WEST LONG BRANCH - Shore Regional senior left-hander Matt Cosentino silenced one of the state's most potent lineups in an eye-opening upset in Tuesday's NJSIAA Group I semifinals, and he did it with his brain as much as his arm.

Using two different curveballs, a cutter, a slider and his fastball, the George Washington University recruit baffled one of the top five teams in the state in a four-hit shutout as the Blue Devils stunned Pennsville 5-0 in Shore's backyard at Monmouth University to advance to Saturday's Group I final in Toms River. Shore (18-9) will play in its first Group final since losing to Pequannock in Group II in 2009 and will face the winner of Wednesday's Dayton-Ridgefield game at one of the three Toms River schools in search of its first Group title since 1993.

Cosentino (7-1) struck out seven, walked one and hit a batter in a 90-pitch complete game against a 28-win squad that was hitting over .400 as a team, had not been shut out all season, and entered averaging just over 10 runs per game with 16 mercy-rule victories. He had Pennsville's hitters either freezing on the breaking stuff or pulling balls foul because of his ability to throw off their timing with curveballs early in the count. He also neutralized the heart of their order, with 3-4-5 hitters Josh Shimp, Eric Lankenau and Mitch Walker going a combined 0-for-8 with a hit by pitch.

"These guys are fastball hitters, so I was keeping them off balance,'' Cosentino said. "They're yanking them (foul), and I'm like, 'OK, it's just a long strike.' I'm not a pitcher who is going to blow it by you, but when I got ahead I was really efficient and would go after guys."

Shore Regional senior lefty Matt Cosentino threw a four-hit shutout, striking out seven, to help the Blue Devils knock off Pennsville and advance to the NJSIAA Group I final on Saturday. (Photo by Scott Stump)
Shore Regional senior lefty Matt Cosentino threw a four-hit shutout, striking out seven, to help the Blue Devils knock off Pennsville and advance to the NJSIAA Group I final on Saturday. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"Ever since one of his starts against Monmouth Regional early in the season, (Cosentino) has been pitching differently,'' said Shore coach Pat O'Neill. "He's working backwards and keeping hitters off balance instead of always just attacking with the fastball and throwing curveballs in curveball counts."

After striking out five in the first two innings, he pitched to contact and let his teammates do the rest. The infield defense was airtight, particularly third baseman James Kelly, handling nine ground balls without an error and turning a 6-4-3 double play in the seventh to help wrap up the win. It was a bounceback effort after making five errors in the Central Jersey Group I final against New Egypt.

"We knew that wasn't us, but we were fortunate to get past that game, and we played a flawless game today,'' Cosentino said.

Second baseman Andrew Schulz had an RBI triple and a run scored to help Shore stun Pennsville, 5-0, to advance to the Group I final. (Photo by Scott Stump)
Second baseman Andrew Schulz had an RBI triple and a run scored to help Shore stun Pennsville, 5-0, to advance to the Group I final. (Photo by Scott Stump)

Cosentino's teammates gave him all the offense he would need by continuing their trend of fast starts in the state tournament with a pair of runs in the top of the first inning against the previously unbeaten Walker (9-1). Pennsville won the pregame flip and chose to be the home team at the neutral site, and Shore was secretly happy to get the first at-bats of the game. If the Blue Devils had won the flip, O'Neill said he was going to choose to be the away team.

"That's the idea, to be aggressive early in the game,'' O'Neill said. "We tried to put the pressure on them a little bit. I don't think they knew much about us."

Shortstop Clayton Coffey, who went 2-for-4 in the win, started the game off with a single up the middle. O'Neill then made an aggressive call and second baseman Andrew Schulz delivered by rocketing an RBI triple to the wall on the first pitch for a 1-0 lead.

"We came out and were like, 'Let's get a run,' so we have more confidence going into the rest of the game,'' Schulz said. "I got the hit-and-run sign on the first pitch, so I figured (the pitch) was going to be there and it was, right down the middle, and I smoked it."

"Schulz came up big,'' Cosentino said. "He's just been swinging it. We get those runs, and it just gives me more confidence on the mound, and I'm able to make some pitches that maybe I wouldn't make if I was down or if the game was close."

Two batters after Schulz's triple, Kelly made it 2-0 when he bounced an infield hit past the diving first baseman for an RBI single. Walker may have been undefeated on a Pennsville (28-2) team with a gaudy record, but Shore was not intimidated given that it played mainly Group II and III teams in Class A Central this year, including newly-minted Non-Public South A champion St. John Vianney. The Blue Devils also saw Christian Brothers Academy ace Luca Dalatri (11-0) in the Shore Conference Tournament.

"Playing in the A Central definitely helps us out a lot because we're facing good pitchers every day - (Rumson's Shane) McCarthy, (St. John Vianney's Justin) Chin and (Dan) Schirmacher, (Red Bank Catholic's Al) Molina, all those good names,'' Schulz said.

"The pitching in our division is better than any in the Shore Conference, and (Pennsville) plays a Group I schedule,'' Cosentino said. "When we get to a level playing field, we do well."

Pennsville nearly answered Shore in the bottom of the first inning when third baseman Peyton Sorrels hit a one-out triple and then Cosentino plunked Lankenau with a pitch to put runners at the corners with two outs. Cosentino ran a full count against Walker before snapping off a curveball that Walker swung over the top of for the third out. It showed Cosentino was willing to throw his curveball in a pressure spot with runners on base and could get it over for a strike.

Cosentino was able to throw a softer curveball for strikes early in the count and then used a harder one with more bite that snapped into the dirt as a finishing pitch while keeping Pennsville honest with his fastball. He retired 11 in a row between the second and fifth innings before a harmless two-out single by catcher Chase Flickenger.

"I got a little deeper in counts at the beginning of the game, but towards the end, I pitched like I had a 4-0 lead by mixing in a few more fastballs,'' he said.

The Blue Devils added some insurance in the top of the sixth inning when first baseman Matt McCarthy chopped a two-run single up the middle against a drawn-in infield with the bases loaded for a 4-0 lead. Catcher Nick Blaney walked to start the inning, followed by a single to right field by designated hitter Dylan Vosk and then a great at-bat by leftfielder Justin Halper, who fouled off two pitches with a full count before he was hit in the back by a pitch. McCarthy then followed by fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches before threading a high fastball up the middle.

Shore tacked on one more run in the seventh when Kelly hit a two-out single and then scored when Blaney blooped a single to right and the relay throw to try to nail Kelly at third got past the third baseman for a 5-0 advantage. Cosentino locked it down from there, polishing off one of the bigger upsets in the state this year and continuing a run that really kicked into gear when Shore beat defending Group I champion Middlesex in the sectional semifinals.

"From the beginning our team was confident that we could make a run, but from (the win over) Middlesex, we knew we could achieve great things,'' McCarthy said.

Box score

Shore Regional 5, Pennsville 0

Shore (18-9)            2 0 0 0 0 2 1 - 5 9 1

Pennsville (28-3)     0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 4 1

Triples: (S) Schulz; (P) Sorrels. WP: Cosentino (7-1); LP: Walker (9-1).


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