By Brian Deakyne
FREEHOLD – With a team filled with familiar faces, Red Bank tried to do something on Tuesday it couldn’t do all of last season with an inexperienced roster: win a big game against a formidable opponent.
And for the first four innings, the Bucs were well on their way to doing that. But, late walks and errors cost Red Bank a shot at a win over Freehold Boro, which won the Central Jersey, Group III sectional title last spring.
The Bucs choked up a 4-1 lead by allowing four runs in the fourth and fifth innings, and fell to the Colonials, 5-4, in an opening day loss.
“We kicked some things around,” Red Bank Regional head coach Louis Dal Pra said. “We’re a veteran team, but we’re young in the experience of playing these big games and getting ready to play a championship-type team. I think it was a good early test and I think we’re going to get stronger from it. I like this baseball team – we’re going to be pretty good.”
Red Bank jumped out to a first inning 2-0 lead before turning it into a 4-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning behind smart baseball.
Senior shortstop Ross Gisondi drove in a run in the top of the first inning with a double down the right field line, bringing home junior center fielder Jacob Nappi. In the next at-bat, senior pitcher Brian Wikoff brought home senior right fielder Chris Stevenson when he legged out an infield single to put Red Bank up 2-0.
Later, with the score 2-1, the Bucs added to it when Nappi scored from third base on Wikoff’s strikeout in the top of the third inning. With Nappi leading off with a single and advancing to third base two batters later, Wikoff swung at strike three in the dirt and was forced out at first base. On the throw down, Nappi took off and reached home safely to give Red Bank a two-run lead.
Aggressive base running led to another Bucs’ run in the fourth inning. After a leadoff single to right field, junior second baseman Corey Martin stole second base and advanced to third on the overthrow. From third, he stole home on an attempted suicide squeeze, but the pitch was in the dirt and allowed Martin to coast home to put Red Bank up, 4-1.
But, that’s when it all fell apart for the Bucs, who didn’t scratch another run against Freehold Boro pitcher Jake Yanez.
The Colonials added an unearned run after back-to-back errors in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to 4-2. An inning later, Freehold Boro loaded the bases on a single and back-to-back walks, and scored three runs by virtue of a fielders’ choice and an error in the infield, gaining its first and only lead, 5-4.
Those errors would cost the Bucs a chance for the win. Freehold Boro’s first run was also unearned.
“Even their guy [Jake Yanez], he walked us a lot and gave us opportunities early on,” Dal Pra said of the sloppy play. “It’s New Jersey, it’s pre-season, its 30-something degrees and it’s baseball. We hung in there the entire game and we did kick it around, but I think we’re going to be a pretty good team. We just didn’t hit too well but that’s because they had a great pitcher out there and it’s the same with them.”
Wikoff lasted 4 2/3 innings for Red Bank, allowing five runs on three hits. He struck out eight batters and walked eight more. Wikoff loaded the bases in three out of the first four innings, but he wasn’t able to avoid the jam in the bottom of the fifth inning and that led to the loss.
“He did a great job. He walked more than he wanted to and his pitch count was pretty high,” Dal Pra said. “We were going to take him out at the end of the [fifth] inning no matter what because his first inning really killed him as far as the pitch count. But to have a young guy like AJ [Forgione], he’s only a sophomore come in and shut the door – he had three strikeouts out of those four outs – it’s good to have pitchers like that.”
In a division that appears to be wide open this spring, Tuesday might stand as a good example as to what B-North play will be like all season. And, even with the loss, Dal Pra is convinced that this is a team that can win a lot of games in 2013.
“There are a lot of positives,” Dal Pra said. “We hung in there, we didn’t hit the ball well, but we saw a great pitcher today.”
Red Bank will play Toms River South at Central Regional High School on Saturday as part of the Strike Out Autism Challenge. All proceeds will go toward to autism charities.