MIDDLETOWN - Red Bank Catholic junior Ryan O'Hara and sophomore Chris Sparber have not been a part of a championship run nor a rivalry game against Christian Brothers Academy, but both have been up close to witness the intensity that comes with both.

On Saturday at CBA, the two first-year Caseys starters made their mark on the rivalry and on what they and their teammates hope will be another run to a Monmouth County championship.

Sparber belted the go-ahead home run in the top of the fifth inning and O'Hara blasted two solo home runs as the Caseys - the No. 6 seed in the Monmouth County Tournament - powered their way past the streaking No. 2 seed Colts, 6-3, to advance to the Monmouth County Tournament final for the third straight season.

The RBC win snapped a 13-game winning streak by this year's Colts team and a four-game CBA winning streak in the rivalry between the two teams. The last RBC win over CBA came in 2013 and the Colts beat the Caseys in 2014, 2015 and twice in 2016 before spending a year away from one another in 2017.

Red Bank Catholic junior Ryan O'Hara rounds third after his first home run on Saturday. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Red Bank Catholic junior Ryan O'Hara rounds third after his first home run on Saturday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"Last year, I didn't play, but I was really into the games," O'Hara said of his tournament experienced as a sophomore. "It was so much fun just to be in the dugout, so now that it's my turn to play, I want to make the most of it."

O'Hara has had a handful of memorable moments in his first year as a starter all over the diamond for the Caseys and Saturday was his first major power display. He launched two home runs to left field - one to open the scoring in the top of the third and another to put RBC ahead, 3-1, leading off the sixth - with both long-balls coming on 3-2 pitches from CBA left-hander Blaise Venancio.

Venancio was a Shore Sports Network All-Shore pitcher as a junior and he entered Saturday's game 4-0 on the season.

"The good thing about going to 3-2 is you get to see at least five pitches," O'Hara said. "I was able to foul off a couple of pitches, so I saw seven or eight and I felt like I was really on him. I just tried to see the ball and stay up the middle and the ball was inside, so I just pulled the hands in.

"Home runs are accidents. You just try to hit line drives and let the power come."

O'Hara has played multiple positions this season, appearing at third base, catcher, first base and right field for RBC this year. In the lineup, however, he has staked out the No. 4 spot in the order, even before unloading twice on Saturday.

"With him, it's a confidence thing," Hausmann said of O'Hara. "He's been second-guessing some things, I think because he's been playing everywhere. I actually talked to him yesterday and just told him, 'You are a big asset for this team and this program right now because he can catch, pitch, play third, first and the outfield. That gives us a ton of flexibility and it allows us to play the best guys in the lineup.'"

Sparber, meanwhile, experienced the rivalry from the other side when he watched his older brother, Joe - now a walk-on at the University of Miami - when he played at CBA. Chris Sparber lost some time early in the season due to a broken bone in his hand and he has begun to flash his offensive potential over the last two weeks. Saturday's go-ahead swing on a 2-0 offspeed pitch from Venancio was Exhibit A.

"I felt bad for him," Hausmann said of Sparber. "We kept trying to encourage him and get him reps any way we could, but the season goes on and we couldn't really keep waiting around on him. It was just a freak injury during an intra-squad game. He's been doing a really good job behind the plate and he's really starting to swing the bat well, which has been good for him and good for us."

After O'Hara opened the scoring with his third-inning home run, CBA tied the game on a two-out RBI single by sophomore outfielder Braedin Hunt. Sparber's homer made it 2-1 in the fifth and O'Hara's second solo shot ignited a four-run sixth.

Senior Nick Merlo followed O'Hara's home run with a hard single through the left side that ended Venancio's day. Senior Dan Ianelli followed with a single off of senior right-hander Nick Hohenstein and Merlo then scored on an errant throw to second base on a steal by Ianelli, making it 4-1, RBC.

Sophomore Robert Gonzales followed with a walk and after a strikeout by Hohenstein, both baserunners moved up on a pop-up that dropped on the infield, although Sparber was out via the infield-fly rule. Hohenstein then walked junior outfielder David Glancy to load the bases and junior Alex Gonzales came through with a two-out, two-run single to center to round out Red Bank Catholic's scoring.

Hunt started CBA's seventh inning with a double and scored along with courtesy runner Anthony Celestre on a long RBI double to the center-field fence by senior second baseman Jack Harnisch that cut the CBA deficit to 6-3.

With Hohenstein and his five home runs in the on-deck circle representing the tying run, Red Bank Catholic senior right-hander Austin Nappi struck out Colts junior shortstop Tommy DiTullio to end the game. The punchout came after a quick visit from Hausmann to give his ace a chance to gather himself.

"I don't think (Hausmann) was going to take me out there, but we've had games where I've had to yell at him to stay (in the dugout)," Nappi joked. "I get a competitive side just like everybody else and I want to be in there, even when he is getting a little nervous."

Nappi went the distance and notched two of his four strikeouts Saturday in the last inning to close out his fourth win of the year. He allowed three earned runs on six hits, no walks and four hit batters while throwing 100 pitches.

"Before our Long Branch game, we came here and we scouted (CBA)," Nappi said. "Me and coach (Joe Pingatore) sat down for about two hours today and just talked - going over lineups, going through scorecards, just making sure that I had the best gameplan possible going into this game."

Prior to Saturday, Nappi last pitched in a 16-0 win over Long Branch one week earlier and lost to Ocean in his prior start. The two losses suffered by Nappi this year exceeded his entire total for 2017, when he went 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA and just four walks in 67 innings.

"We had a conversation this week where some things were said to him to kind of get him going," Hausmann said of Nappi. "I laid a lot out there for him, just because I didn't totally see the work ethic this year that we saw last year and I think his performance was showing it.

"He really, really did a great job this week preparing and you saw a totally different person this whole week and today shows whatever was lacking before is still there when he puts in the work. I had guys asking me, 'Who are you going with (on the mound)?' This was always going to be (Nappi's) game."

Beyond the seven strong innings and the 11 ground-ball outs, Nappi was animated throughout the game, pumping his fist after every big out - including double-plays turned by Alex Gonzales and shortstop Vincent Bianchi in both the fifth and sixth innings.

"These guys like to swing and they don't like to swing on the inner half, so establishing that outer half of the of the plate, but not being afraid to go in was important," said Nappi, who hit four batters as a result of his commitment to pitching inside. "My thing was let's get the ball on the ground and see what happens. We got a couple big double-plays, we got a pickle play on the squeeze attempt, so it was a really great game overall."

Red Bank Catholic will play No. 12 St. Rose in the championship game on Monday night at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, scheduled for a 7 p.m. first pitch. Red Bank Catholic is aiming for its second straight MCT championship while the Purple Roses are shooting for their first in 10 years.

"I remember watching (Luca) Dalatri take it to us during my sophomore year," said Nappi, referring to the all-time Shore Conference wins leader and current University of North Carolina sophomore. "I was a sophomore sitting there thinking how I can't wait to get my chance at these guys. This whole week was a mental battle and we came out prepared to play, so we're going to look to keep that going into Monday."


Box Score

Red Bank Catholic 6, CBA 3

RBC (13-5)0010140691
CBA (16-2)0001002361


Austin Nappi (W, 4-2)763304100
Blaise Venancio (L, 4-1)56442185
Nick Hohenstein23222340

Top Hitters

Red Bank CatholicStats
Ryan O’Hara2-3, 2 HR, R, 2 RBI
Chris Sparber1-3, HR, R, RBI
Alex Gonzales1-3, 2 RBI
Dan Ianelli2-3, R, SB
Robert Gonzales1-3, R
Nick Merlo1-3, R
Jack Harnisch1-4, 2B, 2 RBI
Braedin Hunt2-3, 2B, R, RBI
John Dudek2-3, R
Tom Rodgers1-1, 2 HBP



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