Baseball – Manchester Continues Tournament Brilliance in South Jersey Group II Win Over Barnegat
BARNEGAT - During the Shore Conference Class B South division regular season, Barnegat won two high-scoring back-and-forth games against Manchester, but those were not tournament games.
When it comes to tournament play, Manchester has been a different team - one that has played like a championship contender.
Mike Damato homered, Brandon Sogness, Sean McAllister and Chris Grille all had key, run-scoring hits and left-hander Joe Sclama pitched a five-hitter Saturday to lead the Hawks past Class B South rival Barnegat, 8-2, and into the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II semifinals Tuesday at top-seeded West Deptford.
Between the Shore Conference, Ocean County and NJSIAA Tournaments, Manchester is 4-2, which is all the more impressive considering the Hawks have played every one of those six elimination games on the road. Manchester reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals as a No. 23 seed by beating Donovan Catholic and Class A North champion Freehold Township before losing to No. 1 seed Manalapan in the final at-bat.
"I love going on the road because you get to shove it to all the haters and people chirping outside the fence," Damato said. "I love going on the road, I'll go on the road any day."
The 12th-seeded Hawks took out No. 5 Haddon Heights, 3-1, Wednesday and had to bounce back from two different deficits Saturday to get past No. 4 Barnegat. Sogness tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single in the top of the second, but a sacrifice fly by Barnegat third baseman Rafael Dominguez in the bottom of the second put the Hawks in another one-run hole.
Manchester came right back in the top of the third, with Keith Fallon, Logan Duffy and Damato setting the table with two singles and a walk to load the bases. And error tied the game and kept the bases load and McAllister broke the 2-2 two with a two-run double to cap Manchester's three-run third inning.
Grille added an RBI double to make it 5-2 in the top of the fifth and in the top of the sixth, Damato blasted a three-run shot to right-center to cap the scoring.
Early on, the game had the look of the two regular-season meetings, both won by Barnegat by scores of 12-8 and 7-6. Sclama, however, made sure that did not happen. The sophomore left-hander surrendered sacrifice flies to P.J. Craig and Dominguez in the first and second innings before zoning in for five scoreless innings with just two hits allowed the rest of the way.
"I knew that if we wanted to beat this team, I had to come out and I had to find my arm slot and starting putting up zeros on the scoreboard," Sclama said. "I knew they were aggressive. Every single kid in that lineup can swing and will swing early so you can't just lay one in there. They were hitting me around in the first two innings and I just had to find it."
"He was a little off on his arm slot from where he has been," Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin said. "It's not easy to be told to make that correction for a young guy in the middle of a state playoff game and we went out there to relay to him and from then on, he was absolutely locked in."
Sclama remained locked-in on Damato's glove behind the plate despite his hat falling off his head on nearly half of the 83 pitches he threw - a challenge that has become routine for Sclama to the point that everyone else notices it more than he does by now.
"That's something I have gotten used to," said Sclama, whose long hair fights its way out of the hat after almost every fastball he throws. "The biggest hat is still too small."
Sclama owes some credit for his impressive pitching line to a defense that played error-free baseball for the second straight state tournament game. The Hawks got Sclama out of the sixth inning with an inning-ending double play, which third baseman Justin Renzi gobbled up and fired to McAllister at second for the pivot.
"The first time we played on this field (in the regular season), defensively, that was not championship baseball," Beauchemin said. "You have a clean day in a game like this, that's what you need. To us, that's our expectation of where we should be."
In picking up the win, Sclama outdueled Barnegat ace Nick Danbrowney, who did not pitch against Manchester in the either of the two regular-season meetings despite Barnegat winning both games. Danbrowney's defense let him down to the tune of three errors, but the Hawks did turn in quality at-bats against the senior right-hander, whose velocity has been up to 92 miles-per-hour this season and was up to 89 on Saturday.
"We knew he was a good pitcher," Damato said. "He throws hard. I was just hunter for a fastball, looking for a ball I could hit. I kept fouling pitches off so I thought eventually I would get something."
Damato nearly homered off Danbrowney in the first inning when he lunched a changeup over the fence, but to the right of the right-field foul pole by about five feet. That long foul ball was part of a 10-pitch at-bat that ended in a fly out and he later worked an eight-pitch walk in Manchester's three-run third.
Duffy and Damato have been Manchester's top hitters this year and Beauchemin has been content to hit the two junior standouts in the first two spots in the batter order in recent weeks, with Duffy leading off. Duffy (2-for-4 on Saturday) had at-bats of seven, six and nine pitches against Danbrowney, although Danbrowney did sit him down with a pair of strikeouts despite Duffy's third-inning single.
"They're the tone-setters for us," Beauchemin said of Duffy and Damato. "They get us going and Sogness, Sclama and Fallon have been constants at the bottom of the order."
The RBI hits by Sogness, McAllister, Grille and Damato, meanwhile, all came early in the count. Sogness jumped on a first pitch for his two-out RBI single, as did McAllister on his two-run double. Grille hit a 1-1 pitch to the left-field corner for his RBI double and Damato took reliever P.J. Craig deep on a 1-1 offering.
"We're a scrappy team," Damato said. "No one expects us to score runs but we keep proving ourselves."
Manchester will try to continue its postseason mastery on Tuesday, when the Hawks take a trip to West Deptford. Damato will be on the mound after pitching a three-hitter on 82 pitches in the round-one win over Haddon Heights.
"The sky is the limit for this team," Sclama said. "We can go anywhere and we can beat any team we play. When we're locked in, we're unbeatable in our eyes."
Manchester 8, Barnegat 2
|Joe Sclama (W, 2-1)||7||5||2||2||0||5||83|
|Nick Danbrowney (L, 3-3)||5||5||5||3||2||8||98|
|Mike Damato||1-3, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI|
|Sean McAllister||1-3, 2B, R, 2 RBI|
|Logan Duffy||2-4, 2 R|
|Brandon Sogness||1-3, RBI|
|Chris Grille||1-4, 2B, R, RBI|
|Keith Fallon||1-2, 2 R|
|Bryan Snowden||1-2, R|
|Kyle Moore||2-3, 2B|