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MIDDLETOWN -- Ranney's rise to the top of Shore Conference and New Jersey High School baseball is littered with clutch hits and key plays by a group of players that has played together since even before they joined forces at the Tinton Falls school four years ago.

Up until April 25 of this year, Ryan Costello could only bear witness to those moments, whether he did so from the other side of the fence, on social media or from the Panthers dugout.

On Wednesday at Brookdale Community College, the transfer from Freehold Township High School made a moment of his own and added his name to the list of late-game heroes who have delivered Ranney a milestone achievement.

Costello scorched a single through the right side to chase senior A.J. Gracia home with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning and Ranney -- seeded No. 1 in the Monmouth County Tournament -- beat No. 2 Red Bank Catholic in the final at-bat, 6-5, to cap an instant classic in the Monmouth County championship game.

Ranney's victory marks the program's first ever Monmouth County Tournament championship in its first ever appearance, its 20th win of the season and its 14th consecutive victory overall.

After entering the bottom of the seventh trailing by a run, Ranney tied and won the game on consecutive pitches. Gracia provided the equalizing blow with an RBI double that scored classmate Glen Cantalupo from first, then scored on Costello's first-pitch single to ignite the celebration.

Costello is the only newcomer on this year's Ranney team and his addition to the program after he transferred out of Freehold Township as an All-Shore outfielder figured to make him an ideal replacement for another All-Shore outfielder and the only graduate on last year's team, Charlie Chropuvka. It is fitting now that Ranney has won two of its three tournament championship trophies on game-ending, game-winning hits by Chropuvka with his game-winning home run in the 2022 NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B final and Costello with his walk-off single on Wednesday.

Ranney senior A.J. Gracia (arms raised) celebrates scoring the winning run in the Monmouth County Tournament final at Brookdale. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Ranney senior A.J. Gracia (arms raised) celebrates scoring the winning run in the Monmouth County Tournament final at Brookdale. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)

In just seven games prior to Wednesday, Costello made his presence felt with a batting average better than .450, four home runs and two doubles. Before he won the game in the bottom of the seventh, Costello crushed a tie-breaking, two-run triple off the rightfield fence in the bottom of the second inning that gave Ranney a 4-2 lead.

"That is the most electric bat in the 2024 class in New Jersey and one of the most electric bats in the country," Ranney coach Pat Geroni said. "He is a special, special hitter, he is competitor. He is going to make a lot of noise in the ACC early playing first base and the outfield. He is just so, so strong and he doesn’t miss barrels. His barrel accuracy is off the chart: if he gets a pitch to hit, he hits it."

Costello's game-winner capped a back-and-forth finish between the top-two teams in the Shore Conference throughout this season and two of the top-five teams in the state, according to the latest NJ Advance Media rankings.

Red Bank Catholic trailed for most of the game and was down to its final three outs in the top of the seventh against Gracia, who replaced senior starter and left-hander Marcello Mastroianni to start the top of the sixth after Red Bank Catholic scratched a run across in the top of the fifth to cut its deficit to 4-3. Gracia recorded the first out on a ground ball back to the pitcher, then Caseys senior Frank Scrivanic started the rally with a one-out double into right field that got past a diving Curt Chropuvka.

RBC coach Buddy Hausmann pinch ran for Scrivanic -- the Caseys starting first baseman and No. 3 hitter heading to Seton Hall next season -- with sophomore A.J. Sciametta. Senior catcher Shane Andrus stepped in and fell behind 0-2 by taking a fastball in the middle of the zone, then fouling off a 0-1 breaking ball.

Gracia went back to the curveball on 0-2 and Andrus stayed on it, launching a deep fly ball to centerfield that carried just over the reach of senior centerfielder Glen Cantalupo, who moved to center from right when Gracia came in to pitch. Sciametta scored easily and Andrus pulled into second base with a game-tying RBI double.

With the score now tied, 4-4, Gracia pitched carefully to sophomore and Notre Dame commit Dylan Passo, who worked a seven-pitch walk with an open base. That brought up junior centerfield Matt Brunner, who entered the game leading RBC with 21 RBI and entered his seventh-inning at-bat 2-for-3 with his 22nd RBI of the season on a run-scoring single in the top of the fifth.

Like Passo, Brunner also worked the count full and when Gracia challenged him, the speedy junior flipped a flare into shallow right-centerfield that settled in front of Cantalupo. Courtesy running for Andrus, freshman Charlie Stumberger got a late break while reading the ball off the bat, but turned on his speed enough to cross the plate with the go-ahead run just ahead of the Ranney relay.

Gracia bounced back to induce a groundout to shortstop Brett Wehringer for the second out and Costello made a slick, over-the-shoulder catcher deep in the leftfield corner on a fly ball by senior second baseman Christian Condon for the final out of the inning. Condon robbed Costello of a potential hit in the fifth with a diving catch on the junior's line drive and Costello -- who moved from first base to leftfield when Gracia was pulled out of centerfield to pitch -- got his version of revenge by taking a potential game-breaking extra-base hit way from Condon.

Faced with a 5-4 deficit with three outs to go, Ranney was sent its Nos. 9, 1 and 2 hitters to the plate to face Red Bank Catholic junior right-hander Steve Svenson after Caseys starter Alex Stanyek allowed two earned runs with five strikeouts over six innings and 112 pitches.

After the ball found him at his new position in the top of the inning, Cantalupo started the winning rally with a single through the middle that came on a 2-2 pitch. That brought up Gracia, who is second in the Shore Conference with seven home runs and boasts 24 longballs for his career.

With a 1-0 pitch, Gracia unleashed a powerful swing and connected, rifling a top-spinning shot to the right-centerfield gap that touched the fence on two hops and plated Cantalupo with a game-tying RBI double.

With first-base open and Costello coming off two hard-hit balls in each of his past two at-bats -- the first of which was a mere three feet from clearing the right-field fence -- Hausmann opted to let Svenson pitch to the University of Pittsburgh commit and Ranney's hottest hitter instead of taking his chances with senior third baseman Diego Tavarez and Ranney RBI leader and senior second baseman Jack Tallent hitting behind him.

"We have been so potent with Diego bunting in those situations and it’s really indefensible," Geroni said. "On a push bunt to third base, it’s a tough decision for the third baseman and he’s really quick down the line. Maybe they didn’t want to have to defend against that, but I certainly would not have wanted to pitch to Ryan Costello."

On the first pitch, Costello scalded a groundball through the right side, which set up a showdown between Passo in rightfield and Gracia on the base paths.

Geroni did not want Gracia to test Passo and threw up the stop sign at third base, but Gracia would have none of it. He flew past his head coach, challenged Red Bank Catholic to execute the relay, and even when the Caseys did, Gracia slid in head first with the winning run.

"He’s got better instincts than me, so I’m fine with it," Geroni said. "I held him because, book rule: you can’t get thrown out at home with nobody out in that situation. But that kid’s instincts are the best I have ever seen in my life and if he knew he could score, he is going to score."

Before the two teams traded two-run rallies powered by clutch hitting in the seventh inning, they traded two-run innings marred by shoddy defense in the first. Red Bank Catholic jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, opening the scoring when Mastroianni made an errant throw to third base in an attempt to pick off Stanyek. RBC posted runners on the corners thanks to an error at third by Tavarez and the second inning of the error allowed Stanyek to trot home and Sciametta -- running for Andrus -- to move into scoring position at second base.

Passo then made it 2-0 with an RBI single through the middle, giving the Caseys two runs after Mastroianni had two out and a runner on second.

In the bottom of the first, Red Bank Catholic returned the favor by committing two errors of its own to help Ranney quickly pull even. Stanyek retired Gracia and Costello on a pop-up and a strikeout to open the inning before Tavarez started the response with an infield single.

Tallent hit a soft line drive to the opposite field that deflected off the glove of a diving Condon at second base, which allowed Tavarez to race into third base. While Tavarez was headed to third, Passo threw the ball into the infield, but not to an infielder and when the ball rolled on the left side of the dirt without a chaperone, Tavarez ran home and Tallent moved up to second.

"Both teams were amped," Geroni said. "This is a game both teams wanted at some point. We tried to play a bunch of times, but they wanted to play when it mattered. We were happy to do it today. Really rough first inning; really rough for both sides. I think the heart-rate was too up and it resulted in a few guys rushing and making mistakes."

On the next batter, Wehringer hit a firm groundball that third baseman Sean Griggs was not able to handle and Tallent came home with the tying run.

Costello's two-run triple held up for two innings, but Red Bank Catholic was close to tying the game in the top of the fourth when Ranney turned a play that had the makings of another defensive disaster into the defensive gem of the game.

With the bases loaded and two out, Mastroianni squared off with Stanyek -- Red Bank Catholic's leading hitter heading into Wednesday with a .404 average, 10 doubles and three home runs. Mastroianni induced a high pop fly between the mound, third base and home plate. Mastroianni and Tavarez converged and the ball hit Tavarez's glove and bounced into the air.

Tavarez fell to the ground and before the ball could touch down for a two-run error, the senior third baseman and Wagner commit plucked it out of the air with his bare hand to secure the final out of the inning.

"Last year, in the sectional against Gloucester Catholic, (Tavarez) made a play when were down 7-5 and falling apart," Geroni said. "He came across the mound, fell over the mound and made an amazing play that nobody makes. Today, he makes a juggling play that saved us two runs and ultimately, probably saved us the game. He is just a clutch kid."

In five innings, Mastroianno allowed just one earned run while walking three and striking out five.

"The higher leverage the situation, the better Marcello is," Geroni said. "The trick to coaching Marcello is making every situation high leverage. We knew we were going to get a great start out of him and to be honest, I had it in my mind that they weren’t going to score on him. I have seen him so amped, but again credit to them. They had some really good at-bats against him."

The Tavarez catch, Costello clutch hits and the overall composure in a close game was a look into how Ranney has handled itself since losing to Jackson Memorial in the 2022 Shore Conference Tournament round of 16. Since that loss, Ranney is 28-1 with a April 15 loss to Delbarton the only loss since May 18 of last season.

After losing in the round of 16 in both the 2022 MCT and Shore Conference Tournament, Ranney has now won an overall Non-Public B title and a county title -- both program firsts.

Now that Ranney has won the Class B North division championship with a 14-0 record and a competitive Monmouth County Tournament, the Panthers are now fully invested in the drive for five championships. Only Wall in 2004 and Christian Brothers Academy in 2015 have won division, county, Shore Conference, NJSIAA sectional and group championships in the same season.

Senior Glen Cantalupo celebrates scoring the tying run for Ranney in the bottom of the seventh. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Senior Glen Cantalupo celebrates scoring the tying run for Ranney in the bottom of the seventh. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)

Wednesday's game could be a preview of the Shore Conference Tournament final as well, with Ranney and RBC the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in that tournament as well. The two programs have not met on the field -- Geroni led Monroe to a win over Red Bank Catholic in 2011 but had not run into RBC since taking over at Ranney in 2019 -- which made the MCT final an all-the-more anticipated matchup.

Buddy Hausmann and I graduated the same year (1998) and we played in Class C North together," said Geroni, who graduated from Point Pleasant Boro in the same year that Hausmann graduated from Red Bank Catholic. "I had a ton of at-bats against Buddy, but this was only our second meeting as coaches. We got them when I was at Monroe back in 2011 and that team today was one of the grittiest teams I have ever seen at RBC. But the team down the street got the better of them today."

Box Score

Ranney, 6, Red Bank Catholic 5

RBC (15-4)2000102592
Ranney (20-1)2200002662


Alex Stanyek634225112
Steve Svenson (L, 3-3)0322008
Marcello Mastroianni56313596
A.J. Gracia (W, 4-0)23221136

Top Hitters

Red Bank CatholicGame Stats
Matt Brunner3-4, 2 RBI
Shane Andrus1-3, 2B, RBI
Frank Scrivanic2-4, 2B, R
Dylan Passo2-3, BB, RBI
RanneyGame Stats
Ryan Costello2-4, 3B, 3 RBI
A.J. Gracia1-3, 2B, BB, 2 R, RBI
Glen Cantalupo2-3, 2 R
Jack Tallent1-3, R
Diego Tavarez1-3, R
Ranney senior A.J. Gracia stands in vs. Red Bank Catholic senior Alex Stanyek. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Ranney senior A.J. Gracia stands in vs. Red Bank Catholic senior Alex Stanyek. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Ranney senior A.J. Gracia. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Ranney senior A.J. Gracia. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Red Bank Catholic senior Alex Stanyek. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)
Red Bank Catholic senior Alex Stanyek. (Photo: Thomas Pantaleo)



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