Baseball – Middletown South Re-Discovers Winning Formula vs. Marlboro
MIDDLETOWN -- Coming off an ugly loss Monday to a young, inexperienced Freehold Township squad, the Middletown South baseball team needed to get back to its winning formula.
What better setting for a bounceback Friday than its home field, with the Eagles' junior ace on the mound, facing the team it beat in the 2021 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game?
Junior right-hander Schild battled some control issues to pitch 4-plus innings of one-hit, shutout ball, senior Evan Wood returned to his 2021 form on the mound with a clutch relief performance and the Eagles -- ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 -- mustered just enough offense in the first two innings Friday to lock up a 4-1 win over Marlboro.
Schild lasted 4 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out 10 while allowing just one hit, but his command came and went throughout his outing and he issued six walks while running up a pitch count of 98 without getting through the fifth inning.
"I definitely didn't have my best stuff today," Schild said. "I was throwing hard, but I could have been a lot better with my control. Overall, I think I put us in a good spot to win the game, so I can't really ask for more."
In his first start of the 2022 season, Schild pitched the best game of his young career, firing a no-hitter with one walk and 16 strikeouts in a 6-0 win over Freehold Township. It was a fitting open to his junior season after leading the Shore Conference with a 0.65 ERA and an 8-0 record in 56 2/3 innings as a First Team All-Shore selection.
"Last year, I had a great year and I have that in my mind but at the same time, it's a new year," Schild said. "I'm a different pitcher and I have really tried to work on my velocity, my slider, my changeup and my overall control. In my first start, I couldn't have done much better. Today, the fastball was there, but my control wasn't so I'm definitely going to have some stuff to work on."
Three days later, however, Freehold Township exacted its revenge with an 11-2 win over the Eagles.
Wood was the losing pitcher Monday at Freehold Township and was as hungry for redemption as any player on the Eagles. The senior third baseman and 2021 relief ace from 2021 made good Friday by making significant contributions in three phases of the game.
Wood helped jumpstart the offense by going 2-for-2 at the plate with a walk and an RBI infield single in the top of the first inning. In the top of the fourth, he made a slick, back-handed snare at third base and throw across the diamond for the first out of the inning, which came after seven straight batters either struck out or walked.
Finally, Wood got back on the mound and right away had little margin for error. He took the ball with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the fifth inning and induced a flyout to Schild in right field and a ground out to second baseman Matt Sliva to end the threat.
"I was coming off a pretty rough outing Monday and things didn't go our way," Wood said. "It felt really good to have that trust again and pitch as best I could in those tight situations."
In the sixth, Wood worked around a leadoff single by Marlboro junior first baseman Paul Santos for a scoreless inning and in the seventh, after surrendering a run on a two-out RBI double by Marlboro starting pitcher Alex D'Ambrosio, Wood closed out the win for his first save of the season.
Last season, Wood saved five games and was at his best finishing close games for the NJSIAA Group IV champions down the stretch.
On the way to that Group IV championship, Middletown South defeated Marlboro, 2-0, in the Central Group Group IV final at Walter Woods Field on its campus. Friday's game played out similarly, with the Eagles using smallball and pouncing on Mustangs miscues to get on the board early.
In the top of the first, senior Ryan St. Clair dropped down a bunt for a single and motored to second on an errant throw. St. Clair then moved to third on a ground out to third by Schild and after an intentional walk to senior Joe Stanzione, a two-out throwing error allowed St. Clair to scored and Stanzione to go to third. Wood then made it 2-0 by beating out an infield single, scoring Stanzione.
"We got away from what we usually do on Monday," Wood said. "We hit a lot more fly balls than we usually do and we saw the result wasn't what we wanted. We got back to hitting the ball on the ground, hitting some line drives and right away, in the first inning, they made a couple mistakes on ground balls. If we play that type of game, we're going to win a lot of games this year."
Middletown South scored two earned runs off D'Ambrosio in the second, with Sliva leading off the rally with a single. After moving up on a wild pitch, Sliva scored on a single into left by sophomore centerfielder Lou D'Alessio.
D'Alessio went to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundout the second and scored Middletown South's fourth run on an RBI infield single by Schild.
After the rocky start, D'Ambrosio and Marlboro's defense settled in and stayed in the game, but could not take advantage of the traffic the Mustangs lineup created while at the plate.
While he fought periods of shaky control, Schild also overpowered Marlboro for stretches. His defense picked the 6-foot-5 junior ace up in the top of the first, with D'Alessio fielding a single to center by Santos and throwing out senior Josh Mack at the plate, with Stanzione cutting the throw off and flipping it home to senior catcher Ben Cacoilo for the final out of the inning.
"When I'm trying to find my control and giving up hits, the fact that we got that out like that absolutely got me going and fired me up," Schild said.
D'Alessio and Cacoilo are both part of an all-new quartet of up-the-middle starters for Middletown South, with junior Matt Sliva at second base and freshman Brendan Sliva at shortstop on Friday.
"Those young guys have played good so far," Wood said. "I give them a ton of credit. It's really tough coming into a defending state championship team and being that young and fitting right in, but they have done a great job and worked so hard in practice."
After that play at the plate, Schild struck out the next four batters he faced and six of the next seven, with one walk mixed in. After striking out eight of the first 12 batters he faced, though, Schild struck out two of the next seven to end his start.
Friday's game was particularly important for Middletown South as the Eagles try to make a run at the Shore Conference Class A North title after finishing tied for fifth place in the standings in 2021. Middletown South won Group IV, reached the Shore Conference Tournament final and the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals, but despite reaching the final four of all three tournaments, the Eagles could not even crack the top-half of the standings in the eight-team division.
That underscores how difficult it is to finish the season atop Class A North and Middletown South loves a challenge.
"Last year, a few division games didn't go our way and we had other focuses later in the year," Wood said. "With the team that we have -- the lineup and our pitching -- we're looking at everything: we're looking for that division, we're looking at states again, the Monmouth County (Tournament), Shore Conference (Tournament). We want to win everything we can and the division is very important to us.