Baseball – Ryan Napolitano Strikes Out 10 and No. 5 Wall Edges No. 2 Monmouth
TINTON FALLS - Wall High School baseball coach Todd Schmitt first watched sophomore pitcher Ryan Napolitano when the coach was in Cooperstown several summers ago and came across a Wall team playing in a tournament.
The pitcher on the mound impressed Schmitt, not because he was throwing gas or flashed a sharp breaking ball, but because of his demeanor and obvious competitive nature.
Friday against Monmouth Regional - the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - Napolitano drew upon that composure that Schmitt saw in Cooperstown and finished off yet another big win for a No. 5 Wall team that continues to climb up the Shore Conference pecking order.
Napolitano struck out 10 and pitched out of trouble in the seventh inning to finish off a 3-2 Wall win over Monmouth, which creates a three-way tie for first place in the Shore Conference Class B North race. Wall, Monmouth and Manasquan - an 11-8 winner over Ocean on Friday - are all even at the top of the standings with a 6-2 divisional record.
"We mix well together," Napolitano said of the team as a whole. "Us sophomores and a couple of juniors, we've been playing together for about eight or so years and we just love playing baseball and we really want to win. We're looking like a pretty good team so far."
Wall led Friday's game since manufacturing a run in the fourth inning and took a 3-0 advantage into the seventh, with Napolitano at 90 pitches. Monmouth, however, mounted a rally thanks to a leadoff single by senior catcher Josh Jackson followed by a double by senior first baseman Paul Birzin.
Napolitano struck out senior Mark Abrams for the first out, but designated hitter Ricky Voss came through with a two-run single to center field with one out to cut Wall's lead to 3-2 and put the tying run on base for the Falcons.
Sophomore shortstop Dante Ciaramella came up and battled Napolitano for 10 pitches, one of which was a foul ball dropped near the fence on the third-base side. On the 11th pitch of the at-bat, however, Napolitano fired a fastball on the outside corner for the third strike and the second out of the inning.
"They were playing great defense behind me the whole game and that was the first one they dropped," Napolitano said. "I can't get mad about that. They had been playing their tails off in the field and I was going to come back and make a better pitch and get him out."
The game ended on the next batter, whom Napolitano froze with a curveball. The strikeout capped a game in which the sophomore allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out 10 and throwing 107 pitches.
"His stuff is good, but it's his fortitude out on the mound that's the difference," Schmitt said. "He struggled early on in the spring for us and I don't know what it was, but we started him in a game and he got the win and we put him in against Manasquan and he just shut them down. Everything that we thought about him was true. As a sophomore, to have that fortitude on the mound - you've got to bottle that stuff because that doesn't happen very often."
Napolitano did not have his best curveball for most of his outing Friday, but began to find it in the sixth inning and used it twice to put batters away in the seventh when Monmouth mounted its best threat. He struck out Abrams looking on a curveball and did the same to Mike Valerio to end the game.
"I wasn't really feeling (the curveball) in the middle of the game, but I had trust in it the whole game," Napolitano said. "I knew I was going to get one over when I needed to. In either the fifth or sixth inning, I threw one in warm-ups right to the glove and that told me I had it back."
Wall could not muster a baserunner in any of the first three innings against Monmouth senior right-hander Joe Malfara, but once the Crimson Knights finally got one, they turned it into a run. Sophomore John Volpe singled to right field to lead off the fourth and advanced to second base on an errant pickoff throw with none out. Senior Shane Richey moved Volpe to third with a ground ball to second base and Volpe later slid around a tag by Jackson, giving senior John Perrino a sacrifice fly to right field to open the scoring.
The Crimson Knights tacked on two crucial insurance runs in the sixth, which began with a leadoff single by sophomore third baseman Grant Shulman. Monmouth got the first out on a spectacular play by third baseman Liam Kile, who snared a two-hopper by Wall sophomore Dylan Richey with a dive to his backhand side and, from the seat of his pants, threw the ball across the diamond to first base to record the out.
That out did, however, give Wall a runner on second base with one out and the Crimson Knights went on to load the bases with a walk by Volpe and a single by Shane Richey. Perrino then drove in his second run by beating out a ground ball to shortstop for an RBI infield single.
Malfara struck out sophomore David Howarth for the second out, but junior Kevin Lenneper ripped a single to center to score the third Wall run. Centerfielder Justin Scotto made sure the deficit stayed at three by throwing out Shane Richey at the plate, with Jackson picking up a short hop and holding his ground to make the tag.
Malfara took the hard-luck loss by working the full seven innings and allowing two earned runs on five hits and one walk while striking out four on 78 pitches. He needed just 22 pitches to navigate through the first three innings, which he did by facing the minimum nine batters.
Friday marked Wall's fifth straight win - all of which have been by margins of two runs or fewer. In fact, seven of Wall's eight wins have been by margins of three runs or fewer and its two losses were 3-1 to Monmouth and 3-2 to Middletown South. The lone lopsided result for the Crimson Knights this year was a 12-1 win over Pinelands.
The propensity to play in - and win - close games is noteworthy for a team that started four sophomores and a freshman in the field and a sophomore on the mound.
"We knew last year how talented the sophomores were as a freshman team," Schmitt said. "We didn't have a very big senior class and they have come in and they have competed. They earned these jobs."
No. 5 Wall 3, No. 2 Monmouth 2
|Wall (8-2, 6-2)||0||0||0||1||0||2||0||3||5||2|
|Monmouth (8-2, 6-2)||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||5||1|
|Ryan Napolitano (W, 3-0)||7||5||2||2||1||10||107|
|Joe Malfara (L, 1-1)||7||5||3||2||1||4||78|
|John Perrino||1-2, 2 RBI|
|John Volpe||1-2, BB, 2 R|
|Kevin Lenneper||1-3, RBI|
|Grant Shulman||1-3, R|
|Ricky Voss||2-3, 2 RBI|
|Paul Birzin||1-3, 2B, R|
|Justin Scotto||1-3, SB|