LAKEWOOD - Despite returning to Monday's Monmouth County Tournament championship game as the defending champion, the Red Bank Catholic baseball team started only two players against St. Rose Monday night at FirstEnergy Park who were also starters at the same position last year.

Senior right-hand pitcher Blaise Panzini and junior center fielder David Glancy are those two returning starters and they also happen to be the two players who jump-started the sixth-seeded Caseys on Monday night in both the top and bottom of the first inning.

Panzini struck out the tournament's hottest hitter to leadoff the game and Glancy doubled to lead off the bottom of the inning, then scored the first run of RBC's 5-1 win over the No. 12 Purple Roses that gave the Caseys their second straight county title and third in the last six years.

"You've to set the tone," Panzini said. "We've got all these young kids out here, so we as seniors and experienced players had to come out and show leadership and show these kids what it's all about playing in an environment and a game like this. You have to co out and compete, and that's what I feel like I did today."

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

Panzini pitched in relief in last year's Monmouth County Tournament final and with a chance to start the game on Monday, he authored one the best starts of his varsity career. The senior struck out nine of the first 14 hitters he faced and in five innings, he finished with those nine strikeouts while allowing one run on four hits and two walks. Panzini was awarded the tournament Most Valuable Player award.

"Coming into this year, the seniors have had our fair share of disappointments in the states and the Shore Conference final," Panzini said. "The year before as sophomores, it was against Luca (Dalatri and Christian Brothers Academy) and it's hard to have that taste in your mouth for that long. We try to preach to the younger guys that there are only so many opportunities and this time, you had big seeds go down early, we got the right matchup and some big pitching.

"All the stars kind of aligned and guys were coming through through that you wouldn't necessarily expect. These kids have really come together and shown a lot."

St. Rose entered the game with a track record of scoring in the first inning thanks to senior third baseman and leadoff hitter Riley Maypother, who led off back-to-back wins over Manalapan and Monmouth Regional with home runs and singled and scored during the first inning in Saturday's win over Raritan.

Panzini did not give in to Maypother and he struck him out with three straight breaking balls to kick off a scoreless first inning, despite St. Rose putting runners on the corners with two out.

"I was trying to pitch them backwards early," Panzini said of his approach against Riley Maypother, Will Gannon and Brody Maypother at the top of St. Rose's lineup. "Going through the scouting, your see Riley, Will and Brody and they can all hit. You've got to establish that you have that secondary pitch that you can throw for a strike."

After Panzini set the tone in the top of the first, Glancy did the same in the bottom of the inning. The junior worked the count to 2-2 against St. Rose starter Sam Sestito, then slammed a shot to the left-center field wall for a leadoff double. He moved to third on a ground out by junior second baseman Alex Gonzales and scored on yet another ground out by junior shortstop Vincent Bianchi to stake RBC to an early lead.

"The first inning is huge, especially in a game like this," Glancy said. "You get on the board and you get all your confidence as a team, the bench gets even louder. So my first at-bat, I was just trying to drive the ball as hard as I can, I got a pitch I could hit and I jumped on it."

Glancy was in the middle of his team's three-run third inning as well, once again smashing a double to the wall to chase home courtesy runner Elijah Ally for a 2-0 RBC lead. Gonzales followed with an RBI single to center and he the scored on a two-out RBI single by senior left-fielder Nick Merlo.

Meanwhile, Panzini got off to a torrid start on the mound, striking out the side around one baserunner in both the second and third innings to rack up eight punchouts over the first three innings. Panzini then struck out the first batter of the fourth inning before giving up a run on an RBI ground out by Pat Ferrante and finished off his 90-pitch outing by stranding a pair of runners in the fifth.

Merlo capped the scoring by launching an RBI double that one-hopped the wall in left, scoring Bianchi from second base. The umpiring crew initially ruled the play a home run, but after a conference between the four-man crew, Merlo was sent back to second base.

"I most of that one," Merlo said. "It was low in the strike zone and I had to kind of gold it, but I got the barrel on it. Right when I got to second, I saw the umpire signal it was a home run, so it was very deflating to have to go back to second base."

Sophomore John Nimeth took over on the mound for Panzini and fired two shutout innings to close out RBC's second straight county championship and third since winning its first MCT title in 2013. Since 2011, Red Bank Catholic has been to the MCT final six times and is 3-3 in the championship game.

Not only is this year's championship full of players who did not start on last year's team; only three of Saturday's 10 starters - including both pitcher and designated hitter - are seniors. DH Dan Ianelli is the other senior starter along with Merlo and Panzini.

"To wait three years to play and start on this team and get another championship feels great," Merlo said. "You wait your turn and you make the most of the opportunity. Every year, we lose players and it' somebody's job to step up and fill in."

"It's scary to think we're this young," Panzini said. "If we're doing this stuff now, it's going to be crazy to see what they are doing next year."


Box Score

Red Bank Catholic 5, St. Rose 1

St. Rose (15-4)0001000151
RBC (14-5)103010X564


Sam Sestito (L)34441265
Will Gannon32111334
Blaise Panzini (W, 3-1)54112990
John Nimeth21001336

Top Hitters

St. RoseStats
Evan Peeke1-2, 2B, R
Riley Maypother1-3, SB
John Crowley1-3, 2B
Red Bank CatholicStats
David Glancy2-4, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI
Nick Merlo2-3, 2B, 2 RBI
Alex Gonzales1-3, R, RBI


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