Neptune-Allentown photo gallery by Ray Richardson

ALLENTOWN - Neptune entered this season's state tournament as an afterthought and exited it on Friday with widespread respect after the greatest run by a Scarlet Fliers baseball team in nearly 100 years came to a wild end.

The 14th-seeded Scarlet Fliers nearly sent a shockwave across New Jersey by giving the state's top-ranked public school team and undefeated ace Jordan Winston all they could handle in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings to Allentown in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game.

Neptune and senior pitcher Dylan Taliaferro battled one of the top teams in the state in a 10-inning loss in the Central Jersey Group III final. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"They just have an amazing heart, this team,'' third-year Neptune coach Kevin Frederick said. "I can't say enough about them. I just hope that they're proud of themselves and they don't feel like they failed us or anything like that because I just told them, 'You guys made me so proud.' They battled."

It marked Allentown's first sectional title since winning Group II in 2008, while denying Neptune its first state baseball title since Babe Ruth was in his heyday for the Yankees in 1923.

Neptune (10-13) came back from a three-run deficit in the sixth inning and then was shocked back to life by a call by the umpire after a wild sequence in the eighth inning after it looked like the Redbirds (24-2) walked off with a win.

Second baseman Chris Reeder allowed Allentown to finally put the Scarlet Fliers away with a two-out, game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning. Designated hitter Matt Coiante reached on an error to start the inning, went to second on a sacrifice bunt and then scored two batters later on Reeder's second hit of the game.

"We knew (Neptune) was a dangerous team coming in,'' Allentown head coach Brian Nice said. "We knew we were going to have to play well. They battled. They definitely belonged here."

The game appeared to be over in the bottom of the eighth inning when Winston smacked a single to center field with two outs and courtesy runner Brandon Gaul seemingly scored the winning run from second base to trigger a dogpile celebration.

However, Neptune senior reliever Aedan Martin had the presence of mind to notice that Gaul missed the plate when he leaped over it in celebration. He quickly signaled to an assistant coach, who had Neptune catcher Devon Furges step on home plate in an appeal play. The umpire signaled Gaul out to end the eighth inning and keep the score tied at three.

"You just thought you lost, and then you see that happen and it's a whole new life,'' said Neptune senior pitcher Dylan Taliaferro.

It was deja vu for Allentown, which had a game-winning run erased in the Mercer County Tournament against Nottingham for leaving the dugout too early before ultimately winning the game on the next pitch.

Unfortunately the Scarlet Fliers couldn't get anything going in the next two innings against reliever Jimmy Frein (4-1), who pitched four scoreless innings of one-hit ball after surrendering the lead when he came in for Winston with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning.

Winston, an Oklahoma State recruit who is the younger brother of former Manalapan star Jake Winston, held the Scarlet Fliers scoreless for 5 2/3 innings before his pitch count necessitated that he leave the game by rule.

The senior lefty, who entered with a 1.85 ERA, was charged with three runs on three hits while striking out eight, walking four and hitting three batters on 100 pitches. Taliaferro had a stellar game of his own, tossing 7 1/3 innings, striking out seven, walking none, hitting a batter and allowing one earned run on six hits before having to come out of the game in the eighth inning when he hit his pitch limit.

"We knew we were the underdogs so there was nothing to lose,'' Taliaferro said.

"That kid is tough,'' Frederick said. "I kept telling him, the stuff you have is good enough. You just have to believe that. His ball moves so much, it's hard to make good contact on it."

Allentown took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when a pair of runs scored on a slow bouncer that went under the shortstop's glove, but Taliaferro limited the damage with consecutive strikeouts to strand two runners in scoring position.

The Redbirds then tacked on a run in the third inning when Coiante, who was 3-for-4 with three runs scored in the win, reached on a single, went to second on a balk, reached third on a pitch in the dirt and then scored on a two-out single by Frank DelGuercio.

Neptune was running out of time when they finally got something going in the sixth. John Gannon and Furges drew a pair of one-out walks and then freshman Rocco Richard was hit by a pitch to load the bases. After Winston got a strikeout for the second out, he had to leave the game because he had reached the 95 pitches he was allowed in the game by NJSIAA rule.

An umpire's call staved off one Allentown game-winning celebration but the Redbirds ultimately pulled out the win two innings later. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Fein came on in relief, and leadoff hitter Justin Tucker promptly greeted him by lining the first pitch into left field for an RBI single to make it 3-1. Sophomore Sebastian Jon-Baptiste followed with a clutch two-out, two-run single to tie the game and give Neptune new life.

That set the stage for the wild finish as Neptune came up just short of its first sectional title since the advent of the state playoff system in the 1970s.

The future looks bright considering Neptune started two freshmen and three sophomores on Friday, although it will have to replace seniors like Martin, Tucker and Taliaferro. The sub-.500 record this season was deceiving because it featured multiple one- and two-run losses to top opponents.

"I just want the kids to play with heart and understand that just because we're from Neptune doesn't mean we can't be a good program,'' Frederick said. "We're gonna be a good program, I'm going to guarantee it. We're going to be relevant for a while."

Box score

Allentown 4, Neptune 3

Neptune (10-13)     0  0  0  0  0  3  0  0  0  0  -   3   5   4

Allentown (24-2)     2  0   1  0  0 0  0  0  0  1 -    4   8   0


Neptune IP H R ER BB SO PC
Dylan Taliaferro 7.1 6 3 1 0 7 111
Aedan Martin (L, 1-1) 2.2 2  1  0  2 1  34
Allentown IP H R ER BB SO PC
Jordan Winston 5.2 3 3 3 4 8 100
 Jimmy Frein (W, 4-1)  4.1  3  0  0  0  3  52


Top Hitters

Neptune Game Stats
Justin Tucker 1-4, HBP, RBI
Sebastian Jon-Baptiste 1-4, BB, 2 RBI
Aedan Martin 2-5


Allentown Game Stats
Matt Coiante 3-4, 3B, 3 R
Austin  Ferrier 1-3, 2B, HBP, R
Chris Reeder 2-5, RBI