Manalapan senior Lou Marzo did exactly what his head coach, Brian Boyce, and every other baseball coach at any level would ask of a player called upon to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt.

The way Boyce sees it, the home plate umpire did exactly what all coaches ask and official not do late in a game that matches the magnitude of Manalapan's NJSIAA Group IV semifinal against Eastern Regional on Monday night at Monmouth University.

He made a rare call - and, as video shows, an incorrect one - that ultimately altered the outcome of a game.

Marzo was called for being out of the batter's box on what initially appeared to be a successful, game-tying suicide squeeze bunt in the top of the seventh inning, giving Eastern the second out of the inning, sending the tying run back to third and ultimately denying Manalapan extra innings and a possible trip to the Group IV final in a 1-0 loss to the Vikings.

Video by Jersey Sports Zone shows that Marzo was clearly established in the batter's box and his right foot came off the ground just before making contact. Rule 6.03(a)(1) of the Major League Baseball Rulebook states that "if a batter hits a ball (fair, foul or foul tip) with one or both feet on the ground entirely outside the batter's box, the batter shall be declared out."

"With a call like that, I thought he took the game and made it more about him," Boyce said of the plate umpire. "It's the wrong call at the wrong time."

Manalapan coach Brian Boyce protests the call in the seventh inning that wiped the tying run off the board Monday vs. Eastern. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Manalapan coach Brian Boyce protests the call in the seventh inning that wiped the tying run off the board Monday vs. Eastern. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The written rule goes on to state that a batter "cannot jump or step out of the batter's box and hit the ball," however it is unclear by the language if that means a hitter cannot jump at all or a hitter cannot jump beyond the boundary of the designated batter's box to hit the ball.

According to this interpretation in an actual MLB game, the simple act of jumping to make contact with the ball is not illegal.

In Marzo's case, his front foot appears to be on the ground on contact.

With runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, Marzo got his bat to a high pitch from Eastern junior Cole Boyan and popped it over the mound and onto the infield to seemingly score junior Kyle Sciallo with the tying run.

"Our guy did everything you tell a kid to do when you put the squeeze on," Boyce said. "No matter what happens, get the bat on the ball. He did his job and he had it taken away from him."

With Marzo celebrating on first base and Sciallo behind home plate, the plate umpire ruled that Marzo's front foot was beyond the boundary of the batter's box and called him out, sent Sciallo back to third, sophomore Joe Mazza back to second and put the onus on junior catcher Dylan Hode to tie the game with a base hit with two out.

Hode squared up a line drive but Eastern third baseman Isaac Fendrick gloved it for the final out.

Junior Nick DiPietrantonio led off the seventh by reaching on an error and sophomore Joe Mazza followed with a single to right field, setting up a sacrifice bunt by senior Mike Kuver that gave Manalapan runners on second and third with one out and set the stage for the controversial finish.

"It's frustrating, but we'll regroup," Boyce said. "We'll put it to bed tomorrow (Tuesday). The kids have been great all year and a lot of things at the end of games have gone our way this year, but this one didn't. The sad thing is it wasn't a play between the lines, by one of the players on the field that decided it."

Kyle Sciallo celebrates scoring what he thought was the winning run before being sent back to third base. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Kyle Sciallo celebrates scoring what he thought was the tying run before being sent back to third base. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Eastern scored the game's only run in a nearly-identical scenario in the bottom of the fourth. Jack Winslett singled to lead off the inning, Dylan Stezzi walked and both runners moved up on a sacrifice bunt.

Alec Funari then dropped a successful squeeze bunt and beat it out for an RBI single to plate a run and keep the rally alive. After hitting the next batter, Manalapan senior starter Aaron Ayers struck out the next two batters to stop the rally at one run.

Ayers pitched his second two-hitter in as many games for Manalapan. Five days after pitching a two-hit shutout to be defending Group IV champion Hunterdon Central, Ayers allowed one earned run on two hits and three walks while striking out seven and suffering his first loss of the season in a most painful fashion.

"Ayers was great again," Boyce said. "He gave us everything he had. We had our chances to win the game and Eastern made more plays than we did for the first six innings, so they deserve credit for moving on. We could have had better at-bats, we should have let the ball roll foul on their squeeze. But that's part of the game. You can live with that."

Manalapan's only other scoring chance against Boyan - who pitched a three-hit shutout with four strikeouts and two walks - came in the top of the third, when Sciallo - running for Hode, who had singled - tagged up and tried to score on a fly ball by sophomore Tom Guidice but center fielder Nick Zellner cut him down at the plate for an inning-ending double-play.

The Braves were seeking their first trip to the Group IV championship game since winning the second of two Group IV titles in 2012 and instead, Eastern advanced to the Group IV final for the first time since winning it in 2013.

Despite it's pursuit of a Group IV title ending on Monday, Manalapan will have a chance to close the 2019 season by winning the program's first ever Shore Conference Tournament. The Braves play Red Bank Catholic in the SCT final, scheduled for Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.

"The kids are down right now but I think it will help to have a day to regroup at practice and get focused on winning the Shore Conference Tournament," Boyce said. "It has still been a special year - more than I could have ever expected for this group. If we win a Shore Conference championship to go with a sectional title, this will go down as one of the best years in Manalapan history, as far as I'm concerned."

Box Score

Eastern 1, Manalapan 0

Manalapan (24-8)0000000030
Eastern (23-8)000100X123


Aaron Ayers (L, 5-1)62113796
Cole Boyan (W, 7-0)73002492

Top Hitters

Dylan Hode1-2, BB
Tom Guidice1-3
Joe Mazza1-3
Alec Funari1-3, RBI
Jack Winsett1-2, BB, R



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