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MIDDLETOWN -- Before Tuesday's NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A first-round game against Paul VI, the Christian Brothers Academy baseball team had yet to win a tournament game of any kind and after the top of the sixth inning Tuesday, its latest attempt was starting to look eerily similar to a home-field state tournament heartbreaker from a year ago.

With the game, and the season, on the line, CBA got a major lift from a newcomer and from one of its seniors out for redemption from a season ago.

Junior first baseman Zaine Toneske hit a tiebreaking solo home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth and senior right-hander Mike Kelly escaped a second-and-third jam with none out in the seventh to close the door on a 3-2 win for the sixth-seeded Colts over a dangerous No. 11 seed in the Eagles.

CBA junior first baseman Zaine Toneske. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
CBA junior first baseman Zaine Toneske. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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"It was very exciting," Toneske said. "After everything that happened in the previous inning, with them tying the game and the arguing between the dugouts and the calls, I knew it was just a big moment and you could feel it in our dugout. It's a great win for us."

"We haven't won a tournament game this year before today," CBA coach Marty Kenney Jr. said. "I would have liked to play the pitching matchups and maybe played the long game, but I thought it was really important just to get these guys a tournament win. That was a very good team, much better than any number 11 seed you'll find anywhere else, so it was great for the guys to get this one today."

Toneske is a first-year player at CBA after spending his freshman and sophomore years at Jackson Liberty and has already verbally committed to playing at St. John's University after high school. On Tuesday, he had his most memorable moment as a high school player, stepping into the right-hand batter's box with his team now tied, 2-2, after Paul VI rallied for two runs in the top of the sixth to tie the game.

After taking a curveball from Paul VI right-hander Drew Doyle for strike one, Toneske zoned in on a fastball, got what he was looking for and crushed the 0-1 pitch well beyond the fence in left field.

"I was trying to get on base for my team, get a rally going," Toneske said. "I didn't want to try to do too much. Just trying to get my pitch and drive it. His slider was good, but he wasn't really locating it and his fastball looked pretty flat so I was just looking for something middle-in that I could drive and that's what I got."

The homer is the fourth of the season for Toneske, tying him for the team lead with classmate and rightfielder Hunter Del Guercio, who drove in the first CBA run of the game with an RBI single for his team-leading 33rd RBI of the season.

"Zaine is a confidence guy," Kenney said. "He fluctuates from at-bat to at-bat and we're trying to work with him to build up that confidence so he has it all the time. A guy like Jack Frankovic, he is the same all the time, so we're trying to impart that on (Toneske) and I thought he did a great job with it today. He went up there in a huge spot, didn't flinch after he got down in the count and put a great swing on the ball. He has been doing that a lot this year. He's put up great numbers and he's only just starting to figure it out, so we're excited for him."

With CBA regaining the lead heading to the seventh inning, Kenney Jr. called upon Kelly to record the final three outs after senior right-hander and Tulane commit Colin Reilly pitched six solid innings (one earned run, six hits, two walks and six strikeouts) on 95 pitches. Kenney said Reilly wasn't feeling 100 percent going into the game and his plan A for the seventh inning -- hard-throwing sophomore Chris Levonas -- reported arm discomfort during his warm-ups.

"I didn't think I had my best stuff today," Reilly said. "But my motto is always to attack. I want to throw as many strikes as I possibly can and put pressure on the other team and I was able to do that today."

CBA senior Colin Reilly. (Photo: Steve Meyer)
CBA senior Colin Reilly. (Photo: Steve Meyer)
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"I always feel good giving the ball to a senior, especially in a state tournament," Kenney said. "They realize it could be their last time. It wasn't the plan (to go to Kelly) -- the plan was to go to Levonas and he came in from throwing and said his arm was bothering him, so we had to rush and get Mike up."

That prompted Kenny to call Kelly into action, another seventh-inning scenario in which a senior reliever would spell Reilly at the end of the game. Last year, Reilly turned over the ball to the bullpen in CBA's opening-round NJSIAA Tournament game against St. John Vianney, only to watch Lancers junior Dylan Galamb hit a go-ahead two-run home run with two out in the top of the seventh to stun the Colts, 3-2.

On Tuesday, it was Kelly's turn to try and shut the door and his pursuit did not look promising initially. Paul VI got runners to second and third with none out in the seventh on a hit-by-pitch followed by a bloop double down the rightfield line by leadoff hitter Sasha Palma.

CBA's defense then came up with a big play, with senior second baseman Alexey Stout gloving a line drive by Nick Nigro and flipping it to junior shortstop Harrison Campi at second for the double-play. Kelly then struck out No. 3 hitter and catcher Declan Williams swinging on a high 2-2 fastball to end the game.

"He was phenomenal today," Reilly said of Kelly. "Second and third with no outs and he got out of it. He showed a lot of fight today. I'm really proud of him, he came up huge."

Paul VI tied the game off Reilly in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by John Ormsby and a steal of home by Tulane-bound shortstop Mike Lucarelli. With one out and the bases load, Joe Bruno whiffed on an attempted suicide squeeze bunt, but Lucarelli slid under the tag of CBA catcher Joe Figliolino.

The rally started with a close miss by Reilly with a curveball on a 3-2 count for a walk, followed by two misplays in right by Del Guercio -- one that went for a double by Lucarelli and the other a dropped fly ball at the warning track in right-center that loaded the bases.

With the go-ahead run on third and just one out, Reilly bounced back with a strikeout of Bruno and a groundout to Campi to end the threat with runners on second and third. The top of the sixth inning ended with both dugouts -- including both head coaches -- chirping at one another and the home plate umpire issuing verbal warnings to both dugouts.

"That was huge for our momentum," Reilly said. "Both dugouts were load, the coaches were loud, the parents were loud. Everybody was into it and we were fired up. We knew we were going to come back."

In addition to starting a game-saving double-play, Stout ignited the first scoring rally of the game when he singled and scored on the RBI single by Del Guercio to put CBA up, 1-0, in the bottom of the first. Stout later drove in Matt DiFeo with an RBI single of his own to extend the Colts' lead to 2-0 in the fifth.

Both teams had to overcome some misadventures on the base paths, with Paul VI losing two baserunners to outs at third base while trying to get back to the bag. The first was on a relay from Del Guercio in right to Toneske, who threw to third to get pinch-runner Jake Petrillo, who took a hard turn around third and could not get back to the base.

In the top of the fourth, Campi caught a popup in shallow right for the second out Lucarelli attempted to bluff a tag-up and attempt to score, but it backfired when Campi threw to senior George Kruse, who applied the tag for the final out of the inning.

CBA's outs on the bases were slightly more conventional, with Paul VI rightfielder Tyler Phillips throwing Toneske out at home on a single by junior Wyatt Hunt to end the bottom of the fourth and Stout getting caught stealing second base on a first-and-third pickoff move by Doyle in the fifth.

After surviving Tuesday, CBA will get a rematch with No. 3 Red Bank Catholic Friday at Count Basie Park in Red Bank in the sectional quarterfinals. Red Bank Catholic beat CBA, 4-1, in nine innings in the Monmouth County Tournament round of 16 and is coming off winning a third consecutive Shore Conference Tournament championship this past Sunday.

"We know they're a good team, we know they can hit and we know we're not going to have Colin on the mound so we're going to have have better hitting and better defense than usual," Toneske said.

With Reilly unavailable and No. 2 starter Jack Frankovic nursing an injury that has kept him off the mound but in the lineup in centerfield, CBA will be looking to piece together seven innings against a Caseys team that will likely start sophomore Declan Leary.

"We're struggling a little bit with our pitching," Kenney said. "Frankovic is hurt, Colin went out there and gutted one out but he's had some tenderness lately. I don't know who we've got for Friday, but we're going to mix and match it as best we can and hope to throw them off."

"We can't wait," Reilly said. "We have been waiting for this game for the whole entire year. I know I won't be playing in it, but I'll be giving 100 percent in the dugout cheering the guys on. We're ready."

Box Score

CBA 3, Paul VI 2

1234567RHE
Paul VI (15-17)0000020270
CBA (16-9)100011X392

Pitching

Paul VIIPHRERBBSOPC
Kyle McKeon47220257
Drew Doyle (L, 2-1)22111230
CBAIPHRERBBSOPC
Colin Reilly (W, 5-2)66212695
Mike Kelly (SV, 1)11000116

Top Hitters

Paul VIGame Stats
John Ormsby2-3, RBI, SB
Mike Lucarelli2-3, 2B, R, SB
Sam Juckett1-3, 2B
Elias Philiposian1-1, HBP
CBAGame Stats
Zaine Toneske1-2, HR, HBP, R, RBI
Alexey Stout2-3, R, RBI
Hunter Del Guercio1-3, RBI
Harrison Campi2-3
Matt DiFeo1-2, BB, R
Wyatt Hunt1-2, HBP