Baseball – Joe Escandon Dazzles in Varsity Debut, CBA Advances to MCT Semis
MIDDLETOWN - Christian Brothers Academy veteran head coach Marty Kenney knew he was going to use sophomore left-hander Joe Escandon at the varsity level at some point during the heavy part of the Colts' schedule.
When his time came did come at the varsity level, Escandon was only tasked with facing a Howell team coming off a 19-run outburst in the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals.
In a tournament game Saturday against a potent offensive team, Escandon looked the part of a seasoned veteran by pitching a four-hit shutout in his first ever varsity appearance as the Colts beat Howell, 3-0.
"(Escandon) was originally going to start Monday against Marlboro but because of what happened with our pitch counts over the last couple of days, I said to him, 'We've got to move you up a day,'" Kenney said. "I thought this might be a lot of pressure for him, but he's also very composed. Things don't bother him and he commands the strike zone. He keeps everything down."
PHOTO GALLERY: Howell at CBA by Paula Lopez
About 24 hours after scoring 19 runs against Middletown South to earn a game against the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Howell could not figure out CBA's 5-foot-9 sophomore left-hander. Escandon surrendered allowed one hit in both the first and third innings and, at one point, retired nine straight batters from the fourth to the seventh inning.
"I was definitely a little nervous at first," Escandon said. "I tried to just focus on making my pitches like I would in any other game. Having a really good defense gave me confidence that I could throw strikes and get outs. It also really helped to get an early lead."
"As soon as Joe got through the first three innings, I just knew he was going to cruise from there," Colts junior Nick Hohenstein said. "He pitches to us in practice and we see the same stuff we saw today, so it wasn't really a surprise today."
When Howell did break up the streak of nine straight retired and threatened with runners on first and second in the top of the seventh, Escandon battled Rebels catcher Frank Cianciotta to 3-2 count and tied him up with a fastball on the inside corner to end the game.
The strikeout was the eighth of the outing for Escandon and it came on the 90th pitch of the afternoon for the sophomore left-hander. Escandon also did not issue a walk, hit one batter and threw 68 of his 90 pitches for strikes.
"I was more worried about getting seven innings than how effective he'd be," Kenney said. "I didn't know what pitch count he could handle effectively.
"We had (Nick) Hohenstein ready. Chances are if he had given up another hit, we would have went to him to get the last out."
Escandon also benefitted from another strong defensive game by CBA, which did not commit an error on Saturday. Nine of Escandon's outs came on ground balls and after the third inning, all of the outs the sophomore recorded were either ground balls or strikeouts.
CBA needed the pitching and defense to be sharp since its offense managed just three hits against Howell junior left-hander Mike Walsh, who allowed three unearned runs in six innings. The Colts gave their sophomore starter a quick 2-0 lead with two runs in the bottom of the first - one on a wild pitch and another on a sacrifice fly by junior third baseman Andrea Dalatri.
The Colts added an insurance run in the bottom of the six when Walsh's pickoff throw to first base got away and allowed courtesy runner Ed Dudek to score from second base.
"Other people have to contribute," Kenney said. "I wish we had hit a little better, but the two things we have done is pitch and play defense. I told them if we hit a little bit, we might be undefeated right now."
Saturday's win keeps CBA's hopes of a fourth consecutive Monmouth County Tournament championship in play. This one would be particularly impressive for the program considering the last three came with Luca Dalatri - the all-time wins leader in Shore Conference history - leading the pitching staff and current University of North Carolina teammate Brandon Martorano as his battery mate.
"Every day, we're reminded that there are alumni that wore the same jersey that we do and they won these same tournaments," Hohenstein said. "The balls we put on the outfield wall are a reminder and the years on those balls are attached to the guys who were on those teams. We want to put one of those balls up there too."
Hohenstein and Andrea Dalatri are the only two returning starters from last year's team and despite the inexperience, the Colts are the No. 1 seed in the county tournament and still have a chance to win a tournament title. They also have an outside chance to win a Class A North division championship, which last year's team did not accomplish.
"It's a different group," Hohenstein said. "We're a young team, but we find a way to get it done. We had a rough stretch last week, but we've played good baseball the last two days and we're back on the right track."
CBA will host No. 5 Freehold Boro in the MCT semifinals on Saturday. The two Class A North rivals have already met twice this season, with CBA winning both meetings. Hohenstein earned the win in both starts.
"They've seen us twice already and both games were right down to the wire," Hohenstein said. "Both could have gone either way and were able to win both. I would expect it will be pretty much the same thing next weekend."
(1) CBA 3, (9) Howell 0
|Mike Walsh (L, 0-2)||6||3||3||0||4||3||97|
|Joe Escandon (W, 1-0)||7||4||0||0||0||8||90|
|Peter Morreale||0-2, BB, R|
|Andrea Dalatri||0-2, RBI|