MANALAPAN - Just when Michael Kuver thought his memorable day couldn’t get any better…

The Manalapan senior spent the morning signing his name on a National Letter of Intent to Felician College. For an encore, the slugging center fielder put his signature on a walk-off victory for the Braves.

Kuver got just enough of a 1-1 pitch in the bottom of the eight to inch a towering fly ball beyond the right-field fence, depositing a three-run homer that lifted sixth-ranked Manalapan to a dramatic 7-4 victory over No. 8 Middletown South on Thursday.


The blast preserved Manalapan’s pristine record, running the Braves’s mark to 9-0 and 8-0 in the A North. But, this one certainly didn’t come easy.

Manalapan struck for four runs in the third to break open a scoreless contest only to have Middletown South (6-3, 5-2) answer with a four-spot in the top of the fourth to draw even. Each side went into its bullpen and got strong responses to their calls.

Senior left-hander Ben Levine worked the first four innings for Manalapan, fanning five, including the side in the first, while allowing eight hits. Senior right-hander Aaron Ayers threw three scoreless innings of relief with a pair of strikeouts and junior southpaw Chris Nichol struck out two in a perfect eighth to record the win. The trio effectively filled the strike zone and, together, did not issue a single walk.

“They have been very good this year,” Manalapan coach Brian Boyce said of his pitching staff. “We’re not putting a lot of guys on base. I think that’s been our key.”

Sophomore right-hander Mike Keenan pitched the first 4 2/3 innings for Middletown South, scattering seven hits, walking four and pocketing three strikeouts before giving way to Chris Lotito. The junior righty tossed 2 2/3 innings, yielding three walks, two hits and striking out three in absorbing the loss.

It was the keen eyes of Hunter Serrano and Jake Pellechia that set the table for Kuver. Serrano survived an eight-pitch battle to work his third walk of the game to lead off the eight and, following a pop up on a sacrifice bunt attempt, Pellechia earned a free pass. Two pitches later, each trotted home courtesy of Kuver’s long ball.

“That was the right guy, right now, in the right spot,” praised Boyce of Kuver, who finished 3 for 5 with a single, double and two runs scored. “Mike is seeing the ball real well right now.”

Manalapan pieced together four of their nine hits during a third-inning rally to seize the lead. Kuver backed a Pellechia single with a double and Levine helped his cause with an RBI ground out. Following a walk, senior right fielder Matt Panzica lashed a two-run double and scored on a single by Serrano.

Unfazed, Middletown South countered with four of its own in the top of the fourth. Lotito sparked the surge with a lead-off single, stole second and scored on Robby Zega line-drive single to left. With two outs, Jake Kinsella delivered an RBI double and Trevor Brey and Danny Minze each singled home a run to tie the game.

The Eagles threatened to seize the lead in the fifth only to be defused by Panzica. Lotito, who went 4 for 4, reached on an infield single, too second on a base hit by Jack Sheridan and swiped third with one out. Zega lifted a fly ball to right that was hauled in by Panzica, who fired a strike to the plate to nail Lotito tagging from third to complete the inning-ending double play.

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