TINTON FALLS -- The start to the season has featured some highs and lows for the Ranney baseball team, which one would probably expect of a team that returns two starters from a 27-win team and starts five freshmen.

The saving grace for the Panthers have been its three experienced hitters at the top of the order and in Tuesday's Monmouth County Tournament preliminary game against Holmdel, those three kept their team in the game until the rest of their teammates got going.

Curt Chropuvka drove in at least one run in each of his plate appearances during a 4-for-4 day with five RBI, including a game-tying RBI single in a seven-run sixth inning that propelled Ranney -- the No. 9 team in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16 rankings -- to an 11-7 win over Holmdel.

Through five innings, almost all of Ranney's production at the plate came from its top four spots in the order, which were the only spots not occupied by freshmen. Chropuvka was 3-for-3 with a two-run home run and four RBI at that point, while junior catcher and Rutgers Prep transfer Andrew Parisi was 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored. The only other Ranney hits through five innings came from senior designated hitter Grayson Testino, who also came up with a clutch hit in Ranney's sixth-inning outburst, and No. 9-hitting freshman Brody Mauro.

Trailing 7-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Ranney got a jolt from one of its freshmen. Nate Fuller jumped on the first pitch of the inning and sent it over the rightfield fence to pull the Panthers within 7-5. With one out, freshman shortstop John Luca Gallina and Mauro drew back-to-back walks and Parisi picked up his third hit of the game on a line drive to left.

That brought up senior and LSU commit Ryan Costello, who flew out to the left-centerfield fence in his previous at-bat and again hit the ball to the opposite-field warning track to plate Ranney's sixth run and shrink Holmdel's lead to one run.

That set the scene for Chropuvka and once again, he did not miss. The junior outfielder scalded a two-out single through the right side to score Mauro with the tying run.

Testino then stepped in an ripped a single through the right side to score Parisi from third with the go-ahead run. After freshman Justin Kauffman was hit by a pitch, Fuller drove in his second and third runs of the inning with a two-run single into rightfield and the final Ranney run scored on a double-steal.

In the top of the sixth inning, Ranney's experienced trio of Chropuvka, Costello and Parisi combined on a defensive play that kept the Panthers' deficit at three. Holmdel junior Nick Rakoski hit a fly ball to Chropuvka in rightfield and junior shortstop Cam Estok attempted to tag up and score from third. Chropuvka fired the ball into Costello -- playing first base after starting the game in centerfield -- who relayed it to Parisi for the tag and out at the plate.

Aggressive base-running was a key in Holmdel taking a 7-4 lead by the top of the sixth. The Hornets executed a double-steal in the four-run third inning and moved up on a wild pitch twice despite Ranney's short backstop. The most daring base-running play, however, came in the fifth inning, when Rakoski executed a straight steal of home with two out, the bases loaded and the count 0-2 on sophomore Raum Desai, giving Holmdel a 5-2 lead.

Holmdel's big swing in building its early lead was senior James Vallillo's three-run home run to right-centerfield to put his team ahead, 4-1, in the top of the third. Rakoski tied the game, 1-1, with a sacrifice fly two batters earlier. Junior catcher Matt Iulo worked a walk to put an additional runner on base -- one of three times the junior backstop reached base in a 2-for-3 game that included a double off the fence, two runs scored and two stolen bases.

Vallillo's homer was the first allowed by Ranney's pitching at home this season. On the other side, Ranney has now homered 10 times in three games at its home field.

Despite allowing seven runs, Ranney's young pitching showed its promise. Kauffman made his fourth appearance of the season and struck out four in four innings before turning it over to sophomore Noah Hynes, who struck out the first four batters he faced before running into trouble in the fifth.

Mauro took over on the mound and earned the win by pitching 1 2/3 scoreless frames, with the only batter to reach against the 6-foot-3 left-hander doing so on an error in the seventh inning.

With Tuesday's win, Ranney keeps its defense of its 2023 Monmouth County Tournament title alive with a much different roster. The Panthers are hoping to hold the fort until senior right-hander and Rutgers commit James Hare, who is recovering from a preseason injury, is ready to pitch at the top of the rotation. With a young pitching staff and five freshmen starters regularly in the lineup, Ranney has lost close games to Red Bank (10-7), Manasquan (10-8) and Ocean (4-3) and has also beaten Red Bank and Ocean.

(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
(Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Box Score

Ranney 11, Holmdel 7

Holmdel (3-2)0040210750
Ranney (3-3)101027X11115


Dylan Zammit56442492
Lincoln Maikos (L, 0-1)0.24772137
Jason Dubleski0.1100016
Justin Kauffman33431455
Noah Hynes22313563
Brody Mauro (W, 1-1)20000228

Top Hitters

HolmdelGame Stats
James Vallillo1-3, HR, R, 3 RBI
Matt Iulo2-3, 2B, 2 R, 2 SB
Nick Rakoski1-3, R, RBI
Cam Estok1-2, BB, R
RanneyGame Stats
Curt Chropuvka4-4, HR, 2 R, 5 RBI, 2 SB
Andrew Parisi3-4, 3 R
Nate Fuller2-3, HR, BB, R, 3 RBI, 2 SB
Grayson Testino2-4, R, RBI
Brody Mauro1-2, BB, 2 R




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