MANASQUAN – Torrential rain did more than saturate the field at Manasquan on Thursday, rendering it unplayable. The flash thunderstorm washed away a good deal of the momentum the Warriors were gradually building before their Central Jersey, Group 2 quarterfinal showdown with Robbinsville was suspended in the middle of the third inning.

A day later when play resumed, Manasquan found itself in the midst of a scoreless dogfight with an upstart seeking respectability at its expense. The Warriors briefly stemmed that quest by scratching out a seemingly uplifting run in the bottom of the sixth to seize the lead…one that proved fleeting.

On a sun-drenched Friday afternoon, sixth-seeded Robbinsville resorted to unleashing some lightning it apparently caught in a bottle the day before. The Ravens erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh through an electrifying chain of events and shocked third-seeded Manasquan, 4-1, en route to advancing to the sectional semifinals.

Thursday’s cloudburst took its toll on Manasquan (17-5). So dominant 24 hours earlier when he fanned seven over the first three innings, including a string of six straight, senior right-hander Spencer Bauer passed the pitching baton to Mike Anthony, who silenced Robbinsville for the ensuing three frames. Bauer remained in the contest, assuming chores in left field and was a pivotal figure in putting the Warriors ahead in the sixth.

With one out, senior third baseman James Harmstead worked a walk in front of Bauer, who followed with a high fly ball that veered toward the gap before being swept by the wind to left for a double to put runners on second and third. Junior center fielder John Foreman cashed in, shooting an RBI single through the left side that scored Harmstead to stamp a 2-for-3 showing.

Yet, Robbinsville harvested a positive on the play, cutting down the trail runner at the plate before junior right-hander Chris Au, who fired six innings of gritty four-hit pitching, ended the inning with a strikeout to minimize the damage.

“We could only score one run and you don’t win many games that way,” said Manasquan coach Brenan Gordon. “All season, we stressed how you have to find a way to win and they did all year. We had to get those last two outs and it all fell apart.”

Anthony, who scattered five hits, struck out three and walked a pair, surrendered a walk to start the top of the seventh but got momentary relief when he fielded a bunt and fired to second to erase the lead runner for the first out. Sophomore center fielder Shane Martin was hit by a pitch on a full count ahead of senior shortstop Jack Gillmer, who made it sting by lacing a two-run triple to right to thrust Robbinsville (17-8) in front, 2-1.

Freshman Tyler Provost and junior Justin Penzone each added an RBI single to build up some insurance stock and senior right-hander Danny Frascella closed out Manasquan with a spotless seventh to seal the fate of the Warriors, who now turn their attention to a date with Red Bank Catholic on Wednesday in the semifinal round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

“Mike was great,” praised Gordon of Anthony. “He was dealing and we were in it with a chance to win because of his job on the mound.”

Manasquan pitcher Mike Anthony talks with catcher Alex Wells (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

A performance that was matched by Au, who came back a day after throwing 22 pitches on Thursday and finished with six strikeouts against four walks over six gritty frames.

Chris Au of Robbinsville

“They are a great team,” Au said of Manasquan. “Their big and they can swing it. I pitched backwards with a lot of off speed to start hitters. Then, I pounded with the fastball or slider.”

That design, coupled with some timely deliveries and defensive support, ultimately doomed Manasquan. The Warriors loaded the bases in the bottom of the third only to have Au induce a threat-defusing ground out to escape unscathed. An inning later, the Warriors had a runner on second when Robbinsville third baseman Tyler Lehmann scooped up a ground ball, tagged the lead runner and fired on to first for a double play. In the fourth, his diving stab and throw from his knees ended a 1-2-3 fifth for Au.

Will Hopkinson of Manasquan (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

“It’s amazing as a pitcher,” Au said of the glove work that aided his cause. “You don’t have to strike out everybody. You can let your defense work and maybe throw less pitches. Tyler lays it out there every game. I love him for that.”

“We’re a dangerous team,” added Lehmann, who went 1 for 4 and kept the rally going in the seventh when he reached on an error. “We have to take every opportunity we get because, at this point, the next game could be your last.”

Gillmer insured Robbinsville lived to see another day by abiding to that credo. He opened the game on a Thursday with a first-pitch single off Bauer and virtually finished it with one, meticulous stroke in the seventh.

“With runners on base, I knew he had to come to me eventually,” Gillmer said. “He threw me a fastball and I threw my hands out and drove it to right. I don’t think everyone gives us the respect we deserve. We’re out here and we’re going to compete to the very last pitch and we showed that in the seventh.”

“He’s been the heart and soul of this team all year,” Robbinsville coach Mike Kinsella, a Freehold Township alum, said of Gillmer. “He’s quiet and goes about his business in the right way. He competes.”

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