MANALAPAN - The win the Manalapan baseball team pulled out Saturday against Howell is the kind of win that might happen once in a season, but the Braves enjoyed coming back to win a rollercoaster game so much this past weekend that they decided to give it another try three days later - even though it meant nearly giving away a game that seemed well in hand.

After coughing up a seven-run lead and falling behind heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Manalapan mustered three runs in its final at-bat Tuesday to steal a 10-9 win from Freehold Boro. The win was Manalapan's sixth straight after the Braves dropped consecutive losses to Christian Brothers Academy and Red Bank Catholic.

"Our team has no give-up," said junior shortstop Dan DeBlasio, whose grounder in the seventh plated the winning run. "We've been behind in so many games, but we just keep fighting and we win games late all the time."

Manalapan's players mob Dan DeBlasio after his grounder scored the winning run. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Manalapan's players mob Dan DeBlasio after his grounder scored the winning run. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Freehold Boro scored five times in the top of the seventh inning to take a 9-7 lead, including a tie-breaking, two-run home run to centerfield by junior catcher Phil Marcantonio to cap the rally. Colonials coach Jon Block hoped to get at least one more out from senior Dan Chiusano, who entered the inning at 104 pitches - six short of the 110-pitch limit. Instead, Manalapan junior Anthony Naylor worked a six-pitch walk to give Manalapan a leadoff base-runner and force Block to go to his bullpen.

"We knew he was six pitches away, so we weren't going to be aggressive," Manalapan coach Brian Boyce said. "We told them we were going to take a strike and fortunately (the count) went 2-0 and 3-2 and he missed close on a 3-2. Then (Chiusano) was out of the game, which was good for us."

Before making the move to reliever Nick Aiello, Freehold thought it might have stolen an out by tagging Naylor off the bag at first base immediately following his walk. There was confusion among the umpiring crew about whether time was called, as well as whether or not Naylor was off the bag when first baseman Tom Holdorf tagged him.

The inning continued with a single by designated hitter Vin Lanza, but Aiello recorded outs on consecutive batters - including a forceout at third base on an attempted sacrifice. Junior center fielder Giovanni Ciaccio drew a walk to load the bases and Manalapan coach Brian Boyce re-entered starting pitcher Rob Gargano in the No. 2 spot to hit for the first time since the third inning. Gargano - who hit a grand slam in the second inning and left the game with a three-run lead - hit a ground ball into the hole between shortstop and third base and the tying runs scored when shortstop Chris Cassadra's throw to second base skipped into right field.

Manalapan junior Rob Gargano. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Manalapan junior Rob Gargano. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"I was pumped coming off the bench," Gargano said. "Coming into a situation like that is big. I wanted to come in and help my teammates get a win.

"I knew I had to bust it down the line. I definitely feel like I just wanted to put the ball in play and anything can happen."

Freehold Boro made one more pitching change, opting to let senior Pat White face DeBlasio. With the winning run on third, DeBlasio hit a three-hopper to shortstop, but Cassandra could not handle it and Ciaccio scored the winning run.

Manalapan stormed out to a 7-0 lead on Freehold Boro - the No. 7 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - and did so against a 2016 First-Team All-Shore left-hander in Chiusano. The Braves inflicted nearly all of their offensive damage against Chiusano in the second inning, when Gargano unleashed his grand slam to left-center field as part of a six-run inning.

After Ciaccio drew a bases loaded walk to force in Manalapan's second run, Gargano worked a 2-2 count against Chiusano and jumped on an elevated fastball for a fly ball that carried beyond the left-centerfield face.

"With two strikes, I just want to shorten up and put a good piece on it," Gargano said. "I saw a fastball coming in high and I got my bat on it."

Manalapan added one more in the inning when DeBlasio doubled to deep left-center and scored on a line-drive single to left field by junior Jack Schweitzer. Schweitzer also singled home a run in the bottom of the first after Gargano doubled with one out.

Freehold chipped away at the lead thanks to junior second baseman Mark Costanzo, who finished 2-for-4 with five RBI. He broke the seal for Freehold Boro in the top of the third with a three-run shot over the left-centerfield fence to make the score 7-3. Costanzo later drove in a run on a ground ball to short with one out that DeBlasio threw away in the fifth inning, which ended Gargano's day.

Junior reliever Anthony Jomo struck out the first two batters he faced and, with the aid of a lind-drive double play to end the inning, retired the side in order in the sixth.

The Colonials rallied in the top of the seventh, which started with senior centerfielder Isaiah Howard reaching on an infield single and Cassandra doubling to left. Jomo then balked in a run while pitching to Holdorf and then hit the senior first baseman to place runners on the corners, with Holdorf representing the tying run.

Manalapan then turned to junior right-hander E.J. Melendez to put out the fire with Costanzo stepping back up to the plate. Early in the at-bat, however, a pitch got past catcher Joe Pellecchia and the return throw to home plate got away from Melendez, who was covering the plate in hopes of cutting off Cassandra scoring from third. Cassandra did score and the error allowed Holdorf to chug into third as the tying run with no one out.

Once again, Costanzo came through, this time with a single to shallow left that plated Holdorf and tied the score at 7. Melendez managed to record the first out by striking out Aiello, but Marcantonio came up next and jumped on the first pitch. The junior catcher launched a fly ball to dead centerfield and it cleared the wall for the go-ahead home run.

Freehold's seventh-inning rally nearly poured cold water on a Braves winning streak that continued into Tuesday only after Manalapan scored two runs in the sixth and three in the seventh to erase a 10-5 deficit against Howell on Saturday and send the game into extra innings. Manalapan then scored five in the ninth to win 15-10, making it eight unanswered runs to win the game. In that game, Manalapan jumped out to a 5-0 lead by the top of the second inning, only to allow Howell to score 10 unanswered runs.

"We're going to learn from this," Boyce said. "I think after the third inning, we didn't have that same intensity that we had when we put up seven on them. We thought the game was over, but a lot of credit to (Freehold) for coming back.

"We have great senior leadership and most of the team is juniors and they just like playing in these games. They never give up and they have never given up in the three years they have been here."



Box Score

Manalapan 10, No. 7 Freehold Boro 9

Freehold (5-4, 4-3)0030105973
Manalapan (7-2, 3-1)16000031082



Dan Chiusano678743110
Nick Aiello (L)0.21201018
Pat White0000003
Rob Gargano4.13445492
Anthony Jomo1.22331231
E.J. Melendez (W, 5-0)12220117


Top Hitters

Freehold BoroGame Stats
Mark Costanzo2-4, HR, 2 R, 5 RBI
Phil Marcantonio1-4, HR, R, 2 RBI
Chris Cassandra2-4, 2B, 2 R
Tom Holdorf1-3, 2B, HBP, 2 R
Isaiah Howard1-3, 2 R
ManalapanGame Stats
Rob Gargano2-4, 2B, HR, 4 RBI
Jack Schweitzer2-4, 2 RBI
Giovanni Ciaccio1-3, 2 BB, 2 R
Dan DeBlasio1-5, 2B, R
Anthony Naylor1-3, BB, R
Vin Lanza1-3, HBP, 2 R



More From Shore Sports Network