By Jeff Appelblatt
Manalapan High School’s baseball team was on a six-game skid when it took a trip to Colts Neck High School May 10. The Braves were shut out for five innings, and then that streak was snapped.
Not only did Manalapan come back that day in Colts Neck, ignited by five runs in the sixth, but it also got the team going through the rest of the regular season.
The Cougars were clearly disgusted by the lead they blew, but like their Shore Conference A North Division rival, Colts Neck finished the rest of the season strong.
Then both teams were immediately eliminated from the Shore Conference Tournament in the first round — Manalapan by Red Bank Catholic High School, 13-2, and Colts Neck by Wall High School, 7-5.
The teams continued play in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey, Group IV tournament. Both teams won close games May 23 — Manalapan in 10 innings over New Brunswick High School, 4-3, and Colts Neck over South Brunswick High School, 2-1.
The Braves (16-9) and Cougars (14-11) were slated to face off in the second round. The game was supposed to happen May 25 in Manalapan, but it was washed out that day by rain.
Manalapan’s coaching staff anticipated a postponement when it headed out to practice the day before.
“We should have probably been more proactive and played today,” Manalapan coach Brian Boyce said before practice started May 24, knowing there was no way for the game to be moved to that day.
The weather pushed the game back to May 26.
“We play them so often, so many times, there is nothing we could present to them that they don’t know, and I don’t know if they could present a lot to us that we don’t know,” Boyce said about the Cougars. “They’re well-coached. They’re a good team. We have to play our A-game. They have to play their A-game. Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes will probably get a win.”
Including the comeback May 10, the Braves defeated the Cougars twice in the regular season. The game May 26 marked the end of the season for one of the teams.
Boyce would have rather faced a team outside of the division.
“It’s unfortunate the A North is two games,” he said May 24. “[Freehold] Borough will play [Freehold] Township, and we play Colts Neck. The good news is two A North teams will advance. The bad news is two A North teams will be eliminated.”
Manalapan’s coach didn’t know how much longer his team’s season would last as of May 25, but he knew what he expected through the finish line.
“One game at a time; we stress that,” Boyce said. “The kids have to motivate themselves. They know what’s at stake. They know what their goals are.
“Hopefully, we could achieve something.”