Baseball – Monmouth All-Stars Rally in 9th to Beat Ocean
LAKEWOOD – The Red Bank and Asbury Park baseball teams combined to win only 10 games this season, but the two representatives between the two schools in Monday night’s Shore Conference Baseball Coaches Association Senior All-Star Game were the biggest winners on the field at FirstEnergy Park.
Red Bank third baseman Jesse Mack and Asbury Park center fielder William Wells sparked a four-run ninth inning and Freehold second baseman Alex Mulhern scored the winning run on a two-out ground ball by Matawan’s Mike Creamer to help Monmouth County rally for a 4-3, come-from-behind win over Ocean County.
Ranney’s Steven Jacobsen drew a leadoff walk against Toms River East right-hander C.J. Hirschy to start the ninth and Mack then slammed a first-pitch double to the left-center gap to put runners on second and third with none out and Monmouth County still trailing 3-1. Prior to Mack’s double, Monmouth County had managed only two hits over eight innings against Ocean County’s stable of pitchers.
“We had two hits going into that inning and there was just nothing going on,” said Mack, whose double came in his lone at-bat of the game. “Our dugout was silent and there just wasn’t much life in there.
“I was waiting all night to get a chance to contribute and I just told myself that whenever I got in, I was going to do something. All year long, I’ve had success swinging at the first pitch, so I went up and looked for a first-pitch fastball.”
Jackson Liberty shortstop James Sofield made a diving play up the middle to throw out Marlboro's Justin Trochiano for the first out, allowing Jacobsen to score and Mack to advance to third. After a walk by Wall second baseman Branden Biegert and a strikeout for the second out, Mulhern hit a ground ball to third base and beat out a one-hop throw by Barnegat third baseman Matt Owens to score Mack and cut Ocean’s lead to 3-2. Biegert moved to third base on the throw after stealing second base.
That set up runners on the corners for Wells, who smacked a ground ball through the hole between first and second to score Biegert with the tying run and push Mulhern to third with the potential winning run.
“I struck out in my first at-bat because I was trying to pull the ball too much, so this time, I was just thinking about going the other way,” Wells said. “There was a hole on the right side so I thought even if I get a ball on the ground, I’d have a chance to get it through. Once I hit it, I just ran hard. That was the most important thing.”
In his second at-bat of the game, Creamer worked the count to 2-2 and hit a routine ground ball to shortstop that Sofield slightly bobbled. The Jackson Liberty shortstop gathered himself and flipped the ball to Toms River North second baseman Joey LaCava, but Wells hustled from first and slid in before LaCava caught the ball and as Mulhern was sprinting home with the winning run.
“This is one last chance to play a competitive game at the high school level and I think, for most of us, we looked at it as something where we wanted to play hard and win,” Mack said. “Once we got the rally started, I think everyone got on board. It was great to end the year in a dog pile.”
While Mack ignited the rally with the double to the gap, Wells contributed in four phases of the game. The Blue Bishops left-hander pitched a perfect fourth inning with two strikeouts, made three plays while playing center field, came through with the game-tying base-hit and used his speed to beat out a potential inning-ending fielder’s choice and turn it into the game-winning run.
“This was a tremendous opportunity for me to represent my school and my team and also get a chance to show what I can do against some of the best players in the Shore,” Wells said. “I take pride in the way I play the game and in the way our team plays and I wanted to show that we may not win as much as some other teams, but we have players who play the game the right way.”
Wells transferred from Neptune to Asbury Park for his senior year after playing his junior year as a starter with the Scarlet Fliers. In his first game with Asbury Park this season, he pitched a one-hitter in the team’s season-opening win over Henry Hudson. He went on to win two of Asbury Park’s three games (3-14) while posting a 2.38 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings. At the plate, Wells hit .400 with two doubles and a home run.
Mack, meanwhile, hit .333 in his first and only season as a varsity player with three doubles, a home run and a team-best 22 runs scored, which was also tied for 20th in the Shore Conference.
“This was a challenging season for us as a team and for me, personally, this was definitely the highlight, as I’m sure it was for a lot of the guys who got picked to come here,” Mack said.
Prior to the rocky ninth inning, Hirschy extended Ocean County’s lead with a two-run double to right-center in the top of the eighth in his only at-bat of the game. Toms River North first baseman Anthony Ferlise plated the first run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning after Toms River East second baseman and Toms River South shortstop Christian Campbell each singled.
Monmouth denied Ocean County a run in the top of the seventh when Neptune right fielder Mike Rode threw out Lacey’s Connor Rooney at home plate on a single by Toms River North’s Julian Feliz.
Ocean County’s pitching strung together eight shutout innings from eight different pitchers, seven of which were from the Class A South division. Toms River East duo Anthony DeBlasio and Jeff Cannova and Brick Memorial duo Anthony Assante and Joe Trafficante led the effort by combining to retire 12 of the 13 batters they faced with just a walk as the only blemish.
Jackson Memorial left-hander and Toms River North right-hander Kevin Chiaravalloti each allowed a hit in a scoreless frame, while Rooney struck out the side around a two-out walk in the eighth.
The lone B South pitcher of the night was Point Boro’s Mike Dunham, who loaded the bases with none out before inducing a shallow fly out and an inning-ending five-four-three double play, started by Feliz and turned by Barnegat second baseman Conner Hoeler.
Freehold Township right-hander Chris Talbott pitched a scoreless ninth with two strikeouts to earn the win over Monmouth County and was one of four Monmouth County pitchers to record at least two strikeouts in one inning of work. In addition to Talbott and Wells, Shore right-hander Andrew Schulz struck out two in Ocean’s two-run eighth and Raritan right-hander Bruce Strickland struck out three in the fifth, one of which resulted in Central’s Rich Galati reaching on a wild pitch.
Keansburg right-hander Mike Politano threw two scoreless innings to start the game and was the only pitcher to work two frames. Talbott also drilled a ground-rule double in the bottom of the first inning but was stranded at second base.
Central Regional senior and future University of Alabama right-hander Andrew DiPiazza showed off his power with the bat by winning the pregame home run derby. DiPiazza launched six home runs in less than three rounds topping the five hit by Wall junior catcher and runner-up Dan Wondrack.
DiPiazza needed three home runs to win the derby in his final round and hit three in four swings to finish off the competition before finishing his final round.
“Honestly, I expected to come here and do well,” DiPiazza said. “If I’m facing SEC pitchers throwing 97 (miles-per-hour) from Vanderbilt or LSU, no, I’m not going to hit the ball over the wall here. But in a batting practice atmosphere, if I get a rhythm going and I get the timing of my swing right, I have enough to get the ball over the wall when I want to.
“Growing up, I always thought I was going to be a hitter. Playing little league and even my first few years on the big field, I would keep track of my offensive stats more than my pitching stats. I used to count my home runs on my pillow at night.”
Anthony LaVigne of St. John Vianney and Russell Messler of Toms River South – the defending champion – each hit two home runs while Ferlise and Holmdel first baseman Joe Sadler each hit one.
DiPiazza has not pitched since May 10 because of bone spurs in his pitching elbow, but is optimistic that he can get back to throwing in two months without arthroscopic surgery.
“My summer vacation will last about 10 days and then I’m heading down to (Alabama) to get started,” DiPiazza said. “All of their pitchers take the month of July off from throwing anyway, so since it’s been since about May (10th), that leaves me about two more months to recover. Around mid-August, I’m looking to get back to throwing and hopefully start competing for a weekend starting job.”
In the meantime, DiPiazza has designs on convincing his college coaching staff that he can be a two-way threat for the Crimson Tide.
“We discussed it after I started the season hitting around .500 with a couple of home runs,” DiPiazza said. “It’s not like I’m hitting against chumps either. Our division has legitimate Division I talent on the mound, so I feel like I’m ready to give it a shot. If I’m hitting, then I think I’ll get an opportunity. I’ve got to give them a reason not to put me in.”