By Matthew Rocco
The Monmouth Regional High School baseball team is within striking distance of a division title, and the Falcons are looking to capitalize on the opportunity.
In the final stretch of the regular season, the Falcons have a shot at moving past Manasquan High School for first place in Shore Conference Class A Central Division. Monmouth Regional has a 6-3 record against A Central opponents, while Manasquan is a half-game ahead at 7-3.
Monmouth Regional (9-6) added two division wins in the days leading up to a critical game against Manasquan May 10. The Falcons are keenly aware that a third straight win would put them in the driver’s seat.
“That game is going to really matter for our division. We’re looking forward to it. We hope we can have a chance to be atop the A Central,” head coach Paul Crivello said prior to the Manasquan game. “After every game, we focus on the next opponent and what it means. I don’t think they feel pressure. They just feel excited for the opportunity.”
Monmouth Regional managed to squeeze two games into a rain-soaked week. Paul Birzin hit two doubles and drove in a pair of runs to help the Falcons come back from a 2-0 deficit to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. Senior Chris Raike allowed seven hits over five innings in the 4-2 victory. The Falcons also beat Shore Regional High School, 5-4, as Joe Malfara pitched a complete game for the win. The junior posted six strikeouts and gave up just six hits. Birzin had two RBIs, while Josh Jackson and Alec Fruchter each drove in a run.
Raike, Malfara and junior Noah Eggenschwiler have given the Falcons quality innings on the mound. Eggenschwiler, who is new to the varsity team, pitched to a 2.60 ERA through the first 13 games. He also recorded his first save in the win against Rumson-Fair Haven.
Jackson, a junior infielder, has stood out at the plate. His .518 batting average leads the team. Catcher Garrhet Reedy and outfielder Christian Hoplock have continued to make an impact as returning starters. Birzin, Andrew Slinger and P.J. Mellaci also have clutch hits to their credit.
“We’re happy where we’re at, but we know we can keep getting better,” Crivello said.
The third-year head coach has seen a positive impact from Monmouth Regional’s upperclassmen.
“We’re really coming together as a family, which was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We’re seeing that now in the gymnasium and on the field. They’re buying in,” Crivello said. “I also see [the seniors] responding to our juniors who are stepping up. Our juniors are maturing very fast and moving forward as leaders.”
Monmouth Regional is counting on its veterans to lead the team through the home stretch. The games get tougher as the postseason draws near, but the Falcons believe they are up to the task.
“At this point, everyone is pretty much playing for something,” Crivello said, adding that the Falcons look forward to playing in those big games.
After battling Manasquan, the Falcons will return to the field May 12 to play Mater Dei Prep. Monmouth Regional’s next A Central matchup is scheduled for May 13 against St. John Vianney High School.