Freehold Twp. captures Monmouth title
To credit the sudden six-run rally pieced together by Freehold Township in the bottom of the sixth as the turning point in the Patriots' march to a Monmouth County Tournament is certainly fair, but also a bit short sighted.
In order to get the full picture of where the uprising originated, you have to go back to where it began for the Patriots, a sleeping giant disguised as a seemingly harmless 14th-seed. Even better to camouflage its standing was a subpar 5-8 record at the tournament’s outset.
Yet, none of that mattered to a collection of players and coaches whose faith in their abilities far outweighed any stigmas attached to the club courtesy of its seed. As the event unfolded, Freehold Township maneuvered discreetly through the field, picking off third-seeded Manalapan and sixth-seeded St. Rose. The wins were big but paled when measured against the growing confidence that was building along the route.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves and what we’re capable of,” senior centerfielder Nick Cardamone said. “We can do anything at any time. In our minds, we can hit anybody.”
The slumbering offense that Red Bank Catholic senior left-hander Ryan Slate had so deftly neutralized over five innings awoke with Cardamone sounding the alarm. The senior center fielder and quintessential leadoff man lit a fuse with a single to open the bottom of the sixth. The base hit touched off a methodical six-run explosion that featured sixth hits and captured the endless desire of an underdog that refused to label itself as such.
Sophomore designated hitter Nick Cardace delivered the decisive blow with a clutch two-run single and starter Ryan MacFarlane weathered some early troubles to go the distance as Freehold Township pulled off a stunning 6-3 upset of top-seeded Red Bank Catholic, No. 9 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, on Wednesday night in the Monmouth County Tournament final at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.
The surge was startling only for the fact that Slate had handcuffed Freehold Township (12-14) through the first five innings, stringing together nine straight outs from the second into the fifth, including a dominating stretch that featured six consecutive strikeouts while staked to a 3-0 lead.
Slate was finally touched for a single by Vito Iannuzzelli in the fifth when Freehold Township loaded the bases. Junior third baseman Mike Rescigno made a diving stab and throw to get the third out to pull Slate out of the jam.
But, that run of success came to screeching halt an inning later with Cardamone’s line-drive base hit to right. Josh Lodi worked out a walk and MacFarlane aided his cause with a single to load the bases with no one out. Senior Ryan Talbott, who provide some nifty defense with a pair of sensational grabs in left field, contributed on the offensive side with an RBI single and, not to be outdone, his sophomore brother Chris laced a run-scoring single to left that narrowed the gap to 3-2 and prompted Slate’s exit in favor of John Selden.
Cardace, who struck out and popped up in his previous two at bats, greeted the junior righty by driving a 1-2 offering into right-center field for a two-run single that lifted the Patriots to a 4-3 advantage. Iannuzzelli supplied the fifth straight single to extend the lead to 5-3 before Mike Patti drove in the final run with a ground out.
“I did have those nerves of making the first out but I got comfortable and did my thing,” Cardace said. “I saw that we were rallying and I knew that I really had to get myself a big hit in that situation. I wasn’t going in confident, but once I got in there, I left all that behind me and got that single.”
“We came up short in the (fifth) inning, leaving the bases loaded,” Ryan Talbott added. “And, then we got him again. It was just a matter of everyone doing their job and passing it along to the next guy and we broke through in a big way.”
The bats were allotted a chance to make some noise due largely to how well MacFarlane silenced Red Bank Catholic (18-7) over the final four innings. The Caseys jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI single by Al Molina and the sophomore shortstop made it 3-0 with a two-run double in the third.
But, that would be the last hit MacFarlane (4-2) allowed before a harmless two-out single to Rescigno, who went 2-for-2, in the seventh. The senior right-hander gave up seven hits, fanned three and walked one to stamp his fourth complete-game victory.
“Before the game, I had a feeling we were going to win because RBC is obviously the favorite here, but we played with that us-versus-the-world mentality and that really helped,” MacFarlane said. “After the third inning, I settled down. I was pressing a little bit. I trusted my stuff and it worked out.”
The loose approach and galvanized bond that Freehold Township vowed to play with throughout the tournament was an invaluable asset in its march to a 5-0 tear to the championship.
“We had no pressure on us,” MacFarlane noted. “No one expected us to come this far and that kept the pressure off us in a way. All we had to do was play baseball and we love it. This was fun and we kind of got away from that during the season. We promised ourselves we’d just have fun in this tournament. And we did.”
“It’s much better to be out here with my best friends and my brother,” Ryan Talbott added. “It’s just an unbelievable experience and one I’ll never forget.”
SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
Jackson 4, Middletown South 0: Senior right-hander Brandon Holup (7-2) tossed a six-hitter and posted his fourth straight shutout for top-seeded and fourth-ranked Jackson (24-3). Nick Petrizzo scored on a wild pitch and Ed Guippone doubled and eventually crossed on an error to help the Jaguars open a 2-0 lead in the third. Spencer Young doubled in the sixth and came home on a Mike Folk single in the sixth, which also included a pinch-hit RBI single from Tom Abarno. Fourth-seeded and eighth-ranked Middletown South (21-5) got a five-hitter from Rutgers-bound southpaw Howie Brey (7-2), who gave up two earned runs.
Toms River North 8, Monmouth Regional 1: Ronnie Marinaccio (5-0) scattered eight hits, walked one and struck out one over six innings to fuel the 15th-seeded Mariners (17-8). Marinaccio provided some offensive punch as well, going 2-for-3 with three RBI. Karl Blum launched a home run while Nolan Diaz and Scott Buxbaum each had two hits. Tom Viera lined a two-run double and Chris Ryan added a single that scored two more.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner