By Jeff Appelblatt
As the regular season nears an end, Freehold Township High School’s baseball team refuses to give up trying for at least a piece of the Shore Conference A North Division championship title.
With the arms the team has had leading the way, it’s been clear the Patriots have a shot.
In its most recent stretch, Freehold Township played five games in six days, starting with four in a row against division rivals. With the new pitching rules this year that put a strict limit on throwing arms, coach Todd Smith and his team could have worried about who they’d be allowed to have on the hill.
Instead, the team took it one game at a time and won three of the five, starting with a victory May 1 at Manalapan High School over the then-first-place rival. The Braves (12-6) had won 11-straight, but they entered the game against the Patriots two days after the streak was snapped by Wall High School.
The Patriots kept kicking the Braves while they were down. Freehold Township scored two runs in the second off John Michael Sabatino and with Patriots ace Mike Pirrotta pitching, they never had to look back. The Wagner College-bound senior gave up only four hits to the Braves before exiting the game in the last inning with a 5-0 lead.
“Mike [Pirrotta], as a senior, as a captain, as a leader, as a Division I pitcher — he went on the road against a first place team that’s been swinging the bat really well all year and did what he’s capable of. And that was grind it, work it out and find a way to put up zeros,” Freehold Township’s coach said after the win. “I’m very proud of him.”
Pirrotta was excited by the victory.
“This game was huge,” he said. “We played like a full team today. My defense played outstanding behind me. It was just a full team win.
“It was an outstanding game for an outstanding team.”
Manalapan’s coach wasn’t used to seeing his team struggling to score, but he wasn’t thinking too deeply into the loss after it happened.
“We play in a good league,” coach Brian Boyce said. “I give a lot of credit to [Freehold Township]. They made their pitches. They got hits when they needed to, [and] we didn’t. That’s the difference in the game.”
Manalapan had off the next day, but the Patriots were back on the field against crosstown rival Freehold High School. The Colonials (13-5) went to Freehold Township on a five-game winning streak, but Ryan Ford pitched the Patriots to a 6-2 victory.
Freehold Township (9-7) may have let the chance for a division win weaken when it lost May 3 and 4 to Howell High School and Colts Neck High School, but following the May 6 win at Neptune High School, coach Smith guaranteed his team will keep fighting through the rest of the season and through the tournaments, A North champions or not.
“We are still alive,” Smith said, looking ahead to the team’s final two scheduled games. “It’s nice to be in the race going into the last game.”
The Patriots faced Christian Brothers Academy May 9. They travel to face Northern Burlington County Regional High School May 12 at 4 p.m.
Then it’ll be time for tournament baseball. Smith is holding his head high from what he’s seen this season.
“We have kept working and continued to improve,” Freehold Township’s coach said. “We are excited for the stretch run.”