MIDDLETOWN – The word “surreal” carried with it a negative connotation at Mater Dei Prep some three months ago, when the students of the Middletown school learned their high school would be closing its doors for good following the 2014-15 school year.

For senior Ryan Fanner and the Seraphs baseball team, the "surreal" was the most appropriate way to describe the events of Tuesday at Mater Dei, only this time, there was nothing negative about it on their end.

With a virtual Shore Conference Class B Central championship game against St. Rose tied with two out in the bottom of the seventh, Fanner lined a slicing shot down the right-field line that dropped in fair to score pinch-runner Mike Dunne from second base with the winning run and give the Seraphs a 4-3, walk-off win over the Purple Roses. The victory clinches at least a share of the Class B Central title, the first division championship for Mater Dei since 2002.

Ryan Fanner (4) celebrates with his teammates after his game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh beat St. Rose and clinched at least a share of the Class B Central title for Mater Dei. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“It’s surreal,” Fanner said. “This school means so much to me and all of these guys. It’s the best four years of my life, and it’s awesome to end it like this.”

The Mater Dei student body grew accustomed to overcoming long odds when they mounted the successful “Save the Seraphs” movement that raised $1 million to keep the school open for 2015-16. The fraction of that student body that laced up their baseball spikes and threw on a varsity jersey was facing the final step in overcoming their own obstacle in the form of a St. Rose team that has dominated the Class B Central division for the better part of a decade.

“We really tried not to think about what was going on with the school,” Mater Dei coach Pat Riddell said. “On day one, I told them, ‘Guys, we’re just playing. I don’t care what happens with the school.’ Not that I didn’t, but we’re just going to go out there and play baseball. If any of them wanted to leave, I’d talk to coaches and see if there is somewhere they could go and play. All of them stuck it out and now we’re division champs, which is pretty freaking awesome.”

In order to win an outright division title, Mater Dei will need to win at home Thursday against a 4-10 Ranney team coached by former Mater Dei player Glenn Slocum.

First baseman Matt Bender led off the bottom of the seventh Tuesday with a walk against St. Rose starter Pat Fullman. Starting center fielder Travis Cloney came on in relief and induced a pop-up to second baseman Brandon Mology and a ground out to third baseman Joe Volpe, which allowed the pinch-runner Dunne to move to second.

Fanner then stepped up and jumped on Cloney's first-pitch fastball, lining it down the right-field line to chase home Dunne and set off the celebration.

“I saw right off the bat that it was headed for the scoreboard and that it was going to stay fair,” Fanner said. “I can’t explain the feeling. I can’t even really remember it. It was that surreal.”

“I actually moved Fanner up from the seven spot to the two-hole today,” Riddell said. “He has been swinging the bat well, and I just had a good feeling about him and it paid off.”

St. Rose started the seventh inning with consecutive singles by Volpe and Johnny Kussmaul off Seraphs junior right-handed reliever Nick Roditis, with Kussmaul advancing to second base on an unsuccessful throw to third to get Volpe. With none out and the go-ahead run at third, Roditis induced a fielder's choice ground out to shortstop in which senior shortstop Ruben Rodriguez cut Volpe down at the plate for the first out.

Roditis then coaxed a slow ground ball to third base that did not allow Kussmaul to score, and got one more ground out to sophomore third baseman Kyle Dowlen to end the threat.

“I tried to hit spots low and get them to hit the ball on the ground to one of our guys,” said Roditis, who induced ground-ball outs on five of the six outs he recorded Tuesday. “Just put the ball low and outside, and if they're trying to get the ball in the air, they’re going to roll over it and we can get a ground ball.”

Over the past two weeks, Roditis has seen his share of tight situations in relief and has had success in navigating out of trouble, whether inherited or self-inflicted. He pitched out of late-inning jams in key wins over Point Pleasant Beach during the Class B Central schedule and also in a Monmouth County Tournament win over Shore Regional.

“I love these kind of moments,” Roditis said. “I love coming in with the game on the line because I don’t feel the pressure. Having bases loaded, nobody out doesn’t bother me because I just love the challenge. That’s why I love being a reliever.”

Fanner finished the game 3-for-4 and also drove in the first run of the game during Mater Dei's three-run first inning. Senior left fielder and leadoff hitter Patric Donohoe led off the bottom of the first with a double off the left-field fence and scored on Fanner's single inside the third base bag.

Senior center fielder Vincenzo Mezzacappa reached on an error and scored along with Fanner on a two-out, two-run double off the left-field fence by catcher Nick Massaro.

The three-run first gave Mater Dei a 3-2 lead after St. Rose jumped on top 2-0 on a two-run home run in the top of the first by first baseman Kyle Missry.

Fanner delivered another hit with a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the second inning, but St. Rose sophomore left fielder Brendan Hueth threw out Dunne trying to score from second base.

St. Rose would then tie the game in the top of the third on an RBI single by junior Mike Gowen that scored Cloney from second after Cloney led off the inning with a single and stole second base.

Sophomore Vinny Stanziale allowed three runs on three hits and two walks while striking out three over five innings to earn the no-decision for Mater Dei. Stanziale and Roditis benefited from a Mater Dei defense that did not commit an error.

“Vinny came to me after the fifth and said he was out of gas,” Riddell said. “I knew we were probably going to go to Roditis at some point, but with the way things were going, I was thinking it would be another inning.”

Fullman bounced back from the three-run first by throwing five straight scoreless innings before his leadoff walk in the seventh led to the winning run. He worked out of a first-and-second jam in the sixth by winning an 11-pitch at-bat against Dowlen with two out - striking the sophomore out looking on a fastball over the inside part of the plate.

In the 11 seasons Riddell has spent at the helm for the Seraphs, Tuesday marked just the second time in 25 meetings that Mater Dei has defeated St. Rose. The Seraphs last beat St. Rose in 2010.

“It was a dream come true to go through this team to win a division,” said Mezzacappa, a four-year varsity player. “We still have to win one more game, but we won’t forget this one, no matter what happens.”

 

Box Score

Mater Dei Prep 4, St. Rose 3

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

R

H

E

St. Rose (14-5, 11-2)

2

0

1

0

0

0

0

3

5

1

Mater Dei Prep (13-5, 12-1)

3

0

0

0

0

0

1

4

7

0

 

St. Rose

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Travis Cloney, CF-P

2

1

0

0

1

1

Mike Gowen, DH-LF

3

0

1

1

0

0

Brendan Hueth, LF-CF

2

1

0

0

1

0

Kyle Missry, 1B

3

1

1

2

0

0

Joe Volpe, 3B

3

0

1

0

0

0

John Kussmaul, RF

3

0

2

0

0

0

Nick DelRusso, C

3

0

0

0

0

0

--Tanner Long, CR

0

0

0

0

0

0

Brandon Mology, 2B

2

0

0

0

0

1

--Riley Maypother, PH

1

0

0

0

0

0

J.P. Traynor, SS

3

0

0

0

0

1

Totals

25

3

5

3

2

3

HR: Missry (1st inning, 1 on, 2 out)
GIDP: DelRusso
Outfield Assist: Hueth
SB: Cloney

 

Mater Dei Prep

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Patric Donohue, LF

4

1

1

0

0

0

Ryan Fanner, RF

4

1

3

2

0

0

Vincenzo Mezzacappa, CF

3

1

0

0

0

0

Cole Hardy, 2B

2

0

1

0

1

0

Nick Roditis, DH-P

3

0

0

0

0

2

Nick Massaro, C

2

0

1

2

1

0

--Mike Dunne, CR

0

0

0

0

0

0

Kyle Dowlen, 3B

3

0

0

0

0

1

Matt Bender, 1B

2

0

1

0

1

0

--Joe Profaci, PR

0

0

0

0

0

0

--Mike Dunne, PR

0

1

0

0

0

0

Ruben Rodriguez, SS

2

0

0

0

0

1

Totals

25

4

7

4

3

4

2B: Donohue, Massaro
SAC: Rodriguez
GIDP: Roditis
SB: Hardy

 

St. Rose

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Pat Fullman (L, 2-1)

6

6

4

2

3

4

0

Travis Cloney

0.2

1

0

0

0

0

0

 

Mater Dei Prep

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Vinny Stanziale

5

3

3

3

2

3

1

Nick Roditis (W, 2-1)

2

2

0

0

0

0

0

 

Fullman pitched to one batter in the seventh

Pitches-Strikes: Fullman 96-64, Cloney 9-5, Stanziale, 63-35, Roditis 23-14
Groundouts-Flyouts: Fullman 4-8, Cloney 1-0, Stanziale 2-6, Roditis, 5-1