By Jeff Appelblatt
As April was nearing its end, Freehold Township High School baseball coach Todd Smith knew his team was preparing for one of its toughest games of the year, beginning May at Manalapan High School.
Freehold Township (6-5) upset a few teams prior to seeing the Braves for the second time of the year, including division foe Christian Brothers Academy (CBA). The Patriots silenced the then-undefeated Colts (10-4), 1-0, April 12.
“It was a great win for us, especially being early in the year,” Freehold Township’s coach said looking back. “It was a confidence builder.”
Even the Colts, who have shown off an ability to score, haven’t put up numbers like Manalapan. The Braves (12-3) scored nearly eight runs per game in April.
“They can score runs at any time,” Smith said about the Braves before the game May 1. “They have a depth of arms. They’re a complete team.
“They didn’t win 11 games in a row by accident.”
Smith and his team knew that game was going to be a battle, and they followed their matchup with Manalapan, which beat them, 4-1, Apr. 22, visiting Freehold High School to face the Colonials (9-4), who beat the Patriots, 5-1, Apr. 5.
The games against the Shore Conference A North Division rivals were the start of four games in four days for Freehold Township, which would inevitably mark where Freehold Township would stand entering into tournament play.
“We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves this week,” the Patriots’ coach said. “Hopefully, we could give ourselves a chance to hang around the division race, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
One thing Smith knew before any pitches were thrown in May was that his team wouldn’t be able to rely too heavily on ace pitcher Mike Pirrotta. Even before new pitching rules were developed this season — limiting pitchers to 140 pitches in five days — a minimum of three days rest was always necessary for starting pitchers.
Pirrotta, who threw the 1-0 gem against CBA, likely saw or will see the mound only once during the busy start of the month.
“He’s a senior. He’s a captain. He’s confident,” Freehold Township’s coach said. “His stats are way ahead of where they were last year.”
Smith knows he will look at his other pitchers more often than his ace. Bryan Reed, Ryan Ford and Zack Pericone will have their work cut out for them on the hill.
Even though he won’t be able to throw too much during May’s first four games, Pirrotta will be looked upon to generate runs for the Patriots. In the win over CBA, the upcoming Wagner College pitcher knocked in the only run of the game.
The Patriots finish the four-day stretch with games against Howell High School and Colts Neck High School May 3 and 4. Freehold Township first hosts the Rebels (5-9) at 4 p.m. and travels to Colts Neck (7-5) for a 4 p.m. game.
Then things will taper down for Freehold Township, which is off until a matchup with Middletown High School South May 8.