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LACEY TWP. - In his first start of the 2021 season, Lacey senior Jacob Bowles threw a six-inning no-hitter against a team (Point Pleasant Boro) that made it all the way to an NJSIAA Group II championship game in the last full season that was played.

One pitch into Tuesday's game against Barnegat, Bowles could stop thinking about another no-hitter, because that's how long it took for the visiting Bengals to get their first hit.

Barnegat was ready for Bowles, but Bowles was ready to adjust. The senior right-hander put his fastball on the backburner, sparked a three-run first inning for Lacey, dominating the first three innings and pitching out of trouble over the final four to lead the Lions to a 3-1 win over Barnegat.

Lacey senior Jacob Bowles. (Photo by Matt Manley)

After the two offenses traded punches in the first inning, Bowles and senior counterpart Nick Danbrowney settled in for a classic pitchers dual that included a wave of strikeouts from the two pitchers. Bowles struck out eight in the first three innings on the way to 12, while Danbrowney struck out 11 batters in a row from the last out of the first inning to the second batter of the top of the fifth - who happened to be No. 9 hitter Zach Mohr.

"As a coach and a fan of baseball, watching two of the best pitchers in the Shore go at it was pretty special," Lacey coach Adam Taha said. "When you're into the game so much, you don't realize what they are doing until you reflect at the end of the game and you see the numbers. It was unbelievable."

Danbrowney struggled for most of the first inning, with Bowles singling and scoring on a wild pitch and two more runs scoring on a throwing error on double-play pivot - one that could have ended the bottom of the first. Instead, junior Bryan Snowden's throw to first base got away and seniors Matt Kaliske and catcher Brandon DeAngelo both scored.

Danbrowney struck out the next batter to end the frame, then proceeded to strikeout the side in order in each of the next three innings, followed by a strikeout to open the top of the fifth. Danbrowney finished with just three hits allowed - two by Kaliske, who launched a double out to deep centerfielder in the sixth inning - walked three and struck out a career-best 14. The Barnegat right-hander was also coming off an opening-day gem, having pitched a six-inning three-hitter with 12 strikeouts, one walk and a home run at the plate for good measure.

Barnegat Senior Nick Danbrowney. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"It looked like he was hanging his offspeed a little bit in the first inning," Taha said of Danbrowney. "Once he settled in, he was lights-out. The boys said the spin-rate on his slider and his curveball was night-and-day compared to the first inning."

Offense was again a big part of Danbrowney's game Tuesday, as the senior went 4-for-4 with an RBI double at the plate. Snowden accounted for two of the other three hits with his 2-for-3 day and the two top-of-the-order hitters hit back-to-back one-out singles in the seventh and advanced on a wild pitch to put the tying runs in scoring position.

After three dominant innings to open the game, Bowles faced a runner in scoring position in each of his final four. In the last inning, he started the frame by pouncing on a failed bunt-for-hit attempt, then struck out his 12th batter for the second out. With 108 pitches to his credit at that point, he had only two pitches left until the NJSIAA single-game threshold of 110. Pitchers are allowed to complete the batter if they reach the limit in the middle of an at-bat, which Bowles did by inducing a game-ending flyout on his 112th pitch.

Snowden and Danbrowney jumped on Bowles's fastball to open the game, with Snowden lining a single to right-center and Danbrowney cracking a double to the right-field corner to chase the junior shortstop home.

Bowles immediately bagged the fastball, making it his third pitch while maneuvering between the curveball and the slider to get the majority of the next nine outs - eight of which came via the strikeout. Bowles eventually worked back to the fastball, but only after he has established the breaking-ball combination.

"He switched up the gameplan right away," Taha said. "He saw they were swinging at first-pitch fastballs and making good contact, so we went with a different approach. He went with his secondary pitches to set up his primary pitches and mixed it up the whole game. That's what you want to see out of a senior."

With Tuesday's win, Lacey remains perfect on the year thanks to standout pitching from Bowles (2-0, 13 innings, seven hits, five walks and 18 strikeouts) and classmate Nick Zarycki (five-inning one-hitter with six strikeouts). The Lions have a senior-dominated lineup that includes the two senior starting pitchers and four other returning starters from 2019: DeAngelo at catcher, Kaliske at first base, Josh Fracasso at third base and Donnie Kirk in centerfield.

"A lot of the plays that didn't always get made when they were sophomores are starting to become more routine now that these guys are seniors," Taha said. "It comes down to having experience as sophomores and the preparation they have put in.

"The hardest thing for us as a coaching staff was figuring out where they were at. I didn't totally know what to expect come day one of practice, but the core of seniors really help set the tone and their experience showed from day one."

 

Box Score

Lacey 3, Barnegat 1

1234567RHE
Barnegat (2-3, 1-2)1000000171
Lacey (4-0, 3-0)300000X330

Pitching

BarnegatIPHRERBBSOPC
Nick Danbrowney (L, 1-1)633231498
LaceyIPHRERBBSOPC
Jacob Bowles (W, 2-0)7711412112

Top Hitters

BarnegatGame Stats
Nick Danbrowney4-4, 2B, RBI
Bryan Snowden2-3, R
Rafael Dominguez1-3
Kyle Moore0-1, 2 BB
LaceyGame Stats
Matt Kaliske2-3, 2B, R
Jacob Bowles1-2, R