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POINT PLEASANT BEACH -- One year after winning the program's first NJSIAA sectional title in program history, the Garnet Gulls had different expectations. They knew they could compete for the crown again and entered this season's playoffs as the No. 1 seed. They secured a second straight Central Jersey Group 1 title with a win over Middlesex and earned a Group 1 semifinal game at home.

The team's approach entering Monday afternoon's game vs. South Jersey Group 1 champion Buena was going to be different. This wasn't a team in happy-to-be-here mode. They had an overall state championship in mind. But sometimes, expectations and reality don't align.

Buena jumped on Point Beach early with two-run home runs in each of the first two innings and added three more runs in the third. The Gulls were down by nine runs after 3 1/2 innings and that deficit was too much to overcome against Buena starter Austin Wocock, who tossed a complete game to give the Chiefs a 9-3 victory in the NJSIAA Group 1 semifinal round at G. Harold Antrim Elementary School.

Ryley Betts smacked a two-run homer in the first inning and Brandon Strouse lofted a two-run shot to left field in the second inning. Buena was off and running from there, tacking on more runs in the next two innings to put the game away. Point Beach didn't help its cause with two errors and some mental mistakes on the basepaths, and for head coach Angelo Fiore that was the most disappointing part. A loss at this stage of the season is going to sting no matter what, but Point Beach did not have its 'A' game on Monday.

"I can take a loss when you play a great game and it's just that the better team won," Fiore said. "I'm not going to take anything away from (Buena's) win, they came in and swung the bats pretty darn well today. But at the end of the day, we could have had a better effort. Our pitching, which has been rock solid all year, really, didn't show up today. It was not our best performance all the way around. I think when Brian (Matuschat) came in to pitch for the last three innings you could see we elevated a little bit but it was way too late."

Robert Badders
Point Beach's Brian Matuschat pitched three shutout innings of relief in a 9-3 loss to Buena in the NJSIAA Group 1 semifinal round. (Robert Badders).

It was one of those games that most teams have once or twice a season, but unfortunately for Point Beach, it came in the state semifinals. The Gulls' best inning at the plate was in the bottom of the first when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Wocock got Kyle Kolans to line out hard to shortstop to end the threat. The right-hander settled in after that en route to a complete game allowing three runs (one earned) on six hits while striking out five and walking two on 99 pitches. Betts was 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBI, Brandon Strouse knocked in two runs, Tre Carano went 2-for-4 with an RBI, Joey Kurtz doubled, knocked in a run, and scored twice, and Cole Shover went 1-for-3 with a run and two stolen bases to lead Buena.

Noah Banick went 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored, and an RBI for Point Beach. The Garnet Gulls were down 9-1 entering the bottom of the seventh and plated two runs when Banick scored on an error and Matuschat brought home pinch runner Quinn Cali with a sacrifice fly.

The loss and the way it manifested were disappointing for a team that has come a long way since having 17 kids in the entire program back in 2014. The expectations are different, but Fiore and assistant coach Joe Mazza wouldn't have it any other way.

"Matt Manley said something that resonated and it was that if we walk away with nothing to show for it, it's just another good season," Fiore said. "Historically, we have had nothing but good seasons. We'd win a few big games here and there but we'd lose in the (sectional) final to Middlesex and it would be just another good season at Point Beach. But now we've started pushing the ball across the finish line. The bar is raised and we are expecting every single year to get back here and compete."

"It's a next-man-up mentality and we've had that for the last three years here," Mazza said. "We put the nine guys out there and the next man has to be ready to go. Same thing next year. We are an experienced team who expects to be back here next year and the year after that and the year after that. We don't come out here with the expectation of just having a good season. The culture has changed."

The Gulls conclude the 2023 season with another sectional title in hand, the tangible result they were locked in on from the first practice. They finished 23-6 for the program's most wins in more than a decade and return most of their starters with Kolans, James Larsen, and Colin Reinhard the only seniors in the regular starting lineup. Point Beach is on an upward trajectory having overcome the hurdle of winning a sectional title and defending it the following season. Taking the next step remains their focus.

"You look at this team today and we have a freshman, a sophomore, another freshman, and another sophomore, so this team is extremely young," Fiore said. "In years past we were always top heavy but right now it's a great time to be playing baseball at Point Pleasant Beach."

"We used to have a lot of March 1st-ers in the past, kids who just came out at the start of the season," Mazza said. "We now have kids to play and prepare year-round, they're baseball players. We did it before with just a bunch of athletes and a lot of guts. It's a different program now."


Box Score

Buena (27-3)23310009102
Pt Beach (23-6)0001002362


Austin Wocock (W, 7-0)76312599
James Larsen (L, 2-3)1.25552145
Liam Dolan1.12300029
Ryan Doyle12111227
Bryan Matuschat31000632

Top Hitters

BuenaGame Stats
Ryley Betts2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI
Tre Carano2-4, R, RBI
Brandon Strouse1-2, HR, R, 2 RBI
Joey Kurtz1-3, 2B, BB, 2 R, RBI
Charlie Sagimbeni1-4, R, RBI
Allen Adkins1-4, 2B, R
Cole Shover1-3, R, 2 SB
Point BeachGame Stats
Noah Banick2-3, 2B, R, RBI
Kyle Kolans1-3, 2B, R
Tommy Conroy2-4
Colin Reinhard1-4





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