LAKEWOOD - Luca Dalatri has won big game after big game at FirstEnergy Park for his Christian Brothers Academy team and while he won another one Wednesday night in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game against Middletown South, this win was more about history than a championship.

The Colts senior right-hander pitched a five-hit shutout to win his 35th career game, setting a Shore Conference record and leading top-seeded CBA to a 2-0 win over the No. 2 Eagles for its third consecutive conference title and seventh overall. CBA and Toms River South were the only two teams to ever win three consecutive championships and now CBA has accomplished the feat twice.

Dalatri passed former record-holder Casey Gaynor, who went 34-4 for Toms River East before graduating in 2006, Gaynor was in attendance to watch his 10-year record fall. Dalatri struck out 10, walked none and hit two batters in his grand finale. He threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

Luca Dalatri broke the Shore Conference wins record Wednesday night as CBA win its third straight SCT title. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"It's nice to be able to say I have (the record)," Dalatri said. "Mr. Gaynor had it for a while, I hope he doesn't have any hard feelings towards it. Records are made to be broken and I hope that in the Shore Conference, we get another pitcher that can do the same thing I've done and maybe beat me.

"It's humbling to be looked at that way. I'm going to keep saying, at the next level, I have zero wins wherever I go. I'm going to have to keep working hard and start off a new slate."

Dalatri finished his high school career on a 30-game winning streak dating back to the start of his sophomore season. He finished his senior season 10-0 with a 0.42 ERA and 118 strikeouts to just four walks in 67 innings. For his career, Dalatri went 35-2, logged 249 2/3 innings, allowed 140 hits, struck out 370 while walking 36 and pitching to a 0.67 ERA.

"He's just better than everyone else. It's that simple," senior catcher Brandon Martorano said. "He's a man among boys out here. He's light years ahead of a lot of other pitchers in the Shore Conference and with everything going on with the draft, he just continues to show that he's the best overall player in the state of New Jersey and he's been that since probably his sophomore year."

"I think it's very difficult to do what he did now more so than even 10, 15, 20 years ago," CBA coach Marty Kenney said. "A lot of you guys talk about going on only three days rest; back then, a lot of pitchers back then went on three days rest. That was the norm, so you would get more starts during a season. That meant that (Dalatri) had to be almost perfect to break the record because you're trying to space him out as much as possible."

Within Dalatri's record over the last three seasons lies five tournament starts at FirstEnergy Park. in those five outings - all complete-game victories - Dalatri has allowed five earned runs (1.00 ERA) on 27 hits while posting a near-perfect 55-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Middletown South had its share of baserunners against Dalatri on Wednesday, as the CBA right-hander retired the side in order in only two of his seven innings of work. The Eagles mounted their greatest threat in the top of the first inning by loading the bases with none out. Center fielder Tom Gannon singled through the right side on a 0-2 check swing and after an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt, shortstop Johnny Zega singled through the left side of the infield.

Dalatri then struck out two consecutive batters before rolling up a fielder's choice ground out to shortstop Sal Rinaldi, who flipped to second baseman Luke Chece for the force out.

"It brought me down to Earth," Dalatri said of the first-inning hot water. "They did a good job against me. I showed a little emotion because I was able to get out of a big situation. Last year, I was in a similar situation against Wall (in the Monmouth County Tournament final) and didn't get out of it. Two years ago, against Barnegat (in the SCT final), I was able to get out of it when we had no outs and second and third. Anytime you get in that situation, there's a lot of emotion and it ended up winning us the game because one bad pitch there, they would have been winning or we'd be in extras."

The Eagles put two baserunners on in both the fourth and sixth innings and pushed Dalatri to the 20-pitch mark in each before he worked out of trouble each time with a pair of strikeouts to squash the threat. Dalatri followed a 21-pitch fourth inning by spinning a four-pitch fifth.

"I would have been running on adrenaline if this game was played Sunday, but that extra rest really helped me out," said Dalatri, who was planning to pitch on three days rest Sunday, when the game was originally scheduled to be played. "I was able to fight through the adversity they put on me because they really made me work hard. They had great at-bats and they made me work every inning."

Middletown South brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh thanks to a two-out double by Jeremy Joyce that brought Zega - the Middletown South leader in home runs and RBI - to the plate. Zega ripped a ground ball to third base, where Luca's sophomore brother, Andrea, scooped it up and fired a one-hop throw to first baseman Kenny Campbell to give CBA the win and Dalatri the record.

CBA broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the second inning on a two-out, RBI single by senior center fielder Cid Porter that scored Campbell, who began the inning with a double on a shallow pop fly. The Colts tacked on a second run in the fifth with another two-out hit, with sophomore Nick Hohenstein smacking an RBI double down the left-field line to score catcher Brandon Martorano. Both Martorano and Dalatri singled with two out to start the rally.

Middletown South junior John Martin pitched a strong outing against Dalatri and CBA for the second time this year and came up empty a second time. Martin allowed two earned runs on five hits over five innings with one walk and four strikeouts before senior left-hander Ian Scheuer came on to pitch a one-two-three sixth.

Not only did CBA beat Middletown South in another of Martin's starts, but they also beat the Eagles for a fourth time in four tries this season. Dalatri won three of those starts and against the Shore's No. 2 team this season, Dalatri has allowed one earned run in 21 innings while allowing eight hits, striking out 40 and issuing just one walk.

Martorano and Dalatri have been varsity teammates since the two were freshman in 2013 and Martorano has caught nearly all of Dalatri's 35 victories. Both are University of North Carolina recruits expected to be drafted in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which begins on Thursday and continues through Saturday.

"We grew together and players and people," Martorano said. "Whether it was good times or bad, we always had one another to pick each other up. We accomplished a lot together and I'm excited that we're going to experience the draft together and hopefully go to North Carolina together."

"Brandon did a great job all year behind the plate calling pitches and making sure I was prepared to do what I had to do," Dalatri said. "I'm always lucky to have someone back there where he's doing his job just like I am."

Photo by Matt Manley

Led by the UNC-bound battery, CBA won 10 different championships - tournament and division - in the last four years. Over the last three, with Dalatri and Martorano playing significant roles in all three, CBA won three Monmouth County Tournament titles, three Shore Conference Tournament championships, two Class A North division championships and the NJSIAA overall Non-Public A Group championship in 2015. In those three years, CBA went 31-2 in tournament games.

"They've got to be at or near the top," Kenney said of Dalatri's and Martorano's standing among the best players at CBA during his 43 seasons. "I've had a lot of great players and I don't want to short change any of the others, but they were both dominating players from their sophomore year on and put up big numbers. In Brandon's case, he's swinging a bat that's not the same weapon that it was year's ago. Nowadays, guys are basically swinging wood. If he played back in the day, his numbers probably would be even better."

"It's pretty special," Martorano said of the championship run. "It doesn't get old, celebrating a championship here for a fifth or sixth time. It's always a good time, but it's kind of surreal that it's all over. I'm going to treasure playing here at CBA, with Luca. Whether we go forward together or separate remains to be seen, but I told him I love him to death and it's a pleasure to play with him."

 

Box Score

CBA 2, Middletown South 0

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Midd South (23-6) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 1
CBA (21-9) 0 1 0 0 1 0 x 2 5 2

Pitching

Midd South IP H R ER BB SO
John Martin (L, 5-3)  5 5 2 2 1 4
Ian Scheuer 1  0 0 0 0 1
CBA IP H R ER BB SO
Luca Dalatri (W, 10-0) 7 5 0 0 0 10

Top Hitters

Midd South Game Stats
Tom Gannon 1-3, HBP, 2 SB
Zach Schild 2-3
Jeremy Joyce 1-4, 2B
Johnny Zega 1-4
CBA Game Stats
Nick Hohenstein 1-2, 2B, BB, RBI
Kenny Campbell 1-3, 2B, R
Cid Porter 1-3, RBI
Luca Dalatri 1-3
Brandon Martorano 1-3