MANASQUAN - Scoring two first-inning runs against a Division I recruit on the mound with a smattering of Major League scouts on hand will get any team pumped up and unbeaten Monmouth Regional was no exception Tuesday.

The Falcons - the No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - scored twice against Manasquan senior left-hander and Notre Dame signee Tommy Sheehan in the top of the first and were fired up to try and extend their winning streak to five games to open the season.

Manasquan junior left fielder and leadoff hitterTommy Antonucci, however, had a response in store and it did not take him long to unleash it and swing the game back in his team's favor.

Antonucci swatted the first pitch of the bottom of the first up and over the left-field fence to kick off a five-run first for the Warriors as the offense picked up Sheehan and handed Monmouth its first loss of the season, 7-4.

Manasquan senior Tommy Sheehan. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"Tommy hit that first pitch really well and it just got us pumped up," Sheehan said. "We could have come back to the dugout in the bottom of that first inning flat. We have our ace on the mound and we just gave up two runs at home. Then Tommy hit that first pitch and it just got us going."

"We had a really good calm about us when we met after that (top of the) first inning," Manasquan coach Bob Waldeyer said. "With a more experienced team this year, I think they kept their composure and didn't get flustered when they saw a good team put a couple of runs on the board. Last year's team maybe starts to panic and expects Tommy to shut every team down."

In Sheehan's first start of the season against Ocean on April 3, he reached his team-imposed pitch-limit in the fifth inning and departed with a 1-0 lead and runners at the corners. Ocean went on to score eight runs in the inning and won, 8-1.

In his second start of the season, Sheehan's teammates had his back and the senior hurler did his part as well. Sheehan navigated through some control problems and defensive woes to pitch 5 1/3 innings while allowing one earned run on five hits and a walk while striking out 10.

"I think I've been a little shaky," said Sheehan, who showed pinpoint control last year when he walked seven batters in 45 innings and has still only officially walked three so far this year. "My control hasn't been where I want it yet but I'll try to improve on that week by week."

While Sheehan's trouble with command Tuesday did not manifest itself in his walk totals, he did hit four batters - all of whom were left-handed hitters. With a wind that blew out toward right field for most of the game, Sheehan's fastball had extra arm-side run, which the Manasquan ace had to adjust to over the course of the game.

"He ran a couple counts deep and he hit a couple guys," Waldeyer said. "The ball was tailing, plus the wind was blowing that way, so the ball was really sailing on him more than he expected."

Initially, it appeared Monmouth might have got the offense it needed in the first inning. Junior Liam Kile reached on an error with one out and senior catcher Josh Jackson smashed a deep drive to the base of the football bleachers in right-center field for an RBI triple. Jackson then came around to score as the back end of a double-steal after Sheehan hit senior first baseman Paul Birzin.

As Sheehan searched for his command, he stayed with the fastball, throwing it a little more than 90 percent of the time. Rather than change speeds with his curveball - which he broke out to get one of his strikeouts - he worked run, sink and cut into his fastball.

"When I see hitters are on my fastball, that's when I might go to my curve or my change," Sheehan said. "For the most part, I just try to throw fastballs by hitters and use my movement and location to change the look they're getting."

The offense allowed Sheehan to search for his groove without worrying about losing the game with one mistake. Manasquan connected seven hits in the first inning to produce the five runs, then put up two more on four hits in the bottom of the second. That accounted for all of the Warriors' run-scoring and all but one of their hits in the game.

Monmouth senior Josh Jackson celebrates his first-inning RBI triple. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"Obviously, we expect Tom to go out there and deal," Antonucci said. "He usually does, but he gets touched up sometimes and sometimes our flaw is we don't go out there and help him out. As a leadoff hitter, I'm thinking the pitcher wants to throw a strike first pitch so I saw it coming and jumped on it. I'm not going to say the wind didn't help me, but the wind was pushing balls out today."

After Antonucci led off the first with his home run to left, junior shortstop Ethan Thompson and sophomore first baseman James Harmstead both made an out. Senior catcher Adam Schreck started the two-out rally with a double down the left-field line and Sheehan got himself off the hook early by belting an RBI triple to the fence in right field.

Senior right fielder Dan Del Guercio slapped a double down the left-field line to score Sheehan and put the Warriors ahead for good, 3-2, in the first. Junior Joey Ostberg then followed with a single and Nos. 8 and 9 hitters Dylan Finn and Nick Jaime delivered back-to-back RBI singles to make it 5-2.

After Sheehan pitched around a walk and a hit batter in the top of the second, Thompson started the Manasquan half with a double down the right-field line and scored on a fielder's choice ground out to shortstop by Schreck, whose courtesy runner later advanced to second on a wild pitch. That would prove significant as Sheehan shot a grounder through the right side to score Declan Reichey from second and push the Warriors lead to 7-2.

Monmouth chipped away at the Manasquan lead with a run each in the third and fourth innings, both of which scored with the aid of a sacrifice bunt. The Falcons bunted their way to a first-and-second, nobody-out situation in the fifth as well and a wild pitch made it first and third with none down. A botched suicide squeeze, however, erased the runner at third and Sheehan struck out the final two hitters of the inning to avoid trouble.

Harmstead took over on the mound with a runner on second and one out in the fifth and retired five of the six batters he faced, with one reaching on an error.

"We're still looking to figure out our identity in a lot of ways," Waldeyer said. "We're still trying some guys in new spots. This was the first time we've put Harmstead on the mound and he did a really nice job coming in and making quality pitches."

Monmouth remained within striking distance thanks to junior right-hander Charlie Kelly, who gave up a hit to Finn on his first batter of the game in the bottom of the third and then retired nine straight batters.

The Falcons' season-opening winning streak came to an end, but not before they earned the No. 2 seed in the Monmouth County Tournament. Monmouth defeated preseason No. 2 Red Bank Catholic on Friday and also registered wins over Wall, Long Branch and Neptune before finally losing.

Monmouth starting pitcher Dante Ciaramella lasted just one inning on the mound and left the game in the bottom of the second when, after moving to shortstop, he took a ball to the face thanks to a wicked hop off the infield grass.

With an unbeaten team in the opposing dugout a handful of scouts behind the plate and a week's worth of rest, Sheehan came out firing, throwing his fastball between 90 and 92 miles-per-hour for the first two innings, according to one of the scouts on hand. The same scout had Sheehan sitting between 86 and 89 miles-per-hour for the next three innings.

"I think he might have tried to overthow a little bit," Waldeyer said. "He was on a week's rest and he came out fired up to pitch, which is what we want to see. I think, going forward, he'll be able to tune that down and hit some spots."

Sheehan was used one per week last season and while that has been the pattern so far this year, the left-hander expects he will begin to pitch more frequently and deeper into game.

"As we get deeper into the season, you'll see him stretch out a bit more," Waldeyer said. "His first start, it was cold so we didn't want him to go more than 80 pitches. Today, it seemed like he was getting a little tired and we thought it was a good time to go get him before he reached that 100-pitch mark."

"As I build up my arm strength, I'll start throwing more pitches," Sheehan said. "I'll also pitch in more games, too. I've prepared myself to do that."

 

Box Score

Manasquan 7, No. 5 Monmouth 4

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Monmouth (4-1, 3-1) 2 0 1 1 0 0 0 4 5 1
Manasquan (3-2, 3-1) 5 2 0 0 0 0 x 7 11 5

Pitching

Monmouth IP H R ER BB SO PC
Dante Ciaramella (L, 1-1) 1 7 5 5 0 1 26
Ricky Voss 1 4 2 2 0 0 21
Charlie Kelly 4 1 0 0 0 0 34
Manasquan IP H R ER BB SO PC
Tommy Sheehan (W, 1-1) 5.1 5 4 1 1 10 96
James Harmstead (S, 1) 1.2 0 0 0 0 0 26

Top Hitters

Monmouth Game Stats
Josh Jackson 2-4, 3B, 2 R, RBI
Charlie Kelly 1-2
Manasquan Game Stats
Tommy Sheehan 2-3, 3B, R, 2 RBI
Dan Del Guercio 2-3, 2 2B, R, RBI
Tommy Antonucci 1-4, HR, R, RBI
Dylan Finn 2-3, RBI
Adam Schreck 1-3, 2B, R, RBI
Ethan Thompson 1-3, 2B, R

 

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