Middletown, N.J. - Home runs, a hard fought comeback and an extra inning thriller fully describe a fantastic contest between No. 1 seed Middletown South and No. 9 seed Manasquan in the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament on Wednesday afternoon.
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The ending was not however, the one Middletown South would of hoped for, losing 10-9 to Manasquan in eight innings and being eliminated from the tournament.
An eight-run third inning by Manasquan put Middletown South in a big early hole, but the Eagles showed their heart by storming back with a great rally.
The rally began in the fourth inning when after Joe Stanzione reached base on an error with two outs, Chris Lotito stepped to the plate for Middletown South and hit a rocket over the left field fence for a two-run home run to put the Eagles on the board.
The bulk of the Middletown South rally came in a six-run fifth inning to tie up the game.
Jack Kinsella helped the Eagles continue to chip away at the deficit, beating out a ground ball to second base for an infield single and an RBI to make it an 8-3 game.
After Jack Sheridan ripped a single to put two men on base for the Eagles, Trevor Brey came up to bat for Middletown South and the senior continued the rally.
Brey smacked a two-run single to center field to cut the Manasquan lead to 8-5. He later came around to score on an RBI double down the left field line by Chris O'Connor to bring Middletown South within two runs.
The Eagles would tie the game in the next at-bat.
With Danny Minze on third and O’Connor on second, Stanzione hit a chopper to the shortstop and a wild throw home to try to get Minze, allowed both him and O’Connor to score to tie the game at 8-8.
“We’re a resilient group,” said Middletown South baseball coach Ryan Spillane. “Can’t say enough of how proud I am of the team for fighting back.”
Still tied at 8-8 in the sixth inning, Middletown South took its first lead of the contest.
Sheridan led off the inning with a single and after advancing to third base on two consecutive wild pitches, gave Brey the opportunity to bring him home on a sacrifice fly to center field to give Middletown South a 9-8 lead.
Brey finished with a game-high three RBI. Sheridan was two-for-four at the dish with two runs scored in the contest.
A chance to close things out with a one-lead in the seventh, Middletown South couldn’t keep Manasquan off the board as the Warriors were able to scratch out a run to tie the game.
Middletown South had a chance to walk it off in the seventh inning with runners on first and third with only one out.
Unfortunately for Middletown South, both Anthony Esposito and Kinsella couldn’t bring Lotito home from third base and the game was sent to extra innings.
Missing out on a chance to win it in the seventh inning cost Middletown South big time as Spencer Bauer shot Manasquan back into the lead with a solo home run to left field with one out in the eighth inning.
The Eagles had a shot to tie the game in the bottom frame with Minze moving into scoring position at second base with two outs, but Manasquan pitcher Alex Galvan got O’Connor to pop up to third to end the game.
James Harmstead had a two-run home run for Manasquan in the third inning. Sam Del Guercio had a two-run single, while teammate Will Hopkinson had a two-run triple also in the third inning for the Warriors.
Middletown South drops to 17-6 on the season.
“We came all the way back and it felt like we were going to win. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen,” Spillane said. “We had one bad inning. A lot of teams I’ve been a part of in the past would’ve just laid down, but not this team. This is a special group. This one hurts, but we’re going to be ready to play Thursday.”
Middletown South will host Old Bridge in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament on Thursday.
Middletown South and Spillane have believed all year long that they are a team capable of winning a state championship and feel that the loss to Manasquan will not hurt them, but fuel them even more to be sectional champions.
“The most important tournament is still in our grasps,” Spillane said. “We’re going to build off from the fourth inning on against Manasquan where we outscored them 9-2 and played really good baseball. We’re a really good team. We want to be state champs. We’re going to be confident going into Thursday’s game and be ready to play.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports