Baseball: Ahn, Poccia, Facendo Help RBC End St. Rose’s 13-Game Winning Streak, Advance to MCT Quarterfinals
RED BANK - While a young Red Bank Catholic team has already proven to be a regular-season force, the Caseys were getting their first taste of do-or-die baseball on Saturday against a team that entered with a 13-game winning streak.
A squad that only had three seniors in the lineup looked right at home in the postseason, as the third-seeded Caseys brought the winning streak by 19th-seeded St. Rose to a screeching halt with an 11-1 win in five innings at Count Basie Park to advance to the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals. The Caseys (14-2), ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, will host 11th-seeded Manalapan in the next round, tentatively on May 9.
Sophomore third baseman Aaron Ahn went 2-for-3 with a grand slam and five RBI and junior catcher Doug Facendo went 2-for-2 with a double and five RBI of his own to back up junior right-hander John Poccia (2-0), who allowed one run on six hits, struck out two and walked none on 63 pitches. The Caseys pounded out 14 hits, three by junior shortstop Evan Madigan and two apiece by Ahn, Facendo, and sophomore first baseman Anthony DeRosa.
"What I was selling to them is that this is our first win-or-go-home game of the season,'' RBC coach Buddy Hausmann said. "A lot of these guys, this is their first experience in games like this. This is why I like this (county) tournament because in the Shore Conference Tournament and the states, you make a few mistakes and your season is over, so this helps get you ready for that pressure. I said, 'Listen, you have to be as clean as possible, limit your mistakes and capitalize on your opportunities because it is win or go home.'''
RBC was aggressive from the outset against St. Rose righty Jason Criscuolo (3-3), often attacking the first or second pitch.
"Lately we've been swinging the bats well, so we like to jump on the first couple pitches,'' Ahn said. "We actually didn't even know (St. Rose had a 13-game winning streak). We just wanted to keep doing our thing, keep hitting the ball, pitching well and playing defense. It was a good team win."
After Madigan drew a leadoff walk in the first inning and was thrown out trying to steal second, the Caseys shook it off and pushed across two runs. Senior leftfielder Chris Bender, who was 1-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored, ripped a one-out double to left field, then moved to third on a single by senior rightfielder Tom Merlo. Facendo then made it 1-0 with an RBI sacrifice fly to deep center field, followed by a single by senior designated hitter Mike Ianelli and then an RBI single by Ahn.
After Poccia breezed through a 1-2-3 second inning on eight pitches, the Caseys pushed the lead to 5-0 with three more runs in the bottom of the inning. Junior second baseman Mike Spinelli hit a leadoff single to centerfield, followed by a bunt single down the third base line by sophomore centerfielder Dom Carabollo to put a pair of runners on. Madigan reached on an infield hit to load the bases, and Merlo brought home a run with a sacrifice fly to left field for a 3-0 lead.
Facendo then hit a rocket on the first pitch he saw into left field for a two-run double and took third on the throw to the plate as the lead swelled to five runs.
St. Rose (13-4) got on the board in the fourth inning when senior first baseman Kyle Missry smacked a leadoff double to left centerfield and then sophomore third baseman Joey Volpe followed with an RBI single to right field to trim the lead to 5-1.
However, the Caseys put the game away with a six-run bottom of the fourth, highlighted by Ahn's pyrotechnics. Madigan hit a leadoff single, followed by a walk by Bender and a hit-by-pitch by Merlo to load the bases with no outs. Facendo ripped a two-run single to center field to make it 7-1, and then Ianelli followed with a walk to once again load the bases.
Ahn followed by crushing a 1-0 curveball over the fence in left field for his first career grand slam, his third home run of the season, and his second in two days, as he also homered in a win over Monmouth Regional on Friday night. The sophomore slugger, who is already committed to Navy, made it 11-1 with his grand slam.
"I was waiting on (the curveball) because in my previous at-bat, he got me out on that,'' Ahn said.
"Physically, he doesn't look like a sophomore,'' Hausmann said about Ahn. "He showed what he is capable of."
Poccia then ended the game early via the mercy rule with a scoreless top of the fifth, polishing off a strong effort in his second start of the season after primarily working out of the bullpen most of the year. He kept the Purple Roses off balance by pounding the strike zone with his two-seam fastball and slider.
"I'm more used to being a starter, but it doesn't matter to me,'' Poccia said. "I come with the same mindset every game that I have to execute. We kept it a lot outside today, a lot of breaking balls on the outside corner. They rolled over on a couple of them, and only a couple of them got solid contact, so the gameplan worked."
An RBC team that was thought to be a year away with so many sophomores and juniors in the lineup is right in the hunt for the Class B North title, with a huge game looming on Friday against first-place Colts Neck, which handed them one of their only two losses. Last season marked the first time since 2008 that the Caseys didn't win a championship of any kind, whether in the division or in a tournament, so this group has taken that to heart regardless of their youth.
"It's been a motivation,'' Poccia said. "Our team chemistry has been great this year. We really didn't listen to what people were saying, and we were just going to prove people wrong."
"I said it back in February to them before tryouts that you're not going to read about yourselves this year, and you're not going to be predicted where we're always predicted,'' Hausmann said. "Last year was the first time we haven't put a ball on the fence (for a championship) in six years, and that doesn't sit too well with us."
Red Bank Catholic 11, St. Rose 1 (5 innings)
St. Rose (13-4) 0 0 0 1 0 - 1 6 1
RB Catholic (14-2) 2 3 0 6 x - 11 14 0
Doubles: (S) Missry; (R) Bender, Facendo. Home runs: (R) Ahn.
WP: Poccia (2-0)
LP: Criscuolo (3-3)