Baseball – Freehold Twp. Tops RBC for 6th Straight Win
RED BANK - A little more than a week ago, the Freehold Township baseball team seemed like a jaded team when it came to close games. Now, the Patriots can’t lose.
Freehold Township scored three runs in the first inning for senior right-hander Chris Talbott, who went the distance in leading the Patriots to a 4-3 win over fourth-seed and defending tournament champion Red Bank Catholic Saturday at Count Basie Field in the Monmouth County Tournament first round.
The win was the second of an MCT double-header – Freehold Township beat No. 20 Red Bank, 6-4, to earn a game with Red Bank Catholic – and the sixth straight for the Patriots. Every win during the streak but the Red Bank victory has been by a one-run margin.
“Losing all those close games left a bitter taste in our mouth, and we didn’t want to keep experiencing that,” Talbott said. “We could either quit and let the season get away, or we could work harder and with the talent we have here, we knew if we kept working and kept battling, good things would eventually happen.”
Freehold Township started the season 3-3 and its final game before the tournament was seeded was an 11-9 loss to Middletown South in which the Patriots squandered a 9-3 lead. The pedestrian start resulted in a No. 13 seed, but since that loss to Middletown South, Freehold Township has rolled up wins over Marlboro, Wall, Howell and Middletown North before sweeping its MCT double-header on Saturday.
“I just think we were coming up short on doing some of the little things in the late innings, and it was costing us,” Freehold Township coach Todd Smith said. “We would play a good game, but then we would mess up one play or one inning and that would turn out to be the difference. These guys saw how much one pitch or one play can make the difference in a close game and, basically, they just stayed committed to what they were doing and focused even more on doing those little things late in games that make the difference.”
The win over Wall has been the defining win of the season for the Patriots, even though Wall does not reside in the Class A North division. The Crimson Knights entered that game on April 19 as the unbeaten, No. 1 team in the Shore Conference and the Patriots outlasted them, 5-4, in 15 innings.
“That game was huge, not only to beat a team like that, but to do it in a game that could have gone either way and to be the team that came out on top,” Smith said. “I think getting a win in that spot showed our guys what they can do when they keep fighting until the last out and since then, we’ve had that same mentality.”
Although the Patriots have been on their game over the last nine days, Saturday was the game that saw Talbott flash his best stuff, according to Smith. The senior right-hander pitched into the sixth inning for the first time this season while limiting Red Bank Catholic to seven hits and a walk.
“He got a late start on the mound during the preseason and got on the mound about 10 days later than everybody else,” Smith said of Talbott. “As a result, he’s had trouble getting out of the fourth inning of his starts. Today, he had it all the way until the end, and I actually thought he had some of his best stuff in the last couple innings.”
“On a day like today, you can always count on Chris to hit his spots,” junior catcher Joe Silvestrone said. “He was really sharp today.”
Freehold Township’s offense – which included a 2-for-4 day from Talbott with a double and two runs scored – gave its pitcher a lead before he ever took the mound. Talbott and Silvestrone hit back-to-back singles with one out in the first and came around to score on a two-run triple by senior first baseman Nick Cardace. Julius Saporito then plated Cardace with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Silvestrone went 3-for-3 in the game, later adding an RBI single in the fifth to make it 4-2 after Talbott doubled to deep center field. The single was a response to Red Bank Catholic’s first score of the game, a two-run home run by senior third baseman Matt Kurdewan in the bottom of the fourth.
Kurdewan later launched a second home run in the bottom of the sixth, a towering blast that landed on the adjacent softball field and stayed just to the fair side of the foul pole extended. Prior to Kurdewan’s second home run, Talbott coaxed RBC senior Al Molina to ground into a 1-6-3 double play to clear the bases and record the first two outs of the inning. The double play ensured that Kurdewan’s homer was only a solo shot, which preserved the Freehold Township lead.
“I was definitely kicking myself, especially on the second one, because I hit with (Kurdewan) every week and I’m definitely going to hear about it,” Talbott said.
Talbott hit Chris Bender with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, but induced a game-ending fly out to nail down the win.
Freehold Township has made a habit out of late-season runs over the last two years, during which a number of the players on this year’s team have been significant contributors. Last year, Freehold Township bowed out of the MCT early and missed out on both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments, but managed to win its final eight games of the season to finish the season with a 13-12 record.
One year earlier in 2012, the Patriots also failed to make the SCT, but they caught fire in the MCT and knocked off Red Bank Catholic in the championship game.
Freehold Township will look to extend its winning streak to seven games Monday against Christian Brothers Academy, the current leader in the Class A North standings. The Colts will likely trot out sophomore phenom Luca Dalatri, who is 4-0 with one earned run allowed and 36 strikeouts in 27 innings this season.
“I think our division is deeper than any other division,” Smith said. “The worst team in the division is not a bad team and at this point, it’s hard to even tell who the worst team is. Every team has three arms they can throw at you and a deep lineup with guys who can beat you all throughout the lineup.
“I think our kids have learned early on this year and even going back to last year that if you don’t bring it every single day, you’re going to get picked off. We’ve seen it happen to us, and we’ve done it to teams, so I think they have an appreciation for that going forward and it’s just going to be a matter of who plays the best.”