Baseball – Lions Battery, Baserunning Spark MCT Win Over Shore
WEST LONG BRANCH – Most high school catchers turn their head toward their dugout somewhere between 70 and 120 times per game to find out what pitch their pitcher will be throwing and, in some cases, how to call the pitch.
Middletown North senior catcher Ryan Goscinski is indeed the first player to find out what pitch his pitcher about to throw, but that’s because he’s the one picking the pitches. When two players are as familiar with one another as Goscinski and senior right-hander Mike Zibrin, why lean on a middleman?
Zibrin and Goscinski crafted a four-hit gem Saturday as the Lions – the No. 15 seed in the Monmouth County Tournament – took down No. 2 Shore, 3-1, to advance to the quarterfinals, where they will play crosstown rival and seventh-seeded Middletown South.
“Goose (Goscinski) calls a great game, and I just lean on him,” Zibrin said. “We’ve been playing together forever and he knows my stuff as well as I do, if not better. It’s just up to me to execute the pitches and I felt pretty good about throwing all of them wherever Goose wanted them.”
“I’ve always let the catchers call the game on the field,” third-year Middletown North coach Mike Dooley said. “They are the ones playing the game, so they should be the ones to make the decisions out there. It’s the best thing for their own development, and then they can show the younger guys how to do it and you get it passed down from year to year.”
Shore’s lone score was an unearned run in the fifth inning that came following an errant pick-off throw that moved a runner into scoring position. Kevin Donegan followed with a ground ball that rolled through the right side to score the Blue Devils’ lone run.
Zibrin finished with six strikeouts and no walks while pitching on three-days' rest. The senior threw 5 1/3 innings in a 9-4 loss to Christian Brothers Academy on Tuesday, which dropped the Lions to 3-5.
“I felt good,” Zibrin said. “I didn’t change anything in my routine, and we pretty much treated it like any other day. Normally, this would have been my day to throw off the mound so instead of doing it in practice, I just took it out into the game.”
Zibrin surrendered three of the four hits to the opposing starting pitcher, junior right-hander James Kelly. Although Kelly hurt him out of the clean-up spot by going 3-for-3 with a double to deep center, Zibrin quieted Shore’s two most powerful hitters – center fielder Matt Cosentino and catcher Nick Blaney. Cosentino rolled over two ground balls to shortstop on well-located fastballs and flew to right in his final at-bat, while Blaney went down on strikes, got under a fly ball to right field and grounded out sharply to third base.
“I didn’t treat any one spot in the lineup as the out I needed to get, but I felt like I located well against those guys,” Zibrin said.
Middletown North managed only four hits as well against Kelly, but aggressive baserunning, a couple of Blue Devils errors and a well-timed suicide squeeze helped the Lions make the most of their baserunners.
“We're getting to a point where if we can get two, three, four runs, we feel like we’re going to win the game,” Dooley said. “In high school baseball, the name of the game is defense. You have to be able to defend and even though we had some tough games in the field early on, the defense has been pretty good lately and that allows us to try some things on offense to try score an extra run here or there.”
Senior center fielder Ryan Byrd reached base twice on errors and scored each time. In the top of the first, Byrd went to third on a well-executed hit-and-run by Goscinski. Courtesy runner Anthony Ventrano stole second base, and with one out and runners on second and third, clean-up hitter Mike Bartels dropped a bunt with both runners in motion. Byrd scored easily on the play and when the throw went to first base to get Bartels, Ventrano came flying around third base to score a second run on the play and give the Lions an early 2-0 lead.
Byrd again reached on an error in the fifth and stole two bases before scoring on a ground out to shortstop by right fielder Conor Youncofski.
Along with Goscinski, Youncofski and Matt Reilly, Zibrin also had one of the four Middletown North hits. Youncofski had the lone extra-base hit, a double to right-center in the third inning.
The preliminary-round win over Manasquan on Friday and Saturday’s win over Shore bumped the Lions back up to .500 (5-5). Although the MCT scheduled is usually staggered enough to allow a team to ride one pitcher throughout the tournament, Dooley insists he will stick to the rotation as he tries to keep his team in contention for the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments, as well as the A North title. Although the Lions have five losses in the division, A North has been competitive from top to bottom and a winning streak of any degree could be enough to make a difference.
“Our first goal was to win A North and even though that might be a long shot with five losses already, we still want to make the Shore Conference Tournament and position ourselves the best way possible for that,” Dooley said. “I have an equal amount of confidence in anybody I send to the mound, so I don’t feel like we need to set our rotation with one game in mind. I see us as having three number-one guys and whichever game is up next, we’ll throw the next guy up.”