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TINTON FALLS -- A standard baseball cliché for players who hit clutch home runs is that they are usually "not trying to hit a home run." It just happens.

St. John Vianney senior Matteo Pasculli, despite his best efforts, was thinking about hitting a home run when he stepped to the plate leading off the top of the ninth inning of his team's Monmouth County Tournament round-of-16-game against Ranney -- the No. 5 seed in the tournament, but the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

As it turns out, at least based on Pasculli's swing in the ninth inning Saturday, you can hit a home run when you are thinking about hitting a home run.

Pasculli scalded the first pitch he saw in the ninth out to right-centerfield and clear of the fence for a tiebreaking solo home run -- the winning swing in an intense, 6-5, extra-inning win for the 12th-seeded Lancers over the Panthers.

"I'll be honest: I had it in the back of my mind," Pasculli said of his visions of hitting a game-winning home run. "But I really just wanted to hit a ball hard somewhere. I did that and it was good enough to give us the lead and it felt really good."

Pasculli's big swing knocked out one of the presumed favorites of the Monmouth County Tournament in its first MCT game. Ranney entered with just one loss -- a 3-2 defeat at No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven -- and boasted wins over Delbarton and Ferris. The Lancers, meanwhile, are still engaged in a battled for the Shore Conference Class B North championship, but Saturday's win was their biggest of the year.

"They're a great team, so we came in knowing we had nothing to lose," Matteo said. "We just played with a chip on our shoulder, we wanted to win and we felt like we belonged here. That motivated us to play through the whole game."

Saturday's game started with Pasculli delivering a big hit and ended with him the hero three hours and 20 minutes later. The senior third baseman smoked a two-run double in the top of the first inning and worked a bases-loaded walk in the second to help the Lancers out to a 4-1 lead on the way to finishing 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and four RBI.

As is the case with most extra-inning games, when one team made a move, the opponent had an answer. After Pasculli's two-run double in the top of the first, Ranney answered with an RBI single by junior Jack Tallent.

After back-to-back RBI walks by senior catcher Kyle Pollack and Pasculli in the top of the second, Ranney came back with two runs in the third. Senior Charlie Chropuvka connected for a towering solo home run to right, followed by three straight singles by juniors A.J. Gracia, Tallent and Diego Tavarez to load the bases with two out. Junior Glen Cantalupo then worked a walk to force in another run to cut the Lancers lead to 4-3.

In the bottom of the fifth, Gracia landed the game-tying blow with a solo home run to left-center field to level the score at 4-4. The home runs by both Gracia and Chropuvka gave each of them six for the season, which is tied for the Shore Conference lead with Howell senior Thomas Strauch.

The Panthers were able to peck away at the 4-1 deficit thanks to the mound work of Gracia. The junior left-hander and Duke University commit came on to start the third inning after starter Nick Coniglio lasted 1 2/3 innings and junior Marcello Mastroianni recorded the final out of the St. John Vianney second. Gracia went on to strike out 10 with two walks and a hit batter while allowing one earned run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings of work.

St. John Vianney finally solved Gracia in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with none out on a single by senior shortstop Brady Oswick, a double over the third-base bag by Pollack and a walk to Pasculli. Gracia, though, responded with a strikeout and jumped ahead, 0-2, on St. John Vianney senior Danny Flynn.

With the infield playing in on the grass and down 0-2 in the count, Flynn shortened up and punched a hard grounder through the left side to give the Lancers a 5-4 lead. Gracia then came back with a strikeout and induced a fly out to end the inning.

"That was a good reaction," Pasculli said of the dugout on Flynn's tying single. "He battled and got a good barrel on it. I wish we could have won it there, but I'm glad it worked out."

Throughout the first six innings, Gracia showed off his power, hitting ability, arm strength and pitching ability. In the seventh, he used his speed and baserunning instinct to tie the game. Gracia led the bottom of the seventh off with a walk and stole second base.

He had to stay put on a fly out to right field for the first out but on 3-2 pitch to Diego Tavarez, Gracia took off for third. Tavarez swung and missed, but Gracia swiped the bag and as he slid in, the throw down the third sailed into left field. Gracia hopped up and sprinted home with the tying run.

Cantalupo followed with a bunt single and junior Lou Spadafora worked a walk, but St. John Vianney reliever Dan Afflitto coaxed Ranney junior designated hitter Logan Semevolos into a inning-ending ground out.

Gracia handed the ball over to Tavarez after 85 pitches and Tavarez worked around a two-out single by Oswick to get out of the top of the eighth. Chropuvka then ripped a two-out double down the first-base line to bring Gracia up with the winning run in scoring position. That brought up Gracia, who drew an unintentional walk and Afflitto ended the threat by inducing a pop out.

Pasculli then led off the ninth and jumped on the first pitch he saw for the winning home run.

"I have practiced on this field before, so I know how the ball carries," Pasculli said. "So I know I just have to get enough of it and it's going to go. That time, I got enough of it."

 

Junior Andrew Zottar and senior Antonio Kurtz came through with singles to threaten further damage, but senior Nick Ferraioli lined into a double-play to end the inning.

Afflitto closed out the game strong, striking out the first two Ranney batters in the ninth and inducing a flyout to end the game.

Afflitto's three-inning win followed another solid outing from junior right-hander Aiden Cody, who allowed four runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out seven over six innings against one of the Shore's deepest lineups.

"There is not really many other teams like us," Pasculli said. "I'm not saying talent-wise, because there are a lot of great teams. But our personality, the way we play, there are not a lot of teams that play like us and do what we do. It feels good that we can just play our game and win a game like this."

Box Score

St. John Vianney 6, Ranney 5

123456789RHE
SJV (9-3-1)2200001016113
Ranney (12-2)1020101005111

Pitching

St. John VianneyIPHRERBBSOPC
Aiden Cody694417106
Dan Afflitto (W, 1-0)32113364
RanneyIPHRERBBSOPC
Nick Coniglio1.24442358
Marcello Mastoianni0.10001113
A.J. Gracia5.131121085
Diego Tavarez (L, 2-1)1.24110234

Top Hitters

St. John VianneyGame Stats
Matteo Pasculli2-3, 2B, HR, 2 BB, R, 4 RBI
Brady Oswick2-4, BB, 2 R
Kyle Pollack2-4, 2B, BB, RBI
Dan Afflitto2-5, R
Danny Flynn1-4, HBP, RBI
Antonio Kurtz1-4, BB, R
RanneyGame Stats
A.J. Gracia2-3, HR, 2 BB, 3 R, RBI, 2 SB
Charlie Chropuvka2-5, 2B, HR, R, RBI
Jack Tallent2-5, RBI
Glen Cantalupo2-4, BB, RBI, 2 SB