Baseball – 2022 Group III Final Preview: Middletown North Hopes Dowlen is the Difference
NJSIAA Group III Championship
Saturday, June 18, 2022
At DeMeo Field, Veterans Park, Hamilton
Middletown North (20-10) vs. Cranford (25-4), 10 a.m.
Middletown North at a Glance
Head Coach: Ryan McCabe
Last Group Championship: Never
Last Group Championship Appearance: 1983
Probable Starting Pitcher
Colin Dowlen, 5YR Sr., RHP (9-2, 0.84 ERA, 58.1 IP, 28 H, 12 BB, 97 K)
Mike Weinbel, Sr., RHP
Matt Adamson, Sr., LHP
Colin Dowlen, 5-Yr Sr., P (.472, 10 2B, 3 HR)
Ryan Frontera, Jr., SS (.391, 7 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR)
Mike Weinbel, Sr., 3B (.291, 10 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR)
Colby McMahon, Jr., 2B (.333, 6 2B, 1 3B)
Zach Hampton, Fr., 1B (.439, 5 2B)
Andrew Lombardi, Sr., DH (.333, 1 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR)
Matt Adamson, Sr., CF (.329, 6 2B, 1 3B)
Dylan Briggs, So., RF (.244, 3 2B, 4 3B)
Jason Quardt, So., LF (.305, 1 2B)
Road to the Final
First Round: Seton-Hall-bound ace Colin Dowlen pitched a one-hitter to outduel sophomore Wake Forest commit Luke Billings and roped the double that started the winning rally in the top of the first, leading the Lions to a 3-2, first-round win at No. 7 Robbinsville. Freshman Zach Hampton came through with the game-winning RBI single and back in the second inning, Colby McMahon gave Middletown North a 2-0 lead with a two-run double.
Quarterfinal: Thanks to an upset by No. 15 JFK-Iselin over No. 2 Brick Memorial in the first round, Middletown North got an unexpected home game and put on a shot. Mike Weinbel pitched four scoreless innings and went 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI to lead the Lions to a 12-0 win over the Mustangs in five innings. Dowlen went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, Ryan Frontera was 2-for-4 with a double and three RBI, Zach Hampton went 2-for-3 with three RBI and Andre Lombardi blasted a two-run triple in the win.
Semifinal: Dowlen dominated again, pitching a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts as Middletown North nailed down another road win by beating No. 6 Somerville, 8-4. Dowlen allowed four unearned runs and went 1-for-4 with three RBI at the plate, including a two-run single that put Middletown North up, 8-3. Matt Adamson starred, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, three runs and three RBI, while Dylan Briggs was 2-for-3 with a double and Frontera added a triple and an RBI.
Sectional Final: Lombardi crushed a tiebreaking three-run home run in a seven-run second inning for Middletown North and the Lions outlasted No. 5 Colts Neck, 14-11, in a sectional final slugfest to win the program’s first sectional championship since 1989. Matt Adamson went 3-for-5 for the game and collected two doubles, a triple, two runs scored and an RBI in the first three innings alone. The senior left-hander then came in to pitch and earned the win by settling the game down (three earned runs in four innings). Frontera went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBI in the win.
Group Semifinal: Dowlen went the distance on 111 pitches and Middletown North’s defense backed him up with an error-free game in the field as the Lions beat South Jersey champion Delsea, 6-1, on the road – snapping a 15-game winning streak by the Crusaders while extending their own winning streak to 11. Dowlen scattered seven hits and struck out five, but he did not walk a batter and leaned on a locked-in defense. Dowlen also went 2-for-3 with three RBI, with Briggs and Hampton each adding RBI singles in the win.
Cranford at a Glance
Head Coach: Dennis McCaffery
Last Group Championship: 2013
Last Group Championship Appearance: 2017
Cranford at a Glance
Probable Starting Pitcher
Will Gallagher, Sr., RHP (9-1, 2.52 ERA, 61 IP, 47 H, 12 BB, 62 K)
Sean Woodruff, Jr., RHP
Dan Abrahamsen, Sr., RHP
Ryan Jaros, Jr., 3B (.494, 7 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 41 R, 31 RBI, 26 SB)
Shane Van Dam, Sr., LF (.420, 9 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 37 R, 32 RBI, 31 SB)
Lucca Limeira, Sr., C (.417, 5 2B, 3 HR, 25 R, 29 RBI, 11 SB)
Tony Silva, Sr., 1B (.395, 7 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 37 R, 32 RBI, 9 SB)
Jack Conley, Sr., DH (.410, 7 2B, 1 3B, 21 R, 25 RBI, 16 SB)
Jake Carter, Jr., CF (.368, 5 2B, 1 3B, 31 R, 16 RBI, 22 SB)
Will Gallagher, Sr., P (.324, 3 2B, 1 3B, 26 R, 22 RBI, 18 SB)
Shea Grady, Jr., 2B (.344, 5 2B, 24 R, 24 RBI, 11 SB)
Dennis McCaffery, So., RF (.300, 2 2B, 2 3B, 23 R, 22 RBI, 8 SB)
Road to the Final
First Round: Lucca Limeira went 2-for-2 with a homer and three RBI and starter Dan Abrahamsen combined with two other pitchers on a one-hit shutout as Cranford took care of No. 14 Rahway, 11-0, in five innings.
Quarterfinals: Shane Van Dam went 2-for-2 with three RBI, including an RBI double and a two-run home run, and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to close out a 5-1 Cranford win over No. 6 Mendham. Will Gallagher pitched the first 5 2/3 to earn the win, allowing just one earned run on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
Semifinals: Shea Grady was 2-for-2 with three RBI – one of four Cranford players with at least two RBI – and the Cougars clobbered No. 2 Ferris, 12-1, to avenge a regular-season loss to the Bulldogs. Jack Conley (two RBI) and Jake Carter each went 3-for-4, while Van Dam and Georgia Tech commit Ryan Jaros each doubled and drove in two. Sean Woodruff went the distance on the mound to earn the win with a five-hitter.
Sectional Final: Cranford scored eight runs in the final two innings to wipe out a 5-1 deficit and held on for a 10-8 win over No. 1 Millburn to capture the North Jersey 2 Group III sectional championship. Gallagher helped his cause on the mound with a game-tying, two-run single in Cranford’s four-run sixth inning and sophomore Dennis McCaffery delivered a two-run single to cap Cranford’s five-run seventh. Gallagher gave up three runs in the seventh, three home runs in the game, and could not complete the final inning, but Van Dam came on to shut the door on the victory.
Group Semifinal: Jaros and Tony Silva each went 2-for-3 with three RBI and blasted their first home runs of the season in a seven-run Cranford fourth inning and the Cougars rolled to a 12-1 win over North Jersey Section 1 champion Ramapo, 12-1, in five innings. Woodruff cruised through five innings, scattering six hits and striking out eight without issuing a walk.
A Closer Look
The Group III final pits two of the hottest lineups in the state against one another with the additional wrinkle that Middletown North will be starting one of the state’s most dominant pitchers over the last six weeks.
Since a loss to Howell in the Monmouth County Tournament on the final day of April, Middletown North has gone 15-2 over its last 17 games, including its current 11-game winning streak. The Lions scored at least 10 runs in six straight games heading into the NJSIAA Tournament and have scored 43 during their five-game run to the final – an average of 8.6 per game.
While Middletown North’s offense has come alive over the last month, Cranford’s has, for the most part, been dominant from start to finish. The Cougars hit a very brief rough patch, scoring a combined four runs in back-to-back losses to New Providence and Middletown South, but have since gone 20-2 while scoring 10.64 runs per game and posting at least 10 runs in 15 of their last 22. During the state tournament, Cranford has plated double-digit runs in four of their five wins and finished off three of its five opponents in fewer than seven innings.
Middletown North will send Colin Dowlen to the mound after the Seton Hall commit allowed an earned run at Delsea – the first earned run allowed by the Lions ace since April 26. Despite giving up seven hits and only striking out five, Dowlen showed his usual composure with runners on base, while his defense was right there with him in playing an error-free game.
Dowlen and the defense will need to remain not only composed, but alert as well facing a Cranford team that leads all teams in the state with 154 stolen bases in 29 games. Junior third baseman and Georgia Tech commit Ryan Jaros is one of the state’s top hitters, but also has made team pay for pitching around him by swiping 26 bases to lead the team. Every Cranford starter, meanwhile, has successfully stolen at least eight times and seven of the eight starters have at least 11 thefts.
Cranford will counter with top starter Will Gallagher, who is coming off his roughest outing of the season, albeit a winning one. Gallegher locates and changes speeds well with a sweeping breaking ball that could cause problems for a Middletown North lineup that has feasted on fastballs. With Dowlen on the mound, however, it may not take more than four or five runs to get the job done, and that’s accounting for Cranford’s ability to apply pressure and put runs on the board against quality pitching.
Dowlen will be pitching on four days of rest for the second time this season, but the last time he did it was a relief inning following a start, so his stamina and stuff will be something to watch throughout on Saturday. Gallagher, meanwhile, will be pitching with seven days of rest.
The two teams have one common opponent in 2022: Middletown South. The Eagles beat Cranford, 2-1, in early April with Ben Schild outdueling Gallagher, while Middletown South handled Middletown North twice during the regular season – including a 13-1 win in a game started by both Schild and Dowlen.
Prediction: Cranford, 6-3