Family Recipe: Wall Cooks Up Victory in SCT Quarters
JACKSON – The Wall formula for success is much like a treasured family recipe, carefully handed down from one group of Crimson Knights to the next without losing a morsel of its initial integrity. The essential ingredients form the consistency that’s made the program one of the most revered in the Shore for seemingly as long as the baseball has been round.
“Great pitching, great defense and great hitting,” said senior third baseman Grant Shulman, sharing some of the more prominent seasonings that reside within the secret sauce.
All three phases are enhanced by timely execution, be it through a sprinkle of clutch knocks, a dash of dominance on the mound or a pinch of defensive gems that defuse opposing rallies with a hint of pizzazz.
Seventh-seeded Wall applied all on Wednesday in whipping up a 10-5 victory over second-seeded Jackson Liberty in the quarterfinal round of the Shore Conference Tournament. The win vaulted the Knights (22-3) into the semifinals next Wednesday at Count Basie Park in Red Bank against sixth-seeded Manalapan, which edged third-seeded Christian Brothers Academy, 3-2.
Wall ambushed Liberty (22-3) with a five-run outburst in the top of the first that featured a combination of patience and purposeful contact to balance the slick work of senior right-hander Ryan Napolitano and the gloves that backed him over 6 2/3 innings of craftsmanship.
“Over the last week, our hitters have been destroying the ball, putting together great at bats and scoring a lot of runs,” noted Napolitano, who offset the 10 hits he surrendered with seven strikeouts and a single walk before being lifted after reaching the pitch-count limit. “It takes pressure off the entire pitching staff. You know you have run support and don’t have to throw your best game every single time you’re out there.”
Napolitano was afforded a comfy cushion to rest upon before he even delivered his first offering. The Crimson Knights parlayed two walks and four hits into a 5-0 lead that exemplified a refined approach at the plate.
“A few weeks ago, we lost three games in a span of 10 days,” noted Wall coach Todd Schmitt. “We had high expectations and, after that, people were kind of writing us off. I told them we’re too good for that. We started taking better at bats and better approaches…just put ball in play and let our pitchers do their job.”
Both elements were accomplished on Wednesday. Senior shortstop Johnny Volpe led off the contest with a single, junior center fielder Teddy Sharkey walked and Shulman grounded a single through the right side to load the bases for sophomore DH Jay Bant, who walked to force in the first run.
Senior catcher Dave Howarth lined a two-run double to right and senior second baseman Dylan Richey laced a single to plate a pair as Wall set a definitive tone en route to its 12th straight triumph.
The Knights ceaselessly put pressure on Jackson Liberty (22-3) by getting the leadoff batter aboard in six of seven innings and converting five of those into runs. Volpe finished 2 for 3 with two runs scored, Sharkey scored twice, Shulman went 2 for 4 with a homer, junior left fielder Sean Nocera supplied two singles and an RBI, Howarth and Richey each collected two hits and all nine in the batting order reached base at least once during a display of offensive firepower that yielded a dozen hits.
The showing with the bats was equaled by Napolitano, who surrendered a two-run homer to senior catcher David Melfi in the third that narrowed the gap to 6-2, an RBI single by junior third baseman Brandon Kinsman in the fourth and a two-run double to junior shortstop Shane Hickey with two outs in the bottom of the seventh before reliever Tanner Powers stamped the win with a game-ending strikeout.
Able to confidently pitch to contact, he was rewarded by those behind him. Shulman started a 5-4-3 double play that ended the bottom of the first and Sharkey raced in to make a diving stab that secured the final out in the fourth with a runner on first and Liberty threatening to cut Wall's lead in half.
Shulman countered Melfi's homer in the third with a two-run bomb to center in the top of the fourth, widening the gap to 8-2 and emphasizing Wall's collection of tested veterans who have a sense for timing.
"As we were coming back into the dugout at the end of the third, Sharkey said we're getting those two runs right back," said Shulman. "He got on to lead off (via an error) and I got a pitch in the zone and had the chance to drive it."