Baseball – Wall Hands Jackson Liberty First Loss Behind Ensemble Cast
JACKSON TWP. - Already entrenched in arguably the Shore Conference's most competitive division, the Wall baseball team - ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - is as tested as any team in the conference thanks to a non-division schedule that has offered the Crimson Knights a chance to play two of the Shore's top five teams on consecutive Saturdays.
After coming up short in a tight game last weekend against No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy, the Crimson Knights used all of their weapons Saturday to get past the No. 3 team in rankings and the last remaining unbeaten team in the Shore Conference.
Grant Shulman, Andy Lenneper and Doug Wetzel picked up run-scoring hits, John Iradi delivered a pinch-hit home run and Ryan Napolitano and Trey Dombroski combined for seven innings on the mound to spread the wealth in a 4-3 road win Saturday over previously-unbeaten Jackson Liberty.
"These games are important in the long run," Wall coach Todd Schmitt said. "One of our biggest issues last year was how young we were and we're still young. We're physically a little better, but I think the competition we're playing has made a difference.
"It's important to play these kinds of games now and you just hope the process of playing these type of games carry over to playoff time."
Doug Wetzel broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth with a two-out RBI single to left that scored Shulman, who singled earlier in the inning and advanced to second on the first of two singles by Lenneper.
Shulman then made it 2-0 with a ringing double to right-center field to plate courtesy-runner Nick Castoral, running for catcher Sean Nocera. Shulman then scored on Lenneper's RBI single to center, which Jackson Liberty center fielder Connor Keenan dove for and came up just short.
Iradi stepped in for his first at-bat in the top of the sixth and was also the first batter Jackson Liberty ace Matt Pickus faced in relief on Saturday. On the second pitch he saw, Iradi launched a high drive that carried over the fence in left field to put Wall ahead, 4-0.
"John's a back-up infielder who can play anywhere for us and he has just looked good in batting practice," Schmitt said. "We didn't look great in that spot in the order today so we said, 'Let's give Iradi a shot.'"
Napolitano carried a shutout into the sixth and after issuing his third walk on his 97th pitch to put runners on first and third with one out, the junior right-hander passed the ball off to classmate and left-hander Trey Dombroski. Napolitano struck out eight and left with a zero on the home side of the scoreboard.
"Command of his curveball comes and goes over the course of a game," Schmitt said of Napolitano. "He'll spike a lot of them, but when he needs to throw it for a strike, he does. That's him and he's a competitor. He battles, no matter what the adversity on the mound is."
After a passed ball allowed Keenan to score, Lions junior catcher David Melfi smashed a 2-1 pitch from Dombroski over the center field fence for a two-run homer that pulled Jackson Liberty within 4-3.
The homer was the first earned run allowed by Dombroski in 21 innings this season. The two hits Dombroski allowed in the sixth matched the total number of his he allowed in each of his first three starts - all seven-inning two-hitters.
Nocera took over at catcher in the middle of an at-bat in the the bottom of the third inning after starter David Howarth's lower back locked up on him and forced him from the game, according to Schmitt. Nocera stepped into the cleanup spot in the order and went 2-for-2.
"Defensively, Dave is tops," Schmitt said of Howarth. "He calls the game - we call pitches when we need to, but we let him call the game. He's been hurt when he is swinging and we took him out (Friday) and it just spasmed on him again today.
"We were talking on the bus yesterday and the guys were saying Sean is good to throw to. He catches bullpens for us and he came in, got two hits and did a great job behind the plate. You can't ask for anything more."
After a rocky sixth by his standards, Dombroski returned to the mound in the seventh and worked a one-two-three inning to close out the Crimson Knights victory.
Junior right-hander Kevin Ritz cruised through the first three innings for Jackson Liberty before Wetzel's two -out single broke up his shutout bid.
Wall's win on Saturday came less than 24 hours after the Crimson Knights came back to beat Monmouth Regional on Friday thanks to a go-ahead two-run home run by Shulman in the fifth inning, which followed a game-tying three-run bomb by sophomore Teddy Sharkey. Sharkey later hit a solo homer to give the Crimson Knights a much-needed insurance run in an 8-7 win.
"It's tiring, but we're just pumped for every game," Shulman said of the day-to-day schedule. "We love playing good teams because it just makes us better. We love knocking off other good teams and staying near the top of the Shore Conference."
After two more hits on Saturday, Shulman is hitting at a breakneck .486/.500/.838 clip with three homers and 16 RBI - all of which either lead the team or are tied for the team lead. Shulman is also 3-0 with a 3.25 ERA on the mound as part of a starting pitching trio that has combined for 63 of Wall's 74 1/3 innings this year.
"I'm definitely stronger this year," Shulman said. "I hit the weight room a lot over the winter and I hit a lot over the winter - a lot more than I did between my freshman and sophomore year. I hit with a lot of these kids on the team and they are doing just as well as me. We're playing as a team, we're all hitting and it just feels good."
No. 2 Wall 4, No. 3 Jackson Liberty 3
|Jackson Liberty (8-1)||0||0||0||0||0||3||0||3||4||1|
|Ryan Napolitano (W, 3-0)||5.1||2||2||2||3||8||97|
|Trey Dombroski (S, 1)||1.2||2||1||1||0||2||29|
|Kevin Ritz (L, 2-1)||5||9||3||3||1||4||82|
|Grant Shulman||2-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI|
|John Iradi||1-1, HR, R, RBI|
|Andy Lenneper||2-4, RBI|
|Doug Wetzel||1-3, RBI|
|David Melfi||1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI|
|Connor Keenan||1-4, R|