Baseball – Preview: Shore Conference Tournament Final
Shore Conference Tournament Championship - Bracket
Wednesday, June 8, 8 p.m.
At FirstEnergy Park, Lakewood
No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy (20-9, 9-5 in Class A North)
No. 2 Middletown South (23-5, 11-3 in Class A North)
CBA Road to the Final
Round of 16: Defeated No. 17 Manalapan, 2-0. Luca Dalatri pitched a two-hit shutout with no walks and 14 strikeouts and also blasted a two-run home run to carry the Colts past the Braves.
Quarterfinals: Defeated No. 9 Middletown North, 4-0. Four days after his gem against Manalapan, Dalatri came back and pitched five scoreless, three-hit innings with six strikeouts and no walks to earn his eighth win of the season. Senior catcher Brandon Martorano went 4-for-4 with a two-run home run and a double to lead the offense.
Semifinals: Defeated No. 4 Red Bank Catholic, 5-3. Luca Dalatri matched the Shore Conference career wins record with a seven-inning performance against the Caseys, who put the go-ahead run on base in the top of the seventh and broke Dalatri’s 38-inning scoreless streak back in the fifth inning of the game. Kenny Campbell drove in three runs, including a three-run triple that opened the scoring in the fourth inning.
Middletown South Road to the Final
Round of 16: Defeated No. 15 Howell, 11-1, in six innings. Johnny Zega slammed a home run and drove in three runs to lead a Middletown South offensive attack that hammered out seven extra-base hits, including six doubles. Ryan Ruziecki hit two of those doubles and finished 2-for-2, while Zach Schild also drove in two runs.
Quarterfinals: Defeated No. 10 Colts Neck, 7-5. Ryan Ruziecki hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth to break a 2-2 tie and the Eagles held on thanks to an outfield assist by center fielder Tom Gannon that cut down a run at the plate to end the game. Joe McLaughlin earned the win in relief.
Semifinals: Defeated No. 6 Toms River South, 8-0. Middletown South broke open a 1-0 game with a six-run fifth inning, highlighted by a three-run triple by Zach Schild. Austin Markmann also went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI for the Eagles. Senior left-hander Ian Scheuer pitched a five-hit shutout with four strikeouts and two walks to pick up his eighth win of the season.
Probable Starting Pitchers
CBA – Luca Dalatri, Sr., RHP
2016 Stats: 9-0, 60 IP, 28 H, 4 BB, 108 SO, 0.47 ERA
Middletown South – John Martin, Jr., RHP
2016 Stats: 5-2, 41 IP, 31 H, 9 BB, 31 SO, 1.02 ERA
CBA Top Hitters
Brandon Martorano, Sr., C - .402 Avg., 8 2B, 5 HR, 24 Runs, 25 RBI
Luca Dalatri, Sr., P – 7 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 14 RBI
Cid Porter, Sr., CF – .320 Avg., 5 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 26 Runs, 8 RBI
Nick Hohenstein, So., RF - .382 Avg., 6 2B, 3 HR, 18 Runs, 22 RBI
Middletown South Top Hitters
Johnny Zega, Sr., SS/2B - .441 Avg., 10 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 29 Runs, 41 RBI
Austin Markmann, Sr., 2B/3B - .391 Avg., 11 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 22 Runs, 22 RBI
Jeremy Joyce, Sr., 2B/SS/3B - .381 Avg., 8 2B, 21 Runs, 19 RBI
Zach Schild, Sr., C - .341 Avg., 10 2B, 2 HR, 10 Runs, 16 RBI
John Martin, Jr., P - .396 Avg., 9 2B
Tom Gannon, Sr., CF – .315 Avg., 12 2B, 24 Runs, 12 SB
Ryan Ruziecki, Jr., LF – 2 3B, 3 HR, 17 RBI
Ben Porpora, Jr., 1B – 3 HR, 20 Runs, 18 RBI
Whatever the outcome of Wednesday night’s Shore Conference Tournament championship game (the game was originally scheduled for Sunday), history of some kind will be made. On the CBA side of things, that history is obvious. Head coach Marty Kenney will send senior right-hander Luca Dalatri to the mound in the championship game, which means Dalatri will be going after sole possession of the Shore Conference record for career wins – a mark he currently shares with Toms River East alumni Casey Gaynor after he and his Colts held off Red Bank Catholic in the semifinals, 5-3, for his 34th career win.
Instead of having to pitch on three days rest between starts for the fourth time in his high school career, Dalatri will not have six days to prepare between outings. It's not like three days rest would have been uncharted territory: in those previous three instances, Dalatri has combined to throw 19 scoreless innings, which suggests he responds well to the shortened timetable and is physically prepared to perform under whatever extra stress comes with the challenge.
The layoff also takes some of the pressure off the CBA coaching staff with regard to handling its ace. Dalatri has seen his stock in this week’s MLB Draft take shape, with once source saying he is likely to be taken in the first five rounds while Baseball America’s latest Top 500 list rated him the No. 174 among available players. If the draft were to unfold according to that set of rankings – a virtually impossibility in any draft, particularly in baseball – Dalatri would be a sixth round selection.
With Major League organizations monitoring him closely, there would have been some incentive to play it safe Sunday and pass the ball to someone else, especially after Dalatri struggled in the final inning of his last start by allowing two runs, walking two and throwing 27 pitches in the seventh inning against RBC. Now, there should be no reservation about giving Dalatri seven innings at around 100 pitches.
The three-day delay clears the way for Dalatri to fully prepare to become the greatest winner in Shore Conference history. Not only is Dalatri 34-2 during his career, but since the start of his sophomore season, he is 29-0 in 31 appearances and CBA is 2-0 in those other two. One of the two no-decisions was a two-inning save that came three days before he threw a four-hit shutout in the NJSIAA Non-Public A final.
For the last three years, Dalatri has been all but automatic and Middletown South has felt that wrath. In two starts against the Eagles this season, Dalatri has thrown 15 shutout innings while allowing four hits and one walk with 30 strikeouts in two CBA wins. In the first of the two starts, he struck out a career-high 19 in an eight-inning complete game and allowed one run on a two-out cross-up with catcher Brandon Martorano that lead to a wild pitch with a runner on third in the sixth inning. After that run scored on him, Dalatri went 38 straight innings without surrendering a run, a streak that ended in the fifth inning against RBC on Wednesday.
Because Dalatri has a chance to end a historic season with a historic achievement, Middletown South can make its history by simply his. No team has handed CBA a loss in a Dalatri appearance since Camden Catholic beat the Colts, 3-0, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A playoffs during Dalatri’s freshman season. While RBC’s seventh-inning threat against CBA on Wednesday might have been as close as any team has come, Middletown South also gave Dalatri a scare by taking the CBA ace to extra-innings in April.
While a win would be the most fitting end to Dalatri’s career, a win would be fitting of Middletown South’s season. The Eagles have won a Shore-Conference-best 23 games and beat CBA by two games for the Class A North regular season title. Middletown South’s season has already been praiseworthy, but a tournament championship would make it a memorable one in the history of the program, which has not won a Shore Conference Tournament title in 20 years.
The Shore Conference Tournament season will end with the conclusion of the SCT final and so too will one of the greatest careers any player from this area has ever put together. Dalatri has spent three years making the remarkable look routine and is now on the doorstep of his crowning achievement. The only thing more remarkable than a record-setting performance to close out a career would be to watch a worthy opponent foil it.
Either way, the 2016 season will end with a little bit of history.