Manalapan strings together win streak with success at plate


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By Jeff Appelblatt

Manalapan High School had been winning its games with its bats. Freehold High School had been winning with pitching. When it came down to the finish line, it seemed like the Colonials may have beaten the Braves with their own game.

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However, no deficit is too great for Manalapan. Trailing, 9-7, at the start of the final half-inning, the Braves quickly loaded the bases. Rob Gargano, who smashed a grand slam early in the game, came up with a two-run, game-tying hit.

“I just wanted to put the ball in play and [then] anything could happen,” Gargano said after the game.

With the score then knotted at 9-9, Dan DeBlasio stepped up to the plate. Freehold’s coach felt it necessary to make a pitching change, and it looked like the change may have worked. While Chris Cassandra struggled to hold onto the ball at shortstop, Giovanni Ciaccio had the chance to come in as the game-winning run.

“Our team has no give-up,” DeBlasio said. “We just keep fighting, and we win games late all the time.”

His coach was excited about the comeback — even after he watched his team give away a 7-0 lead in the game.

“There’s a level of intensity which we’re still learning as we grow as a team,” Manalapan coach Brian Boyce said. “I think they’re a resilient bunch, and we’re going to learn from this that we can’t be complacent.”

Prior to the matchup with Freehold, the Braves played a game during which they needed to score late and often. Manalapan and Howell High School battled complacency in the April 15 game. Manalapan went up, 5-0, before Howell took a 10-5 lead in the third inning. The Braves still found themselves down, 10-7, entering the seventh inning.

Manalapan’s bats were ready, though, and the players swung for another three runs, and the game moved to extra innings tied at 10-10.

It took until the ninth inning for anyone to score. Steven Bullen went 4-for-5 on the day, including hits that brought in the game-tying run in the seventh and the game-winning runs in the ninth.

Howell failed to score at any point after the third, thanks to the arms of Justin Korman and EJ Melendez, who was the game’s winning pitcher, and Manalapan won, 15-10.

The scoring slimmed down in Manalapan’s latest games, but the team scored enough against Neptune High School, Marlboro High School and Freehold Township High School to defeat all three and get its winning streak to nine games entering into a matchup April 25 with Christian Brothers Academy.

The arms of John Michael Sabatino, John Pudder, Korman and Melendez made sure their team wasn’t outscored in the recent wins. The pitchers had started to get used to a plethora of runs from their teammates, but the Braves’ bats quieted down in the recent wins, including the 4-1 victory over Freehold Township. In that game, Sabatino didn’t need much backup anyhow. Bullen hit a pair of home runs, while the pitcher gave up only five hits in a 99-pitch, complete-game victory.

Manalapan (10-2) will be on the field again April 26 at Colts Neck High School. The Cougars (6-4) started the week with a three-game win streak of its own and will also look for retaliation on the Braves, who beat them, 10-4, to start the regular season.

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