Baseball – Dalatri’s 19-K Gem, Martorano’s Blast Propel CBA Past Midd. South
MIDDLETOWN - When Christian Brothers Academy senior catcher Brandon Martorano crushed a go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday against Shore Conference Class A North rival Middletown South, senior teammate Luca Dalatri fell in line to win his 23rd straight decision as a varsity pitcher.
As Dalatri watched another one of Martorano's late-game acts of heroism from the on-deck circle, he still found plenty of incentive in reaching base, and it had little to do with his batting average and much more to do with his ability to lobby his way into one more inning on the mound.
After doubling and later reaching third base to pay head coach Marty Kenney - who coaches third base during games - Dalatri convinced his head coach to afford him one more inning in order to finish what he started and what Dalatri finished was arguably the best start of his esteemed high school career. The senior University of North Carolina commit struck out the side in order in the eighth inning to nail down a three-hitter that included a career-high 19 strikeouts and just one walk as CBA - the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - topped No. 4 Middletown South, 3-1.
"I started the game and I wanted to finish it," said Dalatri, who finished Wednesday's game with 122 pitches - 87 for strikes. "It's something I take pride in and it's something I prepare for, so I just wanted to go back out there and finish it off."
Dalatri entered the seventh inning with an even 100 pitches and after breezing through the seventh in 11 pitches, pitching coach Marty Kenney Jr. told Dalatri his day was over. In Kenney Sr., however, Dalatri found a more sympathetic ear and coaxed a chance to close out the team's sixth straight win and his school record 23rd straight winning decision.
"Coach Kenney Jr. said 'Absolutely not,' but luckily I got a double, because if I didn't get a double, I wouldn't have been able to talk to Coach Kenney Sr. at third," Dalatri said. "I said, 'Coach, you know, I really work hard in the offseason for situations like this. I work on my endurance and my strength to be able to finish strong.' I'm sure a lot of people were shaking their heads, but it was something that I really wanted. You don't get many chances to finish an outing like that."
After senior Cid Porter's RBI single in the fifth broke a scoreless tie, Dalatri appeared well on his way to another victory before running into trouble in the bottom of the sixth. Eagles senior center fielder Tom Gannon ambushed Dalatri on the first pitch of the inning and hammered a leadoff double to the fence in left.
Following a failed sacrifice attempt, Dalatri issued his first walk of the season when his 3-2 breaking ball stay inside against Eagles shortstop and Monmouth University recruit Johnny Zega. Gannon then stole third before Dalatri struck out senior Austin Markmann for the second out.
Dalatri jumped ahead of another Monmouth University recruit, catcher Zach Schild, 0-2 before Schild battled to get the count even. On a 2-2 offering, Dalatri threw a high fastball with Martorano expecting a breaking ball and the pitch got past the catcher and all the way to the backstop. Gannon sprinted toward the plate and slid head-first under Dalatri's tag to even the score and put the game back in the balance.
"Brandon and I were doing a different sequence with a man on second and it was just a miscommunication on my part," Dalatri said. "He did nothing wrong, that was all my fault. He was expecting a curveball in the dirt and I gave him a fastball up away."
If Martorano felt any responsibility for letting the ball get past him in the sixth, he made up for it in the top of the eighth. Porter reached base for the third time with his third hit of the game to lead it off and moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt from Schild to first baseman Ben Porpora. After senior Luke Chece grounded out to shortstop to advance Porter to third with one out, Middletown South coach Ryan Spillane pulled junior starter Jon Martin for Zega, who started a shortstop.
Martorano then stepped to the plate with two free bases open and Zega prepared to pitch to him. On the first pitch, Zega left a breaking ball up over the plate and CBA's other North Carolina recruit crushed it over the left-centerfield fence to give CBA the lead back.
"I'm always ready to hit," Martorano said. "I never want to go up there passive or expecting to get pitched around because if the pitcher throws something I can get the barrel on, I want to be ready. Plus, we've got a lineup of guys who can do damage, so I never expect to get walked."
"Zega pitched against (CBA) last year and was lights-out," Spillane said. "I had a lot of trust in him in that spot to let him pitch to (Martorano). We didn't want to throw him that particular pitch, obviously, but we did want to try to get him out. The call was for a curveball down an away and it just didn't get there. It was a mistake to a great hitter and he did was guys like him usually do."
The home run was the first of the season for Martorano, who is the reigning Shore Sports Network Player of the Year after belting 11 home runs as a junior in 2015. Martorano made his mark during CBA's run to four championships last year with three walkoff hits and eight of his 11 homers after May 6. Last year, Martorano did not his his first home run until April 17 and this year, he already has 11 RBI after Wednesday's blast - including nine in his last three games.
After a standout summer, Martorano has pushed his way onto the MLB Draft radar and is widely considered a potential top-five-round pick, which could be a conservative estimate based on his status as a top-100-ranked player in the Class of 2016 by Baseball America.
"I don't consider myself a power-hitter, or a pull-hitter or anything like that - I consider myself an all-around hitter," Martorano said. "I probably saw about 10 curveballs today, so I had to adjust. It took me a couple of at-bats, but I felt like I got my timing and I finally got a mistake over the plate. I'm not worried about hitting home runs or trying to please anyone else, I'm just trying to help the team and be the best player I can be for them."
Martorano finished the game 2-for-4 with hits in each of his last two at-bats, while Porter went 3-for-4 with a double to lead off the game, an RBI and a run scored.
The top of CBA's order overcame a sterling effort by Martin, who lasted 7 1/3 innings and struck out seven Colts while allowing seven hits and a pair of walks. Martin faced an early first-and-third jam in the top of the first but pitched out of it by striking out Martorano and Dalatri on consecutive at-bats.
"He pitched me great," Martorano said of Martin. "That kid is a stud. I told him when he got in the box, I said, 'Hey man, I hope everything goes great for you and I'm sure I'll see you in college ball because you've got some really good stuff.' My hat goes off to him. He sat me down on three pitches real quick. He made me look stupid, and I'm not always a fan of that."
"He has been great for us since last year, really," Spillane said of Martin. "He definitely was one of our best in the preseason and he certainly showed that he's one of the best pitchers in A North right now. I just have to tip my hat to CBA and Dalatri. They're a heck of a team and they did the little things. We didn't."
Dalatri also faced trouble in the first inning after Gannon and second baseman Jeremy Joyce reached on infield singles and moved up a base on a sharp comebacker by Markmann that hit Dalatri, who gathered himself and threw to first for the second out. Schild then hit a sharp ground ball through the box that the second baseman Chece stopped with a diving back-handed snare and fired to first from his knees to get Schild and save at least one run, with the help of a scoop out of the dirt by senior first baseman Kenny Campbell.
The offense from CBA's two returning All-Shore position players was enough to make a winner out of Dalatri, who has raised the bar on his already historic career during the first three games of his senior season. CBA's all-time leader in wins, innings, strikeouts, and ERA has thrown 21 innings in his three complete games so far this year and has allowed 12 hits, one walk and struck out 44 batters. The earned run charged to him on Wednesday was the first of the season and raised his season ERA to 0.33.
Dalatri's 19 strikeouts on Thursday matched the 19 punchouts registered by Barnegat left-hander Jason Groome Monday during the Vanderbilt recruit's no-hitter against Central Regional. Groome is considered to be the current front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft in June and for his part, has struck out 29 and allowed only one hit and one walk in his 11 innings so far this season.
Although Groome is generating more buzz than any high school player in the country, it is Dalatri who is the two-time defending Pitcher of the Year, as well as the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in N.J. after leading the Colts to the No. 1 ranking last year. He has not lost a start since the final outing of his freshman season and has also dominated to the tune of 255 strikeouts and 20 walks during that stretch.
At least four Major League scouts were on hand to watch Dalatri on Wednesday after 15-to-20 took in his three-hit, 15-strikeout performance against Middletown North. Dalatri does not light up the radar gun like Groome does, working with a fastball in the 87-to-90 miles-per-hour range early in the season, but he has maintained his velocity all the way through his starts and has command of four pitches. One scout from an A.L. club projected him as a potential rounds five-through-10 selection in the Draft.
"I'm just trying to make it a difficult decision later in the season," Dalatri said, referencing postseason accolades. "I'm not going to sit here and say (Groome) makes me motivated to do better, but when you have a pitcher like that who's in the Shore Conference, it lights a fire under you. It really does make me go out there and want to prove to everyone that I'm not too bad either."