Boro. "No-hitters, but no perfect games. This was pretty cool."
(14) Freehold Boro 3, (19) Manasquan 0
|Tommy Sheehan (L, 4-1)||6||4||3||2||2||4|
|Dan Chiusano (W, 5-4)||7||0||0||0||0||4|
|Freehold Boro||Game Stats|
|Tom Holdorf||1-1, RBI|
|Chris Cassandra||1-3, RBI|
|Marco Meleo||1-3, R|
|Nick Zuppe||1-2, R|