Baseball – All-Shore Showdown Between Marlboro and Middletown South Highlights Sectional Final Friday
Public Sectional Final Previews
Central Jersey Group IV
No. 9 Marlboro (15-8) at No. 3 Middletown South (19-8), 2 p.m.
Probable Pitching Match-Up
Mark Capell (4-2, 2.15 ERA) vs. Matt Pontari (2-2, 2.96 ERA)
Both Middletown South and Marlboro fell back in the race for the Shore Conference Class A North championship early on, so when the two teams met during the regular season, there wasn’t much on the line beyond the usual postseason positioning and whatever good feelings the teams derive from winning.
That certainly will not be the case on Friday.
The two division rivals have caught fire over the last month-plus and now will face each other with the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship on the line in Middletown. The two teams split a regular-season series back in early May, with Middletown South winning the first meeting, 11-1, and Marlboro salvaging the split with a 4-0 win at home.
The teams also met for a third time last week, when Middletown South beat Marlboro, 8-7, behind a three-run rally in the sixth inning to advance to the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals. Both teams dug into their pitching depth while preserving arms for their respective state tournament games.
The second game is the more significant one as it pertains to Friday because while it will be held in Middletown, it will be a rematch on the mound. Marlboro ace Mark Capell pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts, no walks and three hits allowed to outduel Eagles senior Matt Pontari in the 4-0 Marlboro win.
“I’m tying not to get too happy and too excited because then you get too much anxiety,” Capell said. “I’m going to stay level, stay calm and I just know I’m ready for it.”
Since then, Middletown South has made a run to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game and is one win away from its 20th of the season. In its 19th win of the year, sophomore ace Ben Schild pitched four scoreless innings before coming out after a lightning delay. Schild also hit a solo home run as part of the 12-7 Middletown South win over second-seeded Hunterdon Central and senior Patrick Eagone reached base five times, including a two-out RBI double in the fourth that made the score 4-0.
One round earlier, Pontari hit a tie-breaking solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning on the way to a 5-3 win over another Class A North rival in Freehold Township. In the opening round, it was Schild leading the way with a three-hit shutout against Montgomery.
“It’s incredible to think we’re going to be playing for a championship on our field (Friday),” Eagone said. “After missing out last year with all those seniors and coming in without a lot of experience, I think it just shows what kind of guys we have on this team. We just want to win and that’s why this is so exciting. I hope we get a lot of people there and make it a fun atmosphere. I can’t wait.”
Marlboro has also been a team on a tear, going 13-3 since opening the season 2-5, which coincided with Capell joining the starting rotation on May 4.
The Mustangs held off No. 12 Old Bridge on Tuesday to reach the championship round for the first time since 1972. Capell got things started with a solo home run and sophomore Alex D’Ambrosio came through late with a two-run single and 1 2/3 innings on the mound to close it out for winning pitcher Alex Jankowski.
Old Bridge knocked out Marlboro in the sectional semifinals in 2019, when Capell and fellow starters Nick Wright and Julian Buchmann were starters as underclassmen.
“Revenge feels sweet and this is a surreal feeling but we still have more work to do,” Capell said.
In the quarterfinals, Marlboro upended No. 1 Manalapan, 7-4, behind another strong outing by Capell, who, along with Frank Talarico, Antonio Vitale, Nick Wright and Joe Lomangino, provided the offense. Talarico also had a big tie-breaking RBI triple in a seven-run seventh inning that proved to be the difference in an 11-4 first-round win at Monroe.
While Marlboro has not won a sectional title since that 1972 squad did it, Middletown South has not been back to the sectional final round since winning Central Jersey Group III in 2011.
“It’s been a while for Marlboro, so we’re pumped to be the team with a chance to win the championship,” Capell said.
Central Jersey Group III
No. 7 Northern Burlington (20-5) at No. 1 Colts Neck (21-6)
Probable Pitching Match-Up
Richie Brown-Luden (7-2, 2.37 ERA) vs. Anthony Gubitosi (6-2, 2.88 ERA)
Colts Neck is likely to send sophomore left-hander Anthony Gubitosi to the mound win the intention of winning the program’s first ever NJSIAA sectional championship. The school played its first since in 2000 and has been to two Central Group III championships – one in 2006 and another in 2008. Those teams were led by current San Francisco Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani, who was a sophomore in 2006 and a senior in 2008.
Gubitosi threw 43 pitches on Tuesday, when the Cougars jumped out to a 3-1 lead before the game was suspended in the top of the third inning and completed to a 5-2 final on Thursday. Gubitosi will be eligible to throw up to 107 pitches, with hard-throwing junior Collin Kratzer and Wofford commit Christian Rice available in relief.
Northern Burlington enters Friday on a nine-game winning streak after handling both Burlington Township and Hamilton West in consecutive rounds. The Greyhounds squeaked past Neptune and ace Brian Young in the first round, 2-0, and will now turn to steady junior No. 2 starter Brown-Luden after ace Ryan Dromboski pitched Northern Burlington to the title game.
Colts Neck will have to beware the junior slugging tandem of Drew Wyers and C.J. Fredericks, who each hit nine doubles and combined with one another for 14 home runs and 67 RBI. Wyers is in the midst of a monster year, hitting .333 with eight homers and 40 RBI.
Central Jersey Group II
No. 11 Raritan (14-9) at No. 4 Voorhees (22-4), 3 p.m.
Probable Pitching Match-Up
Ben Hutchins (5-3, 2.76 ERA) vs. Truman Ritcher (7-1, 1.70 ERA)
As tough as Raritan is as a Central Jersey Group II opponent year-in and year-out, the Rockets have been a surprise in this year’s bracket – even if it should have been apparent they would be a threat come tournament time. Raritan has gotten outstanding pitching from both senior Chris Gonzalez and junior Ben Hutchins, the latter of whom will get the call on Friday with the hope of pitching Raritan to a second sectional championship in the last four years.
Gonzalez, Hutchins, Alex Dekis have been Raritan’s clutch hitters of late, with Rob Scarola, Bill Tigar and Justin Rivera all making an impact as well. Senior catcher Justin Kilyk, meanwhile, is the lineup’s most imposing hitter and has been a steady source of quality at-bats and work behind the plate all year.
Richter will be the man standing between Raritan and that sectional title, with the junior entering the game with 75 strikeouts in just 45 1/3 innings to go with a sub-2.00 ERA. Seniors Cole McGourty (.408, seven doubles, one home run 28 RBI) and Max Klump (.419, four doubles, 30 RBI), meanwhile, will be the Voorhees hitters to watch for Hutchins and company.
Central Jersey Group I
No. 6 Point Pleasant Beach (15-8) at No. 1 Middlesex (19-4), 1 p.m.
Probable Pitching Match-Up
Andrew Banick (3-1, 2.07 ERA) vs. Stephen Young (3-1, 2.47 ERA)
Despite losing an Ocean County Tournament quarterfinal game at Brick Memorial Thursday afternoon, Point Beach has all hands on deck to pitch in what will be a rematch of the 2019 Central Jersey Group I title game, won by Middlesex, 6-1.
The Garnet Gulls will look to capture an elusive sectional title by sending one of two of their co-aces to the mound. It is junior Andrew Banick’s turn in the rotation, but senior Matt Van Brunt (1.57 ERA, 31 strikeouts, seven walks in 22 1/3 innings) is eligible for 81 pitchers after throwing 69 in Tuesday’s 7-0 win over New Egypt and will almost certainly pitch at some point in the game, if not start it.
Middlesex’s pitching decision is not as obvious and if the Blue Jays stick with what worked in the quarterfinals, it will be Stephen Young opposing the Garnet Gulls on Friday. The Blue Jays have four pitchers with between 22 and 30 innings of work this year so while there is not an obvious ace, there are multiple good options.
The Middlesex arms will be dealing with a Point Beach lineup that has put up 45 runs in three NJSIAA Tournament games, with Banick, Dave Terra-Nova, Alec Glen and Phil Trebour the biggest producers of the first three games. With Banick, Van Brunt and Trebour all ready to go and a hot lineup behind them, this could be Point Beach’s chance to finish the job.
South Jersey Group II
No. 12 Manchester (12-10) at No. 2 Delran (18-5), 4 p.m.
Probable Pitching Match-Up
Joe Sclama (3-1, 3.20 ERA) vs. Kris Giangreco (3-3, 2.05 ERA)
The South Group II is not only a clash of favorite vs. underdog, but it is also a meeting of a team dominating on the mound facing one that is hot at the plate. Actually, it is a meeting of two teams hot at the plate, but Manchester has been putting up their big numbers against road opponents, including eight runs apiece against Barnegat ace Nick Danbrowney and eight more in the semifinal win over top-seeded West Deptford.
Logan Duffy and Mike Damato make the Hawks go out of the one and two spots in the order, with Damato homering in the win over Barnegat and Duffy going deep twice against West Deptford. Damato also picked up two of the three wins on the mound, but will not be available to pitch on Friday.
Delran, meanwhile, has not allowed a run during the tournament, pitching shutouts against Medford Tech, Haddonfield and Delsea. In the sectional semifinals, Delsea kept the Delran bats in check after they produced 21 runs in the first two runs, but the Bears still prevailed, 1-0, thanks to a first-inning RBI double by Chris Giangreco and outstanding work on the mound by Jacob Brogan (six shutout innings, two hits) and Jake Baumann.
Sophomore left-hander Joe Sclama takes the ball for Manchester after pitching a five-hitter in an 8-2 win at Barnegat in the sectional quarterfinals. Sclama will look to keep the Bears lineup in check, particularly seniors Tyler Leroy (.460, seven doubles, two triples three home runs, 27 runs, 28 RBI) and Sean Ahrens (.357, five doubles, two triples, three home runs, 25 runs, 18 RBI).