Middlesex Ends Shore’s Reign as Group I Champs in Central Jersey Group I Sectional Final
WEST LONG BRANCH — It was one of those games where not much went right for Shore Regional, and unfortunately for the reigning NJSIAA Group I champions it came at the worst time.
Matt Carovillano and Dom Lampasona each blasted three-run home runs and finished with four runs batted in, and left-hander Tristan O’Connor struck out nine over six innings as Middlesex completed an unlikely run to the Central Jersey Group I title by routing the host Blue Devils 15-3 on Friday afternoon.
Lampasona staked the Blue Jays to a 3-0 lead with a two-out bomb over the center field fence in the first inning, and Middlesex never trailed en route to winning its second sectional title in three seasons. Carovillano’s home run to left field was the crushing blow in a four-run fourth inning that put a halt to Shore’s comeback after it had trimmed the Blue Jays’ lead to 4-3.
In the bottom of the fifth, O’Connor struck out the side, including two straight with the bases loaded, to put out the final fire Shore would light in the 2015 season. Lampasona pitched a scoreless seventh and Middlesex (16-16) rushed the field, something that seemed quite out of reach after a 2-11 start to the season.
“We knew we weren’t a 2-11 team,” O’Connor said. “We just needed that one game to turn it around, and we got it with a win over Metuchen in late April. We knew what we had. When me and Joe DiNizio are on, we can be very dangerous, and when our offense is going, anything can happen.”
Shore made four errors and allowed five unearned runs. Any team would be doomed by that scenario. The Blue Jays made the Blue Devils pay for every mistake, especially ones that kept innings alive. Lampasona’s three-run shot in the first came with two outs, and Carovillano’s home run came two batters after an error prevented Shore starter Ryan Campi from stranding a runner on third and keeping the Blue Devils within a run.
“They’re a good baseball team and if you give them extra outs they’re going to hit the baseball,” said Shore head coach Pat O’Neill. “We gave them extra outs, and they made us pay.”
Nick DiNizo led off the game with a single and Stewart Lester followed with a base hit to put runners on first and second with no outs for Middlesex. Mike Lavenia then reached on a fielder’s choice where Shore nearly turned a 5-4-3 double play. Campi struck out Carovillano on three pitches with runners on first and third but the next batter was Lampasona, and he demolished a first-pitch fastball over the center-field fence to put Middlesex up 3-0.
“That was huge because we know how they are, they hit the ball, so we had to get a lead,” said Middlesex head coach Justin Nastasi. “It didn’t matter if we were up because we knew they could come back at any time. Having the lead was huge, and it helped the guy on the mound relax a little.”
Shore put runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the first, but O’Connor fanned Matt McCarthy and Justin Halper to keep the Blue Devils off the scoreboard. That was a common theme for Shore, which left a total of 11 runners on base.
Middlesex pushed its lead to 4-0 in the second inning when DiNizo doubled with two outs and Lester drove him home with an RBI single. O’Connor had his curveball working early, and was unleashing it after getting ahead in counts by locating his fastball. He struck out four over the first two innings, including three looking, by dropping his hook in and freezing Shore’s hitters.
The Blue Devils (17-11) finally solved O’Connor in the bottom of the third inning with three runs to trim their deficit to one. Michael Jelliff singled to lead off the inning and Sam Parrino followed with a single to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Catcher Dhillon Barbetti then smacked a double to left-center field to plate Jelliff and make it 4-1. James Kelly then drove Parrino home with a sacrifice fly to center. After O’Connor struck out McCarthy and Halper drew a walk, Devin McLaughlin roped a two-out RBI double to make it 4-3.
The good feelings for Shore would be short-lived, however, as Middlesex scored four runs in the top of the fourth inning to blow the game open. Mike Salerno walked to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Josh Palazzi. Campi got DiNizo to ground out to shortstop for the second out with Salerno moving to third, then induced a ground ball that should have gotten him out of the inning. The ball was booted, however, allowing Salerno to score Middlesex’s fifth run and keep the inning going.
Mike Lavenia followed with a double that put runners on second and third with two outs, and on an 0-1 count Carovillano got under one just enough to loft it over the left-field fence for a three-run home run, giving the Blue Jays a commanding 8-3 lead. The home run would chase Campi from the mound with McLaughlin entering in relief.
“It was 4-3 after we did a great job coming back and making it a game,” O’Neill said. “Runner on third and two outs, a hard-hit ball to first and we catch an in-between hop. It happens. Early in the game we were giving them extra outs, not even with errors, just not making plays. We do those and we get out of the innings.”
Shore’s best chance to get back into the game came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Halper singled with one out and consecutive walks by McLaughlin and Michael O’Halloran loaded the bases. O’Connor, who entered the inning at 81 pitches and went over 100 in the inning, buckled down to strike out the next two hitters and defuse the rally. O’Connor finished with nine strikeouts over six innings, scattering eight hits and four walks on 124 pitches.
“He’s our No. 1 for a reason,” Nastasi said. “He has a lot of heart, and when it’s chaotic around him he kind of likes that. I knew if it got like that he would rise up.”
“He came out to the mound and just said to calm down and do what I’ve been doing,” O’Connor said. “He asked how I felt and I said I was perfectly fine. I wasn’t tired at all, I was running on adrenaline.”
Middlesex added another run in the sixth inning on a two-out error by Shore before putting the game well out of reach with six runs in the top of the seventh. Lavenia and Carovillano drew bases loaded walks before an RBI single by Lampasona and a two-run double by O’Connor made it 14-3. An RBI single by Salerno with two outs plated Middlesex’s 15th run.
Shore had won nine straight NJSIAA Tournament games dating back to last season when it won the Group I title for the first time in program history, and was playing in its third straight sectional final.
“I talked to the senior class and told them how proud of the effort they put forth for this program,” O’Neill said. “When they got here as freshmen the program was 7-7, and in the last three years we won a state title and made runs in the Shore Conference Tournament. It’s a testament to them. I told them to realize what happened today and put it in the back of their minds, and we’ll get back here next year.”
NJSIAA CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP I SECTIONAL FINAL
8-Middlesex 15, 6-Shore 3
Middlesex (16-16) 3 1 0 4 0 1 6 — 15
Shore (17-11) 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 — 3
Doubles - M: Dom Lampasona, Mike Lavenia, Tristan O’Connor; S: Dhillon Barbetti, Devin McLaughlin.
Home runs - M: Dom Lampasona, Matt Carovillano.
WP: Tristan O’Connor.
LP: Ryan Campi (3-1).