Baseball – NJSIAA Sectional Final Preview: Middletown North, Colts Neck Set for All-Shore Showdown
Central Jersey Group III Championship
Friday, June 10, 2022
No. 10 Middletown North (18-10) at No. 5 Colts Neck (17-7-1), 2 p.m.
Middletown North at a Glance
Head Coach: Ryan McCabe
Last Sectional Championship: 1989
Probable Starting Pitcher
Mike Weinbel, Sr., RHP (6-2, 2.22 ERA, 47.1 IP, 33 H, 14 BB, 39 K)
Notable Available Pitchers (With number of available pitches)
Matt Adamson, Sr., LHP (110)
Karl Strauch, Sr., RHP (110)
Zach Hampton, Fr., RHP (110)
Ryan Fairhurst, Sr., RHP (110)
Colin Dowlen, 5-Yr Sr., 3B (.481, 10 2B, 3 HR)
Ryan Frontera, Jr., SS (.388, 7 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR)
Mike Weinbel, Sr., P/2B/3B (.300, 10 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR)
Colby McMahon, Jr., 2B/OF (.346, 6 2B, 1 3B)
Zach Hampton, Fr., 1B (.448, 4 2B)
Andrew Lombardi, Sr., C/DH (.324, 1 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR)
Matt Adamson, Sr., CF (.313, 4 2B)
Dylan Briggs, So., RF (.263, 3 2B, 4 3B)
Jason Quardt, So., LF (.303, 3 2B)
Road to the Final
First Round: Seton-Hall-bound ace Colin Dowlen pitched a one-hitter to outduel sophomore Wake Forest commit Luke Billings and roped the double that started the winning rally in the top of the first, leading the Lions to a 3-2, first-round win at No. 7 Robbinsville. Freshman Zach Hampton came through with the game-winning RBI single and back in the second inning, Colby McMahon gave Middletown North a 2-0 lead with a two-run double.
Quarterfinal: Thanks to an upset by No. 15 JFK-Iselin over No. 2 Brick Memorial in the first round, Middletown North got an unexpected home game and put on a shot. Mike Weinbel pitched four scoreless innings and went 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI to lead the Lions to a 12-0 win over the Mustangs in five innings. Dowlen went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, Ryan Frontera was 2-for-4 with a double and three RBI, Zach Hampton went 2-for-3 with three RBI and Andre Lombardi blasted a two-run triple in the win.
Semifinal: Dowlen dominated again, pitching a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts as Middletown North nailed down another road win by beating No. 6 Somerville, 8-4. Dowlen allowed four unearned runs and went 1-for-4 with three RBI at the plate, including a two-run single that put Middletown North up, 8-3. Matt Adamson starred, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, three runs and three RBI, while Dylan Briggs was 2-for-3 with a double and Ryan Frontera added a triple and an RBI.
Colts Neck at a Glance
Head Coach: Mike Yorke
Last Sectional Championship: 2021
Probable Starting Pitcher
Tyler Spencer, Jr., RHP (5-3, 4.85 ERA, 46.2 IP, 61 H, 12 BB, 44 K)
Notable Available Pitchers (With available number of pitches)
Vinny Zaffarese, Jr., RHP
Tom Diffley, So., LHP
Christian Rice, Sr., RHP
Dave Cohen, Sr., DH (.468, 6 2B, 3 HR, 17 R, 23 RBI, 4 SB)
Brad Salamone, Sr., LF (.364, 2 2B, 19 R, 10 RBI, 7 SB)
Chris Scully, So., 3B (.357, 2 2B, 1 HR, 12 R, 15 RBI, 5 SB)
Ryan Tan, Jr., 2B (.338, 2 2B, 19 R, 7 RBI, 4 SB)
Casey Gardiner, So., RF (.310, 2 2B, 14 R, 10 RBI, 4 SB)
Christian Rice, Sr., 1B (.264, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 15 R, 11 RBI, 2 SB)
Tyler Spencer, Jr., P/SS (.254, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 R, 12 RBI)
Joe Cilea, Sr., C (.240, 5 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBI)
Tom Diffley, So., CF (.271, 1 2B, 2 3B, 10 R, 8 RBI, 2 SB)
Road to the Final
First Round: Anthony Gubitosi carried his outstanding senior season into the state tournament by firing a two-hitter with eight strikeouts and six walks in a 7-0 Colts Neck win over No. 12 Ocean. Dave Cohen doubled and drove in two runs, Brad Salamone was 2-for-4 with an RBI and Casey Gardiner went 1-for-2 with an RBI for Colts Neck.
Quarterfinals: No. 12 Matawan scored twice in the first inning off Tyler Spencer, then Colts Neck exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the inning on the way to a 12-2 win in five innings. Brad Salamone went 3-for-4 with a double, three runs and two RBI, Ryan Tan was 3-for-4 with an RBI, Chris Scully drove in three runs, Tom Diffley plated two and Christian Rice and Dave Cohen each doubled and drove in one for Colts Neck.
Semifinals: Gubitosi gave up a run in the bottom of the first and pitched shutout ball the rest of the way as Colts Neck went on the road and knocked off top-seeded Steinert, 4-1. With hits four-hitter, which included six strikeouts and six walks, Gubitosi tied the single-season Colts Neck record with his ninth win of 2022. Dave Cohen drove in a run with a single in Colts Neck’s two-run first inning and Joe Cilea ripped a two-out, two-run double in the top of the sixth to cap the scoring.
A Closer Look
The Central Jersey Group III championship pits two teams that have been very hard to beat with their ace on the mound. It just so happens that neither will be on the mound at any point on Friday.
Colts Neck is 10-0-1 in games in which Gubitosi has appeared on the mound, while Middletown North is 9-2 with Dowlen taking the hill, with the two losses coming against Howell and Middletown South. That means without Gubitosi on the mound, Colts Neck has been a .500 team (7-7) and Middletown North has not been much better without Dowlen (9-8).
Although neither team has been extraordinary without its ace, one of them will be claiming the championship on Friday and neither of the No. 1 starters will be pitching. One of them, however, could still make a major impact. Dowlen is hitting a shade under .500 this season and has been the star of a resurgent Middletown North offense that has come alive during his team’s current nine-game winning streak.
Excluding a pair of wins vs. Long Branch to open the season, Middletown North went 3-8 in April with 38 runs scored (3.45 runs per game). Once the calendar flipped to May, the Lions found their swings. Since the 3-8 stretch, Middletown North is 13-2 and averaging 9.6 runs per game and has scored at least eight runs in eight of the nine of the nine straight games the Lions have won in a row. Of the nine projected starters for Middletown North, eight are hitting better than .300.
Weinbel has also been an unheralded aspect of the Middletown North turnaround, with the senior right-hander 5-0 in his last six starts. As an additional perk, Middletown North is averaging better than 10.5 runs per game when Weinbel starts.
Colts Neck’s offensive improvement in recent weeks is more subtle, but it has made a difference. During the month of May, the Cougars scored more than five runs just once and it was a 12-6 loss to Howell. In June, however, Colts Neck has scored 23 runs in three games while not relenting on the pitching side. Gubitosi was as stingy as usual in his two starts and after a rocky first inning against Matawan in the sectional quarterfinals, Spencer spun four straight shutout innings.
The numbers over the last month-plus seem to favor Middletown North, but Colts Neck has the edge in championship experience. The Cougars are the defending sectional champions and last year’s championship run included an 8-1 win over Middletown North in which Spencer picked up the win and Colts Neck hung Dowlen with the loss.
Friday’s game has the makings of a high-scoring championship battle and on the other side is a chance for the winner to pitch its ace on Monday in the Group III semifinal and again in the state championship on Saturday.
Prediction: Middletown North, 7-5