OAKHURST – In consecutive at-bats Saturday against Freehold Boro, Ocean senior Anthony Bartolomei did two things he rarely, if ever, does. First, he hit his first career varsity home run in the fourth inning and then, for the first time this season according to Ocean coach Cip Apicelli, Bartolomei struck out.

In his final at-bat, with the game tied in the bottom of the eighth inning, Bartolomei would repeat one of those rarities. Fortunately for the Spartans, it was not the strikeout.

Bartolomei blasted a game-winning solo home run off the scoreboard in right field in the bottom of the eighth inning – his second solo shot of the game – to deliver the No. 7 ranked Spartans a 3-2, extra-inning win over the Colonials Saturday in the second game of a Strike Out Autism Challenge double-header at Ocean Township High School.

Ocean players mob Anthony Bartolomei after the senior hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday to beat Freehold. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“I felt good today,” Bartolomei said. “I was taking good hacks when I got pitches to hit, and I really got a hold of that last one.”

“We’ve been talking to (Bartolomei) about picking out a pitch in advantageous counts like 2-0, 1-0, and trying to take a shot at really driving the ball,” Apicelli said. “He’s usually not that kind of hitter. He’s got a great approach at the plate and normally he’s gap-to-gap with the ability to take balls the other way, especially in RBI situations. We tell all of our guys to model their approach after his. If there is one thing he could do more of, it’s take his shots in hitter’s counts, and today, he got two pitches and he crushed them.”

The first of Bartolomei’s home runs cut a 2-0 Ocean deficit in half in the fourth inning, but Freehold starter Dante Cuzzolino would get the better of Bartolomei in a sixth-inning encounter that ended with Bartolomei flailing at strike three on an offspeed pitch on the outside corner.

“That’s the first time I can remember him striking out this year,” Apicelli said. “If his plan was to set (Cuzzolino) up for the next at-bat, then good for him, because he looked bad (on the strikeout). He has a great plan at the plate and even after a bad at-bat, he gives himself a chance to do damage the next time he’s up.”

After looking bad in his previous at-bat, Bartolomei zoned in on a pitch, and when Cuzzolino gave him a chance to hit it on a 1-0 count, he did not miss.

“After striking out, I just got it in my head that I was going to look for a fastball in and that was the only pitch I was going to swing at early in the count,” Bartolomei said. “On 1-0, the only thing on my mind was a fastball in and he (Cuzzolino) put it on a tee for me.”

Bartolomei also threw seven innings on the mound, allowing two runs on two hits while walking three and striking out seven. The senior-right-hander – who swings from the left side – struck out the side in the seventh after walking the leadoff batter in the inning to finish his day.

“I went out to the mound (after the first out of the seventh) and told him, ‘This is it, so empty the tank here,’” Apicelli said.

Blake DeMeter pitched around a leadoff single by Marco Meleo in the eighth to throw a scoreless inning of relief and earn the win.

Ocean tied the game with a two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth. Brian Olesen ripped a two-out double to the gap in left-center field and gave way to pinch-runner Bo Britton. Marc Chernin then delivered a ground-ball single through the right side to score Britton from second.

“We knew coming into the year we were going to rely a lot on our top three in the batting order, which is our three guys back from last year – (Sam) Maxwell, (Brian) Kochenash and Bartolomei,” Apicelli said. “Olesen has been a big run producer for us this year, and he got a pitch to drive and he hit it hard. Chernin had been scuffling but he gets a ground ball through the right side there. We need that wave of guys behind the top three to give us quality at-bats, and that was a big part of why we won today.”

In addition to hitting two homers, Anthony Bartolomei also gave up two runs on two hits over seven innings while striking out seven. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Freehold jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth on a wild pitch with the bases loaded that allowed courtesy runner Steve Rullo to score from third on an RBI single by Frank Granato. Nick Belka tried to score from second on the Granato single, but Ocean center fielder Sam Maxwell threw him out at the plate to end the inning. Cuzzolino began the inning with a double off the very top of the left-field fence.

Cuzzolino went the distance in taking the loss, allowing three runs on eight hits while walking none and striking out four.

Bartolomei earned Player of the Game honors at the event, which was one of nine sites throughout the Shore Conference that hosted the benefit to raise money and awareness for autism.

“It feels good to win like this, not just to hit the walk-off, but to do it on a day where we’re playing for a good cause,” Bartolomei said. “This was about more than baseball today, and I’m glad we were able to help spread some awareness and hopefully raise some money for the kids.”