By Brian Deakyne
MIDDLETOWN – Ryan Spillane didn’t need to be reminded of what people think of Middletown South’s expectations this season in a very competitive A-North.
After last Friday’s win over the divisional favorite, Christian Brothers Academy, the defending-champion Eagles have their own message to those people: they are here to stay.
After falling behind to the Colts in the third inning, Middletown South fired back in a big way. The Eagles put up five runs in the top of the sixth inning and that would be more than enough to take down CBA, 5-2.
“We come back late in games,” junior shortstop Kyle Brey, who went 1-4 with an RBI, said. “We’ve shown that in all the scrimmages we had this year, we showed it in the [Middletown] North game and I knew we’d be able to pull through.”
Middletown South struggled to produce any offense in the opening five innings against senior pitcher Matt Pidich, who has committed to the University of Pittsburgh, but it was able to work his pitch count up.
With Pidich out of the game, the Eagles were able to capitalize on a few costly errors from CBA, and they never looked back.
Senior catcher Nicholas McGann led off that sixth inning by being hit by a pitch. In the next at-bat, Brey seared a base hit to right field, but Brey landed on third base after the ball scooted all the way to the wall, scoring McGann and drawing South within a run.
One batter later, senior third basemen Mike Grossi looped a base hit to right field to score Brey and tie the game at two.
Still, the Eagles weren’t done. Four batters later, with senior courtesy runner Michael Diorio on third base, senior right fielder Eric Maynes swung at strike three, but the ball bounced to the backstop. Maynes advanced to first base and Diorio scored as the throw to first base to force out Maynes sailed into right field.
On the next pitch, senior first baseman Perry Kulaga scored from third on a wild pitch and later, senior left fielder Hunter Dreuer banged a run-scoring single to right field, ending the wild sixth inning with a 5-2 lead for the Eagles.
“I certainly thought after that, we had momentum. That’s big in baseball – once you start getting momentum, things start going your way and that’s pretty much what happened,” Spillane said.
It was the Eagles third consecutive win over CBA. Middletown South swept the season series last year and continued its good fortune against the Colts last Friday.
“They’re a very, very good ballclub and so are we,” Spillane said. “For us not to be counted as a contender early, it’s a little bit of motivation but we know what we’re capable of doing and we know that we’re right in the mix with the best teams in the Shore Conference and certainly A-North.
“A-North or A-South is probably the best division in the Shore Conference. It’s a battle day-in and day-out and this one went our way, fortunately. They made a couple of mistakes and we were able to capitalize.”
The Colts took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third from an RBI double from junior outfielder Pete Papcun and an RBI single to center field from sophomore outfielder Will Morgan. Still, the damage could have been much worst from CBA, earlier. In the bottom of the second inning, the Colts loaded the bases with no outs, but Middletown South senior pitcher Robert Grilli struck out three consecutive batters to get out of the jam.
In all, Grilli pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowed two runs on five hits. He struck out seven batters and walked five more. Pidich didn’t allow any runs over his five innings pitched. He surrendered three hits, struck out seven batters and walked one.
But, for the Eagles, the key was just to get Pidich out of the game as early as possible.
“We wanted to get his pitch count up and we were able to do that,” Spillane said. “Once we got him to a certain point, they had to get him out of the game and we knew that whoever they put in after him wasn’t going to be as good as him. We did hit him pretty well. I thought that we had good approaches at the plate.”
“Against their number one, we didn’t hit him great, but we did hit him right at them and we hit them hard,” Brey said. “We came in in the sixth inning and pulled it out and got the runs.”
Once South got the lead, the door was slammed over the final two innings by Kulaga. The Eagles ended the sixth and seventh innings with impressive double plays turned by Brey and senior second baseman Frank Servidio.
“I thought our pitching and our defense was awesome today,” Spillane said. “It was a tough strike zone today and my pitchers didn’t let it get to them emotionally, they kept battling and they kept throwing strikes. We played great defense behind them with the two double plays turned by [Kyle] Brey and [Frank] Servidio to end the sixth and the seventh – they were phenomenal double plays. That’s what we preach – pitching and defense – and the rest will take care of itself.”
The win established Middletown South as a team that is certainly in the hunt for an A-North title, even with the likes of CBA, Colts Neck, and Manalapan looking to have strong seasons.
“We’re a program and we’re up-and-coming and the last two years we had solid years and I challenged these guys,” Spillane said. “This is our third year now as a program and let’s really establish ourselves as one of the best teams in the Shore Conference.”
Middletown South will look to complete a second straight season sweep over the Colts when they host CBA on April 25.