MIDDLETOWN  - There are plenty of ways for a player to help his team win a baseball game and Monmouth Regional junior Alex Alonso found a number of them in the Falcons' Monmouth County Tournament round-of-16 game at Middletown South on Saturday.

His senior teammate, Dante Ciaramella, was more one-dimensional but no less effective.

Alonso showed up with his bat, glove and right arm in support of Ciaramella, who dominated one of the Shore Conference's most potent lineups for six innings as part of an impressive, 8-1 Monmouth win.

"We're a pretty confident bunch but my last couple of starts, it seems like we're even more confident when I'm on the mound," Ciaramella said. "I love it, obviously. I love pitching with these guys behind me."

Monmouth Regional senior Dante Ciaramella. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Monmouth Regional senior Dante Ciaramella. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

With a pitch limit of 97 heading into the start, Ciaramella shut down a Middletown South team averaging 7.7 runs per game. He held the No. 3 seed in the tournament to 2 hits, two walks and a hit batter while striking out nine.

"Facing a lineup like that, you've got to get outs," Ciaramella said. "I knew my situation with the pitch count but my main priority was to keep us in the game and sometimes that meant I had to go deeper into some counts against some guys and not give in. I just wanted to trust the gameplan, trust the guys behind me and just compete and battle against a really tough lineup. If I did that, the pitch count will take care of itself and it ended up working out."

Alonso, meanwhile, went 1-for-3 with a solo home run that opened the scoring, made a sparkling defensive play in the fifth inning and closed out the win on the mound by pitching the seventh inning and striking out two while allowing one unearned run.

"I don't think you ever forget games like this," Alonso said. "Helping my team in every way possible, it's a great feeling when you are able to do that. Coming in, we didn't know if we were going to go far or not (in the MCT) but we have been playing better and when we have Dante on the mound, we feel like we can compete with anybody."

Ciaramella needed 57 pitches to get through the first three innings and gave up a leadoff double to junior Chris O'Connor to start the bottom of the fourth inning. The Monmouth University commit then locked in a struck out the next three men to come to the plate to preserve the commanding 8-0 lead.

Monmouth gave Ciaramella that lead with two runs in the the top of the third inning and Alonso began the rally with a bang. With one out in the inning, Alonso launched a deep fly ball into the air and with the help of a stiff wind that persisted through most of the game, the ball sailed over the left-field fence to stake Monmouth to a 1-0 lead and give the junior shortstop his first career varsity home run.

"My mom told me before I left that it was supposed to be really windy today and the first thing I thought was, 'Maybe it will be blowing out to left field,'" Alonso said. "I was just just trying to hit something hard and if it got in the air, I knew it would have a good shot to get out."

Monmouth junior Alex Alonso trots home after his third-inning home run. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Monmouth junior Alex Alonso trots home after his third-inning home run. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"He showed a lot of ability in the preseason driving the ball but he got off to a really slow start - striking out, popping up - which is why he has been hitting eighth," Monmouth coach Paul Crivello said. "We have been working with him to get into a lower set-up in the box - more of a crouch. He has that natural upper-cut and we thought if he started lower, he would still have that upper-cut, but it's a shorter, quicker path to the ball."

Senior center fielder Chris Anfuso followed with a two-out double two batters later and scored on a bloop single to shallow center by senior left fielder Eli Rife to make it 2-0.

While the two runs turned out to be all Ciaramella needed to earn his fourth win of the season, the Falcons erupted in the third inning to help their ace and coach breath a little easier as the pitch limit approached.

The rally began with back-to-back singles by senior catcher Andrew Faccone and sophomore Brian Yadlon, followed by some cat-and-mouse games between the benches. Senior Jake Kushing showed bunt on the first pitch of his at-bat and after taking a look at the defense, Crivello put the slash play. Cushing showed bunt, pulled it back, and smacked a singled through the vacated second base position with Middletown South second-sacker Robby Zega rotating to first base. Faccone scored from second for the third Monmouth run and runners remained on first and second.

Senior Kevin Lynch then came up and dropped a bunt to the left side of the infield and this time, first base was uncovered, loading the bases for Alonso.

"We're always looking for opportunities like that," Crivello said. "That's Monmouth baseball and that's the way we have to play to compete in tournaments like this one."

Middletown South sophomore Mike Keenan induced a pop out by Alonso for the first out but his defense gave away the fourth run when O'Connor could not handle a throw down to third from catcher Trevor Brey, allowing Tadlon to score.

Right fielder Mike Bateman worked a walk and Anfuso followed with another double to left-center field, this one driving in two runs and chasing Keenan from the game. Once junior Chris Lotito took the mound in relief, Rife dropped a squeeze bunt that he beat out for an RBI single and Ciaramella checked in with a sacrifice fly to cap the Falcons scoring.

"I was the biggest cheerleader in the dugout throughout that whole inning," Ciaramella said. "Guys were into the game, cheering, getting pumped up. We did a lot of different things to score runs and as a pitcher, it's fun to watch guys making things happen at the plate and on the bases."

With an eight-run lead, Ciaramella coasted through three more innings. After striking out the side in the fourth, the right-hander got through the fifth in order on nine pitches - his only one-two-three inning of the outing. After starting the inning with his fourth straight strikeout, Ciaramella gave up a firm ground ball by senior Jack Kinsella.

Alonso ranged to his left, slid feet first, gloved a wicked hop, popped back up to his feet and fired a strike to first base to record the second out of the inning.

Ciaramella got a fly out to end the fifth and after giving up a two-out single to O'Connor in the sixth, he struck out Lotito on his 96th pitch of the game.

Junior Anthony Esposito doubled off Alonso to start the eighth and scored on a two-out RBI single by senior catcher Trevor Brey after an error extended the inning.

With another win on the mound, Ciaramella continued his dominant season as Monmouth's ace. He is now 4-1 with a 0.41 ERA in 34 innings for the season and has struck out 54 while allowing just 18 hits and seven walks.

"He is by far the best pitcher I have had as the head coach," said Crivello, who took over the program in 2014 after the retirement of longtime coach Ted Jarmusz. "I didn't think he had his best breaking ball today and he still went out and threw six shutout innings against one of the best lineups in the Shore."

Monmouth lost a significant chunk of its offensive production from last season but with their ace on the mound, the Falcons have played like contenders. On Sunday, the Falcons will try to get by No. 6 Ocean in the quarterfinals and give Ciaramella a chance to pitch next Saturday in the semifinal round.

"We're obviously a different team with (Ciaramella) on the mound because of the kind of pitcher he is," Crivello said. "We have had some good practices since losing to Raritan last week and I think maybe some of the younger guys and the newer starters are starting to understand what it takes to win. They are gaining confidence and hopefully we'll carry that into (Sunday) and the rest of the week."


Box Score

Monmouth 8, Middletown South 1

Monmouth (9-5)00260008121
Midd South (7-4)0000001142


Dante Ciaramella (W, 4-1)62002996
Alex Alonso12100218
Middletown SouthIPHRERBBSOPC
Mike Keenan (L, 2-1)3.18881245
Chris Lotito3.24000356

Top Hitters

Chris Anfuso2-4, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI
Alex Alonso1-3, HR, R, RBI
Eli Rife2-4, 2 RBI
Drew Faccone2-4, R
Brian Yadlon2-4, R
Jake Cushing1-4, RBI
Middletown SouthStats
Chris O’Connor2-3, 2B
Trevor Brey1-3, RBI
Anthony Esposito1-2, 2B, R



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