By Ryan Fennell
Middletown – The Lions should have won this game.
But, a costly error with two outs in the seventh squandered a brilliant pitching performance from senior pitcher Chris Stark and the Lions fell to Middletown South, 4-1, in eight innings.
In the bottom of the first, Middletown North pushed across an unearned run against Middletown South senior pitcher Perry Kulaga, and Stark made it stand up until his defense failed him in the seventh.
With one out in the top of the seventh, Mike Grossi reached on a single to left and was replaced by pinch-runner Mike Diorio, who promptly stole second. After Stark struck out Rob Grilli for the second out, Kyle Brey grounded to second base in what appeared to be a game ending ground out. But, the ball took a quirky late hop causing North’s second baseman to rush the throw to first. The ball skipped up the line allowing Diorio to score the tying run from second, which eventually sent the game into extra innings.
South capitalized on the new life it was given by pushing across three more runs in the top of the eighth.
With a man on first in the top of the eighth, Kulaga dropped a sac bunt to advance the runner to second. Frank Servidio then singled to right to drive in the eventual winning run. Servidio moved to third on an errant pick-off throw to first and scored the first of South’s two insurance runs on a perfectly executed squeeze play with catcher Nick McGann. McGann later scored on a sac fly from Grilli.
“It’s a good win,” said Kulaga, who pitched eight innings, striking out five and only allowing one unearned run. “I knew our team is something special with the scrimmages we’ve played. We just keep battling.
“I knew if I just kept throwing zeros we would win and we ended up winning.”
“I’m real proud of our guys,” Middletown South head coach Ryan Spillane said. “This is a real character win today. That kid Stark pitched his butt off, he was great all day. Perry was just a little bit better and we kept playing the game hard and we finally got a break in the seventh and then in the eighth we used the momentum we had.”
The Eagles were making contact all game, only striking out three times, but were hitting the ball right into Stark’s defense, which had been near flawless until the seventh.
Kulaga said that the Eagles are team that opponents would be wise not to give any second chances.
“I would not,” he said. “We’ve come back from 4, 5 runs in scrimmages. We’re just a good team when we’re all playing together.”
“We did a lot of little things right today and that was the difference,” Spillane said.
Spillane placed his confidence in Kulaga, not only by sending him back out in the eighth to finish the game, but also going forward this season.
“I know [Kulaga]’s going to be able to keep us in any game against any team we face this year,” Spillane said.
South took on another division opponent in Manalapan on Wednesday while North faced off against Christian Brothers Academy.