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MIDDLETOWN  - Christian Brothers Academy senior Michael Natali said he came to CBA to play in baseball games like the one his team played Thursday against Freehold Township - the last undefeated team remaining in the Shore Conference.

In order to get a chance at playing more of those high-intensity games, however, Natali and CBA had to find a way to win Thursday's game. With Wednesday's Shore Conference Tournament cutoff approaching and the Colts entering play Thursday 2-4 overall, every game between now and the cutoff is essentially a "must-win" for CBA.

It took more than 13 hours and two games-worth of innings to settle, but Natali and CBA lived to play another day in their quest for postseason play.

Natali punched a slicing line drive that dropped just inside the rightfield line and just out of the reach of Freehold Township junior rightfielder Jon Olik, scoring senior Jack Greenspan all the way from first with the winning run with two out in the bottom of the 14th inning to give the Colts a 3-2 win over the Patriots in Class A North division marathon.

"That's why you come to CBA," Natali said. "I have waited four years to get an opportunity like this. We've got a great program, great guys and we're going to keep winning this year."

PHOTO GALLERY: Freehold Township at CBA by Paula Lopez

CBA celebrates a home run by Joe Marini (15). (Photo by Paula Lopez)

CBA's 2-4 start to the season can be attributed to a lack of varsity playing experience prior to this season on its roster, but the seniors like Natali have been around long enough to remember a game similar to Thursday's classic against No. 4 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

In 2019, CBA came up short in a 15-inning classic against Manalapan that began at Manalapan on April 30 and concluded at CBA two days later because it got too dark to continue on the date of the original game.

This time, CBA's pitching and defense did not break during extra innings, although the Colts did squander an opportunity to end the game in the seventh inning. A potential double-play groundball to second base with one out could have ended the game, but a high throw to first not only eliminated the double play but also allowed Olik to advance to second on the throwing error with two out.

Still, CBA senior reliever Joe Marini had a chance to end the game by retiring Patriots junior shortstop and No. 9 hitter Ryan Keegan and he induced a ground ball to the right side on a 0-2 pitch.

First baseman Hunter Del Guercio, however, went for the ball that was out of his range and left first base uncovered once the second baseman Natali fielded the ball. Keegan raced to the bag to extend the game while Olik chugged around third base with the intention of scoring the winning run. Natali hesitated to throw home because Marini stepped into his line of vision to the plate and by the time his throw made it to catcher Joe Figliolino, Olik had dove in safely with the tying run.

That mad dash by Olik ensured nearly another seven innings of baseball at CBA, which the teams were able to get in before sunset because of the stellar pitching on both sides that kept either offense quiet.

For CBA, junior Mike Kelly allowed just one earned run on two hits over the first five innings with three strikeouts and two walks before turning the ball over to Marini. The senior left-hander gave CBA five more innings, giving up just the one unearned run the seventh while also allowing just two hits with four strikeouts and four walks.

Junior Jack Frankovic was the most dominant of the three CBA pitchers on Thursday, striking out seven and walking two while allowing just one hit over four scoreless innings to pick up the win.

PHOTO GALLERY: Freehold Township at CBA by Paula Lopez

CBA junior Mike Kelly. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"That's what it was all about today," Natali said of CBA's pitching. "Jack Frankovic does it all for us. Mike Kelly really pitched great and Joe Marini, he really did good. They won the game for us, not me. Excellent pitching."

Freehold Township, meanwhile, leaned on just two pitchers on Thursday - both of whom essentially pitched a full game. Senior starter Zach Gorman pitched the first seven innings on only 90 pitches, giving up two earned runs on three hits and three walks while striking out eight.

Senior Patrick Burns followed Gorman with 6 2/3 innings on 89 pitches, allowing CBA one earned run on six hits and a pair of walks while striking out three.

With both offenses silenced in innings eight through 13, the possibility of a tie grew greater as the sun set. This season, games called due to weather or darkness are not suspended and continued at a later date, as they were in 2019. Instead, the game is called as it was at the completion of the last full inning, meaning Thursday's game would have ended in a tie if neither team scored before it got too dark to play.

The bottom of CBA's batting order, however, had other ideas. Greenspan lined a one-out single to centerfield to set up the 14th-inning rally, but Burns responded by coaxing a popup to Keegan at shortstop for the second out.

Natali then stepped in, fell behind in the count and battled back to 2-2 against Burns. He then punched a slicing line drive down the line and Olik went all-out to try to catch it and just nicked the ball with his glove before it dropped inside the line. With two out on the swing, Greenspan was already moving and once Olik left his feet only to come up empty, there was no stopping Greenspan from completing the trip around the bases with the winning run.

"I was seeing the ball well all day," Natali said. "I was thinking about the opposite side of the field, just passing the baton, as we say. I didn't think I was going to get the game-winning hit right there - I thought someone else was - but that's how the chips fall sometimes and I'm happy it went that way."

PHOTO GALLERY: Freehold Township at CBA by Paula Lopez

CBA senior Michael Natali. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Before laboring for the winning run over the final 10 innings, CBA kicked its offense into gear with two big swings against one of the Shore's top pitchers in Gorman - who had yet to allow a run heading into Thursday. CBA snapped that scoreless run in the bottom of the third, when sophomore Harrison Campi singled to center with two out and Frankovic followed with a booming opposite-field double over the head of Olik in right to chase home Campi with the game's first run.

It only took one swing for CBA to add to the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Before he came on to pitch 5 strong innings, Marini came through at the plate in the form of a solo home run over the fence in right to stake CBA to a 2-0 lead.

Freehold Township needed some help from CBA to score both of its runs - the first of which came in the top of the fifth. Senior catcher Griffin Murphy smacked a one-out double and pinch-hitter Matt Villapiano then reached on an error. With courtesy-runner Andrew Ackerman running for Murphy and starting leftfielder John Abrahamsen re-entering to run for Villapiano, Kelly uncorked a wild pitch that moved both runners into scoring position with one out.

That error and wild pitch combination paid off for the Patriots when Olik grounded to shortstop to score Ackerman from third. Olik was later involved in the two plays that tied the game for Freehold Township and won it for CBA.

Even with Thursday's dramatic win, CBA still has work to do to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament and a challenging schedule to navigate. The Colts take on Pope John on the road on Friday, travel to Jersey City to  play Ferris on Saturday, then have division showdowns with Freehold Township and No. 6 Middletown South next week.

"This definitely was a must-win for us and we talked about it before the game," Natali said. "I never want to say must-win, but we really want to get (to the Shore Conference Tournament) and we fought for it."

It will take three wins in those four games for CBA to qualify and while the outcome is still up in the air, it's a safe bet the games will be competitive. Five of CBA's seven games so far have been decided by one run and one of the others was a 6-1 loss to Manalapan in extra innings.

"It feels like all of our games have been one run, so this was nothing new," Natali said. "That's how we do it here."

PHOTO GALLERY: Freehold Township at CBA by Paula Lopez

Freehold Township senior Zach Gorman. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Freehold Township senior Patrick Burns. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Freehold Township shortstop Ryan Keegan tags CBA's Liam Sweeney. (Photo by Paula Lopez)