FARMINGDALE - There are not many scenarios in which a game during the first week of any baseball regular season could be considered "must-win" but the Howell baseball team faced something close to that on Thursday.

Facing the No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network for the second time in three days and potential 0-3 start to the season, the No. 10 Rebels gave the ball to their senior co-ace and fought their way to their first win and a satisfying 1-2 start to the season.

Senior right-hander Ryan Bearse struck out 11 over six innings, allowed only one run on five hits and went 2-for-2 at the plate with the game's first RBI Thursday to lead Howell to a 4-2 win over Christian Brothers Academy.

"We really felt like if we could get one out of this first three games, we would be in good shape," Howell coach Eric Johnson said. "We still would have felt good at 0-3, but it's a harder climb. Considering we're playing three games in three days against top-ten teams, we would be happy with one of them and we almost got two, maybe even three.

"It doesn't feel like 1-2. We're going into next week with the firepower to get through it."

Bearse, a Monmouth University commit, got the better of CBA junior right-hander and Rutgers commit Braedin Hunt on Thursday after Hunt earned the win Tuesday in 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief against the Rebels. Hunt lasted 3 1/3 innings and 66 pitches on Thursday and went 1-for-4 at the plate - 1-for-3 against Bearse.

Howell senior right-hander Ryan Bearse. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Howell senior right-hander Ryan Bearse. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"CBA is on top every year," Bearse said. "(Howell senior) Bryan Bernard threw a great game on Tuesday and we got beat by a great player in a great game. We just came up a little short the last couple days but that only made us want this one even more. We needed this one bad and we got it."

CBA defeated Howell, 2-1, on Tuesday on a game-winning, two-run home run by senior shortstop Tommy DiTullio with two out in bottom of the seventh. For the second time in three days, DiTullio came up as the go-ahead run with CBA down to its final out in the bottom of the seventh, only this time, Howell's dominant starter was no longer in the game.

Bearse turned the ball over to sophomore Chris Ellison for the seventh inning after reaching 94 pitches and Howell leading, 4-1. Ellison threw 18 of his 25 pitches for strikes and struck out two Colts batters, but surrendered and double by junior Mason Wolf and two singles to Jason Arnott and Connor Baksh to make the score 4-2 and give DiTullio a chance to play hero once again.

With the tying run on first, Ellison jumped in front of DiTullio 0-2 and on a 1-2 pitch, CBA's senior shortstop lined a curveball to left field that hung up long enough for senior left fielder Jake Kutcher to glove it comfortably for the final out.

"We had a lot of options in the bullpen today and they are all pretty similar," Johnson said. "We just thought, 'Let's give Chris the ball and let's see what he can do.' And he came through. Even when guys got on, I didn't feel like he was struggling on the mound. They found some holes, we put a glove on a few of them."

Ellison also went 1-for-2 with a run scored while starting at third base.

Howell led CBA from the first inning all the way to the final out thanks to the other half of its one-two pitching punch. After senior left-hander Bryan Bernard limited CBA to two hits in 6 2/3 innings on Tuesday, Bearse matched his teammate on Thursday. Armed with a live fastball, a curveball to served as his second offering and a slider and changeup that he mixed in, Bearse and his brother - junior catcher Jack Bearse - kept the Colts hitters off balance throughout his six innings and 94 pitchers.

"It's a tough lineup," Ryan Bearse said. "My brother has caught me for like 10 years - everything I'm thinking, he is thinking. The curveball was working great, we mixed in a slider and a changeup once in a while, and got them swinging and missing."

Bearse did not issue a walk, hit one batter and worked around one-out errors in both the second and third innings to keep CBA off the board through three frames. He also opened the scoring with a line-drive, RBI single to center in the bottom of the first to chase home senior shortstop Kyle Brex, who walked with two out and advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt by Hunt.

Howell took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third thanks to Kutcher's baserunning. The senior outfielder singled with one out, took off on a hit-and-run and reached third base on a routine ground ball to third, and scored on a wild pitch with two out.

CBA finally broke through against Bearse in the fourth. Baksh lined an 0-2 single into right to lead off the inning and stole second base. After Bearse struck out DiTullio, junior third baseman Pat Reilly smacked an RBI double just inside the right-field line to chase home Baksh.

Bearse escaped further damage by inducing a ground out to Ellison at third and punching out the center fielder Anthony Celestre to strand Reilly at third base.

The Rebels quickly responded to CBA's first run by putting up two more of their own in the bottom of the fourth. Bearse led off the inning with a walk and Ellison drew one of his own with one out. Junior designated hitter Chris Acampora followed with a ringing doubled off the fence in left field to score courtesy runner Colin Loch from second base.

Acampora's double chased Hunt from the game and sophomore Antonio Gatti welcomed new pitcher and left-hander Evan Mahns by fighting off a 2-2 curveball into shallow right-center for an RBI single.

Mahns escaped further damage by catching Gatti going for second base with a pickoff attempt, which ended with CBA conceding second base and DiTullio throwing Acampora out at home plate. After Jack Bearse worked a walk to get back to the top of the order, Mahns struck out Kutcher to end the threat.

After losing to CBA in the season-opener on Tuesday, Howell lost to No. 9 Manalapan, 5-3, on Wednesday when the Braves scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to erase a 3-1 deficit.

While an 0-3 start would not have ended Howell's season, Johnson and his players preferred not to face the mental hurdle of going three games without a win. Instead, Howell is 1-2 in three games vs. Top-10 opponents and has turned in three stellar pitching performances.

"No team wants to start off 0-3," Bearse said. "We are a pretty young team and we need guys to keep their confidence and I think this is going to help a lot of kids gain confidence and be ready for rest of the season."

"We have been hearing the last few years that Howell is going to struggle with pitching and that has been the case for the most part," Johnson said. "If you look at the first two games, we gave up two earned runs against Manalapan, two on Tuesday and then one today. We're very confident right now that our pitching is going to win us a lot of ball games this year."

Pitching has indeed not been Howell's strong suit in recent years. The Rebels gave up 162 runs - the fifth-highest total in the conference behind only Henry Hudson (236), Donovan Catholic (211), Lakewood (209) and Ranney (201) - and still finished 13-12 overall. On the bright side, Bearse and Bernard made strides as juniors last season and both returned as improved pitchers and harder throwers.

"Last year, it felt like we went through every game having to score a lot of runs to win," Bearse said. "But Bryan pitched great for us, Max (Friedman) pitched great for us (vs. Manalapan). We put a couple little things together and we should have it figured out.

"We had a lot of great hitters who were seniors last year and they put up a lot of runs. We knew we weren't going to do that again so we have to do a lot of the little things like throw strikes, make plays in the field, run the bases. To start off, I like the way that we're playing. We're playing like a team."


Box Score

Howell 4, CBA 2

CBA (1-1, 1-1)0001001281
Howell (1-2, 1-2)101200X462


Braedin Hunt (L, 1-1)3.13434466
Evan Mahns2.13002350
Pat Reilly0.1000003
Ryan Bearse (W, 1-0)651101194
Chris Ellison (SV, 1)13110225

Top Hitters

Pat Reilly3-3, 2B, RBI
Connor Baksh2-4, R, RBI, SB
Mason Wolf1-3, 2B, R
Ryan Bearse2-2, RBI
Chris Acampora1-3, 2B, RBI
Antonio Gatti1-2, RBI, SB
Jake Kutcher1-3, R
Chris Ellison1-2, R



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