Baseball – Group 2 Final Preview: Manasquan vs. Whippany Park
NJSIAA Group II Championship
Saturday, June 10, 11 a.m.
At Toms River East High School
Manasquan (15-10) vs. Whippany Park (15-9)
Road to the Championship
Manasquan: Defeated Sterling, 6-0; Bordentown, 3-2; Cedar Creek, 7-1; West Deptford, 1-0; Governor Livingston, 2-1.
Whippany Park: Defeated North 13th Street Tech, 18-4; Science Park, 14-0; Caldwell, 9-8 (10 Innings); Rutherford, 10-5; Pascack Hills, 3-0
Probable Starting Pitchers
Connor Muly, Manasquan
2017 Season: 5-3, 62 innings, 40 hits, 14 walks, 86 strikeouts, 1.35 ERA
2017 NJSIAA Tournament: 2-0, 14 innings, 7 hits, 2 walks, 17 strikeouts, 1.00 ERA
Kyle Lisa, Whippany Park
2017 Season: 8-2, 53.2 innings, 58 hits, 17 walks, 59 strikeouts, 3.39 ERA
2017 NJSIAA Tournament: 3-0, 1 save, 16.1 innings, 12 hits, 5 walks, 17 strikeouts, 2.14 ERA
It has been 31 years since the Manasquan baseball team took the field for an NJSIAA Group Championship game and Saturday morning at Toms River High School East, the Warriors will try to end the three-decade-long wait between championships when they take on the Whippany Park in the Group II final.
Of the 12 teams that reach a group championship game this year, Manasquan and Whippany Park have the two lowest win totals and are two of only three teams in the collection of 12 that has not won 20 games this year. In that regard, both are somewhat surprising participants in Saturday’s game – Manasquan as the No. 4 seed in the South Jersey Group II section and Whippany Park in North Jersey Section 2, Group II.
A closer look at Manasquan, however, reveals a team that is built for a run like this and whose players have performed at their best at the most opportune time. The Warriors knew they had one All-Shore pitcher at the top of the rotation in Notre Dame recruit and senior left-hander Tommy Sheehan and were collectively confident that senior right-hander and Old Dominion commit Connor Muly was poised for a breakout season.
Not only did Muly reward the confidence of his coaches and teammates, but he has been less a No. 2 starter behind Sheehan and more or a co-ace alongside him – a development that has fully taken shape during this Manasquan run through the state tournament. Sheehan and Muly have both been dominant during the run through Group II, so much so that coach Bob Waldeyer has only had to call upon a third pitching for one of the 35 innings Manasquan has played. Sophomore James Harmstead pitched the last inning of a 6-0 first-round win over Sterling only because Sheehan had reached the one-game pitch limit while striking out 13 batters over six one-hit innings.
After Sheehan fired a three-hitter to pitch the Warriors past Governor Livingston in Wednesday’s Group II semifinal, it will be Muly who takes the ball Saturday with a chance to pitch his team to its first group title since 1986 and second overall. The senior right-hander has already had his share of memorable starts, not the least of which was his three-hit shutout of defending Group II champion West Deptford in the South Jersey Group II final, which the Warriors won, 1-0, by scoring in the seventh. That performance extended his scoreless innings streak to 13, which began after Muly allowed two runs in the top of the first inning against Bordentown in the sectional quarterfinals. Muly’s team rallied to take a 3-2 lead in that game and he finished off a complete-game four-hitter with 11 strikeouts.
The other key element in Manasquan’s average of 0.8 runs allowed per game during the five games of the tournament is its defense, which has committed three errors during the state playoffs and no more than one in any game. The fifth-inning run allowed by Sheehan against Governor Livingston on Wednesday was the only unearned run against Manasquan in the tournament and it came as the result of a passed ball and a two-out error. The Warriors defense has cleaned up its act for the state tournament after a rough patch contributed to a stretch in which the team went 1-6 during its final seven games before the start of the state tournament to drop from 9-4 to 10-10. Fittingly enough, the lone win during that stretch was an 8-0 win over Monmouth County Tournament champion Red Bank Catholic in which Muly struck out 16 Caseys in a one-hit shutout.
Although Sheehan will not pitch on Saturday, he will have a chance to affect the game at the plate, which he has done throughout the season. The senior is 6-for-12 at the plate with a double, triple and two RBI during the state tournament and is hitting .486 with 10 doubles, three triples and three home runs for the season.
Senior catcher Adam Schreck has also had a big season at the plate, hitting .389 with four doubles and six homers. In the state tournament, Schreck is 5-for-16 with a double and a solo home run and his two-out single in the seventh inning against West Deptford started the winning rally. Freshman Alex Galvan came through with the game-winning hit to score courtesy runner Damaso Jaime, which was one of Galvan’s four hits (4-for-13) during the tournament and one of his two RBI.
Manasquan hopes it will not need Harmstead – the first pitcher available out of the bullpen on Saturday with Sheehan ineligible to pitch – on the mound Saturday but would welcome his usual offense. The sophomore third baseman is hitting .350 with seven doubles and two home runs in his second varsity season.
While Manasquan’s pitching and defense has carried it to the state final, Whippany Park’s hot bats have been the difference over the last two-plus weeks. The Wildcats are coming off a tight, 3-0 win over Pascack Hills in the Group II semifinals, but scored a whopping 51 runs in four games during the North 2 Group II sectional playoffs. Whippany Park was the No. 9 seed in the bracket and won all four games as the road team, including a 14-0 drubbing of No. 1 seed Science Park of Newark. The Wildcats’ closest call came in the sectional semifinals against Caldwell, which took Whippany Park into extra innings before the Wildcats won it in 10 innings, 9-8.
Juniors Brian Clarke and Kyle Lisa have fueled the Whippany Park run, but as the team’s top two pitchers and at the plate as well. Lisa is a scalding-hot 11-for-17 with six doubles and 10 RBI in the five wins, while Clarke has matched him by going 11-for-15 with two doubles, a triple and five RBI. The two juniors have also combined to pitch all but two innings of the last five games and both are eligible to pitch on Saturday after Clarke threw 89 pitches while working into the sixth inning against Pascack Hills and Lisa needed only two pitches to close out the win. That means Lisa can throw up to 110 pitches while Clarke is eligible for 51 should the Wildcats need him.
Lisa has not allowed an earned run during the NJSIAA
Whippany Park has been to four group championship games but is still seeking its first ever state championship. The Wildcats reached the Group I final four times between 1996 and 2010 and Saturday will be their first time in the Group II final.