Baseball – Middletown South Slugger Joe Stanzione Ties Single-Season Shore Conference Home Run Record
MIDDLETOWN -- After a his team's win over Lacey on Tuesday, Joe Stanzione got feedback from his coaches on the Middletown South baseball team that he might be pressing a little bit.
After all, he had gone a whole game without a home run and that just wasn't like him.
On Saturday against Steinert on his home field at Middletown South, Stanzione got back to basics and wasted little time launching a record-tying longball.
Stanzione belted his 14th home run of the season in his first at-bat, tying the single-season Shore Conference record and sparking the Eagles to a 3-0 victory -- their 20th win of the season.
Stanzione's two-run missile to left-centerfield with two out in the bottom of the first inning Saturday pulled him even with former Jackson Memorial slugger Marc Fink, who crushed 14 home runs as a senior in 1994.
"It means a lot," Stanzione said. "Since you’re a little kid, you dream about breaking records and everything like that. Now, it just shows that all my hard work was able to pay off and I wouldn’t be able to do it without my coaches and teammates."
With Saturday's home run, Stanzione has homered nine times in Middletown South's last 11 games, with at least one in seven of those 11.
"The first game (this week), I probably ended up thinking too much about it," Stanzione said. "My coaches talked to me about and just said, ‘Dude, settle down. You’re going to do it if you don’t try.’ I just wanted to go up there and help my team out and I was able to get a good piece of it."
Stanzione only made three trips to the plate on Saturday and finished 2-for-3 to lead the Middletown South offense. In the bottom of the third, he hit a shallow fly ball to center that dropped for a bloop single with the outfield playing him deep.
In his final at-bat, Stanzione got under a fastball but still sent a towering fly ball to the edge of the warning track in centerfield that ended up a long, majestic flyout.
Sophomore Brevin Bezick pitched five shutout innings to earn the win, with classmate Mason Christopher pitching a clean sixth and senior Evan Wood shutting the door in the seventh for his fifth save of the season. Bezick allowed three hits and a walk while striking out four.
Junior Ben Schild accounted for the other Middletown South run, driving in classmate Matt Silva with a sacrifice fly in the third.
Stanzione's focus shifts from the home run record to leading his team to a second straight NJSIAA Group IV championship. That quest that will begin Wednesday, when Middletown South -- the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV bracket -- hosts No. 16 Princeton.
On top of needing one more home run to set a new Shore Conference record, Stanzione is four homers shy of tying the state record, held by 2015 Ramsey graduate Ashton Bardzell and three-time American League MVP Mike Trout, who hit 18 home runs for Millville before being drafted No. 25 overall by the Los Angeles Angels in June of 2009.
Trout's pursuit of New Jersey's first ever 20-home-run season was cut short when Millville lost as the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group IV to No. 16 Toms River East. Trout collected a pair of singles in that game, but the Raiders kept Trout in the park and knocked him out of the tournament, ended his season and, in turn, his chance to add to his home run total. Other than that, though, things have gone well for Trout -- now in the midst of a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame career.
As for Stanzione, Trout's abrupt end to his high school career serves as a lesson he already fully understands: his best chance to break the record is for his team to keep winning and for his team to keep winning, Stanzione believes his best approach is not to think about home runs.
"I’ve definitely tried to be a little more selective this week: trying to see my pitch. Maybe if I can get my pitch, then I can drive it. Now, I have to realize that, whatever they give me, I have to take it and go from there."
Stanzione came back to play baseball at Middletown South despite graduating from the high school in 2021 in order to help the Eagles win another state championship while also setting himself up for better circumstances when he heads to play at Gardner-Webb next season.
A state law passed before the 2020-21 school year allows spring athletes in the 2022 and 2023 graduating classes to play a spring high school sport in the year after they graduate while they take classes at a local community college. Stanzione is currently enrolled at Brookdale Community College, but still very much connected with his teammates at Middletown South as they go for a second straight Group IV title.
"I’m just trying to win another ring with my team," Stanzione said. "The fact that I got number 14 out of the way is great, but that’s not the main focus at all now that it’s the state tournament."