MIDDLETOWN - In each of the last two years, Middletown North has had chances to beat Middletown South but could never put away its rival.

Monday's season opener was looking like another squandered opportunity with three outs to go, but the Lions - ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - were the ones who pulled a win from out of the fire this time this time around.

Junior center fielder Brendon Doherty dropped in a single to shallow left field to chase home the winning run with two out in the bottom of the seventh and the Lions won a back-and-forth affair with the rival Eagles, 4-3.

Middletown North entered the final frame trailing 3-2 and tied the game when sophomore Jason Timmons drew a one-out walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error on a ball hit by senior Marc Cerbo, who went to second on the error. Cerbo then advanced to third on a passed ball and Middletown South right-hander John Martin responded by striking out Nick Donato, who fouled off a bunt attempt with two strikes.

Middletown North celebrates a walk-off win over Middletown South. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Martin then walked the next two batters to load the bases for Doherty, with lofted a 2-1 fastball from Martin between the left-fielder and sophomore shortstop Aurellio Licata, who got a glove on the ball as he was racing into shallow left field, but couldn't snare it.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play and make them make a play," Doherty said. "They didn't make the play and we won the game.

"When I first hit it, I thought they were going to catch it, but then I saw the outfielder take the first step back and I knew it was dropping. I was so happy. I was never that happy in my life."

Middletown South took the lead by scoring three runs off junior right-hander and Alabama commit Tyler Ras in the sixth inning. Junior starting pitcher Joe Sprake hit a soft line drive over a drawn-in infield to score senior Ryan Ruziecki and break up the shutout and Licata tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right field to plate pinch-runner Scott Benigno. Ruziecki reach on an infield single to lead off and senior Ben Porpora drew a six-pitch walk before giving way to the pinch runner.

Courtesy runner Jeff Lewandowski stole second base with two out and moved to third on an error at the bag and sophomore Robby Zega hit a pop up into shallow left that was dropped, allowing Lewandowski to score the go-ahead run.

"Something we were most proud of was there was absolutely no panic the whole game," Middletown North coach Justin Nathanson said. "A big goal of ours was to play all 21 outs. The last couple times we've played them, we've played 19 or 20 outs."

Mike Mercier and Cerbo checked in with RBI singles to stake Middletown North to a 2-0 lead. Mercier's single in the second inning plated senior Cody Sharky, who led off the game with a walk. Sprake began the game by throwing eight consecutive balls to put two runners on right away.

Cerbo flared a soft line drive to center field in the bottom of the fourth to chase home Timmons, who walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Sophomore catcher Trevor Brey caught two potential basestealers in that fourth inning to limit the damage. Brey also picked off a runner at third base to end the fifth inning and deny Middletown North a run after the Lions got a runner to third with one out.

Middletown North junior Tyler Ras. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Ras kept Middletown South off the board for five full innings and hit his stride in the third inning. He retired the side in order on six pitches in the third and threw another one-two-three frame in the fourth, but did not record a strikeout to that point. In the fifth, after allowing a leadoff single to Zega, Ras struck out three straight Eagles. He struck out a batter in each of the next two innings and handed the ball over to junior Garrett French with two out in the seventh after throwing 94 pitches.

"Throughout the game, my offspeed stuff started to come around," Ras said. "I was trying to come with the fastball early and they were on it. You can't beat them for a whole game with all fastballs, so once I started getting my breaking stuff in, I kept them a little off-balance."

Sprake, meanwhile, worked five innings, allowing one earned run on three hits and four walks while fanning two in his first varsity start. Martin, who was a prominent member of Middletown South's dominant staff last year, came on to begin the sixth and retired the side in order before running into trouble in the seventh.

Middletown South junior Joe Sprake. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The last time these two teams played, Middletown North took a 3-1 lead to the bottom of the sixth only to watch the Eagles walk off with a 4-3 win in eight innings. Monday's win ended a six-game losing streak for Middletown North against Middletown South dating back to April of 2014.

"Emotions are high for this game," Ras said. "They're always high, but even more so on opening day. We were down 3-2 in the last inning and we just didn't give up. That's all it was."


Box Score

No. 7 Middletown North 4, No. 4 Middletown South 3

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Midd South (0-1, 0-1) 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 3 6 1
Midd North (1-0, 1-0) 1 0 0 1 0 0 2 4 4 2


Midd. South IP H R ER BB SO PC
Joe Sprake 5 3 2 1 4 2 76
John Martin (L, 0-1) 2 1 2 0 3 3 33
Midd. North IP H R ER BB SO PC
Tyler Ras 6.2 6 3 2 1 5 94
Garrett French (W, 1-0) 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 3

Top Hitters

Midd South Game Stats
Ryan Ruziecki 2-4, 2B, R
Joe Sprake 2-3, RBI
Robby Zega 1-3
Dylan Walling 1-3
Midd North Game Stats
Mike Mercier 1-3, RBI
Marc Cerbo 1-3, R, RBI
Brendon Doherty 1-3, RBI



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