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MIDDLETOWN - Middletown North head baseball coach Ryan McCabe insists Lions senior Colin Dowlen is as competitive as any player he has ever been around, although he doesn't always reveal it in the most obvious ways.

Pay close enough attention to what he did on the mound during his team's rivalry game against Middletown South on Tuesday, and Dowlen's game spoke volumes and with a simple message: no one is touching me today.

Dowlen took a perfect game into the seventh and final inning and finished off a no-hitter with a career-high 15 strikeouts to carry the Lions - ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - to a 3-0 win over No. 8 Middletown South.

"My arm felt good, I threw strikes and the defense played good," Dowlen said. "We got some run support too, so it was a good day."

"That's what he has done for us all year and I think what he would have done for us last year," McCabe said. "Even as a sophomore, when we first got our hands on him, we loved everything we saw. He is a bulldog, he does everything you ask for and he's a model for the younger guys."

"He pitched his butt off," said junior catcher Andrew Lombardi, who only recently return to his duties behind the plate after dealing with a hip injury at the start of the season. "He was out there for the team and we were out there to pick him up too with a couple of runs. We have had a little bit of a struggle here and there producing runs with guys in scoring position, but today he really came out, did his job and put us on his back."

Middletown South was just two days removed from a no-hitter of its own, with senior Matt Pontari throwing one in a 2-1 win over Colts Neck in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16. Fittingly enough, it was Pontari who came closest to ending the no-hitter when he hit a hard ground ball down the third-base line that nearly bounced directly over the bag. The home-plate umpire, however, ruled the ball foul and Dowlen struck him out for the first out of the inning.

Leading off top of the next inning, Dowlen showed just how much he trusted his stuff on this particular day, especially his curveball. Middletown South senior Mike Cowell worked the count full and with a perfect game on the line, Dowlen threw his breaking back and locked up Cowell for a called strike three for the first out of the inning.

"Colin has a lot of confidence in his offspeed and I have a lot of confidence in my pitchers that they can land that offspeed pitch for a strike," Lombardi said. "Not many guys can do that. You've got to be elite for that and he is very, very good. He can hit any spot and I trust him with whatever we want to throw."

In the top of the seventh, Dowlen again found himself in a 3-2 count, this time against Eagles senior centerfielder Patrick Eagone. The difference in this at-bat, however, was that Dowlen momentarily lost the feel on his curve and missed the strike zone by a sizable margin on two of the balls leading up to the full count. He missed in the right-handed batter's box on 3-2 and Eagone took the pitch for a walk - making him the first Middletown South baserunner.

"I just had to get the next batter," Dowlen said. "That's it. Don't worry about the no-hitter or anything, just keep going.

"Some of the guys were mentioning (the perfect game). I was more upset just walking a kid (in a close game). But it would have been nice to have the perfect game."

Trailing by just three runs, Middletown South hoped to take advantage of a possible bout of wildness from Dowlen, but it was short-lived. The senior found his grip again and struck out the next batter before issuing another walk on a 3-2 count. He got ahead of Pontari and struck him out with a curveball that snapped back over the plate for the second out.

"It felt good today," Dowlen said of his curveball. " I didn't throw my changeup today, I just stuck with the fast curve. I was hitting spots - high, outside, inside on some kids that were coming up on the plate."

Junior Evan Wood fouled off three straight 1-2 pitches by on the fourth, Dowlen reached back and uncorked a fastball that caught the outside corner for the final strike on the 99th pitch of his no-hitter.

"At that point, it's just about who is the bigger man," Lombardi said. "Colin was the man."

Dowlen entered the seventh inning cruising at 68 pitches before Middletown South nearly grinded him out of the game.

"Colin is as cool as they come," McCabe said. "Nothing is going to phase him and he is as competitive as anybody I have ever coached. At the same time, you won't know it unless you are talking to him."

Middletown North scrounged up enough offense to make Dowlen's masterpiece on the mound good enough to win the game. Senior Danny Frontera was 2-for-2 with a double and a sacrifice fly RBI, while senior Tony Sansone was 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI to lead the offense. Junior Dom Scerbo also singled home a run and walked in his two plate appearances.

Fittingly enough, Frontera and Sansone are two of Middletown North's other starters in the rotation and both had Dowlen's back Tuesday. Frontera and Dowlen have been as dominant as any duo in the conference in 2021 and catching them has made Lombardi feel like a game like Dowlen's was not a matter of if, but rather when.

Frontera already came close to doing something similar when he struck out 17 in a six-inning one-hitter against Long Branch in which he gave up a leadoff double and proceeded to strike out 17 of the next 20 batters he faced, with two walks and an error mixed in.

"Two elite arms, two 90-(miles-per-hour)-plus guys, it's going happen and it's going to happen again, eventually," Lombardi said. "You don't know when it's going to happen, you just come to the ballpark, you play your butts off and whatever happens, happens, and today, something very good happened."

On Tuesday, there was not as much traffic on the bases, but there was plenty of drama. After the near-hit by Pontari in the fifth inning, Dowlen capped the frame by making a diving stop on a softly-hit comeback toward the mound before popping up and throwing to first base to end the inning. Had Dowlen missed the ball, Ben Schild might have had a chance to beat it out for an infield single, particularly if Dowlen slowed it down with a deflection.

That grounder was one of only six balls put into play by Middletown South and three of them came in the first two innings. Eagone hit a line drive right at Scerbo in left field and both Pontari and Eagone took healthy swings on fly outs to centerfield.

Once Dowlen got through the second inning, however, he found his groove. Starting with the last out of the second, he struck out five straight and eight out of nine leading up to the diving stop on the comebacker.

Even in a seventh inning that proved to be more challenging than any other inning, he still struck out the side.

Dowlen's no-hitter marks a rousing start to a week that will see the two rivals from Middletown play one another two more times. Thursday's rematch across town at Middletown South will be the second of the two Class A North divisional games and the week will conclude with the two teams squaring off in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals back at Middletown North's Rich Veth Field on Saturday.

 

Box Score

Middletown North 3, Middletown South 0

1234567RHE
Midd South (11-5, 4-5)0000000001
Midd North (10-3, 6-3)001200X370

Pitching

Middletown SouthIPHRERBBSOPC
Jack Shea (L)3.15332258
Mike Keenan2.22000026
Middletown NorthIPHRERBBSOPC
Colin Dowlen (W)700021599

Top Hitters

Middletown SouthGame Stats
Patrick Eagone0-2, BB
Greg Trezza0-2, BB
Middletown NorthGame Stats
Danny Frontera2-2, 2B, RBI
Tony Sansone2-3, R, RBI
Dom Scerbo1-1, BB, RBI
Tyler Sharkey1-2, R