Walk-off single puts Redbirds in state Group III baseball tournament

By Wayne Witkowski

A walk-off hit twice in the same game? And twice in the same season?

That’s been part of the wild ride Allentown High School’s baseball team has had in its knack for winning games, including against Neptune High School, 4-3, on Chris Reeder’s run-scoring single to center in the 10th inning for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey, Group III sectional championship in Allentown June 2.

Allentown advanced to the Group III semifinals June 6 against Highland Regional High School, a 6-4 winner over Deptford Township High School. The winner plays June 10 in Toms River.

“We’ve done it all year; the kids are resilient,” said coach Brian Nice after Allentown (24-4) won its first state sectional title since the 2008 season, when it went on to win Group III. “This group turns it off, then they turn it on again.”

That was evident in the late innings. The victory over a Neptune team more determined than its 10-13 record and playing its best at the end of the season was a classic example, as Neptune erased a 3-0 deficit to force the extra innings.

An Allentown courtesy runner missed home plate on what looked like a walk-off single by Jordan Winston in the eighth inning followed by a victorious pile of players on the field. The stunned players unraveled to learn about the out call by the umpire after Neptune’s pitcher threw to his catcher to step on home plate, which negated the run.

Then in the 10th, Matt Coiante, who has been a hot hitter all season and had three hits on the day, reached on a booted grounder to second base and was bunted to scoring position by Austin Ferrier. Following an intentional walk to winning relief pitcher Jimmy Frein, Coiante rode home on Reeder’s single off a fastball to ground solidly up the middle beyond the reach of the pitcher and shortstop.

“I just wanted to put it in play, not try to do too much,” Reeder said. “One through nine [in the batting order], we can get it done.”

“We just kept digging and didn’t give up. It shows we can win a game at any time,” Winston said.

Coiante firmly stepped on the plate with a long look at the umpire as he scored the game-ending run.

“We’ve been punched in the gut a lot and bounce back, like against Nottingham,” Coiante said.

It was the second time this season Allentown had a walk-off hit called back. In the Mercer County Tournament semifinals, Allentown had the game-winning run against Nottingham High School taken back because an Allentown player left the dugout and ran onto the field to celebrate before the run scored. Allentown won the game on the next pitch.

In a showdown of two teams familiar with close games — Allentown going 11-2 in one-run outcomes and Neptune going 3-6 in one-run games this season — this game did not look like a close one for a while.

Allentown scored two runs in the first inning on three hits, including a two-run single by Coiante, and pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third on a single by Frank DelGuercio that scored Coiante, who moved up on a balk and a wild pitch.

Allentown had a chance to pad the lead in the fifth inning when it left two runners in scoring position with one out on a flyout and a groundout.

That set the scene for the comeback against Winston, who is 7-0 on the season and had pitched five strong innings of two-hit ball. In the sixth, he yielded a single with one out and then walked a batter and hit another — the third straight inning in which he hit a batter — to load the bases and bring him on the edge of his 95-pitch limit allowed under state rules. He was able to pitch to the next batter and struck him out on a full count before Frein entered.

Frein lost the shutout and the lead on the next two pitches — a run-scoring single and a two-run single — before the next batter hit into an inning-ending groundout. That set the scene for the nullified run in the eighth inning.

“I was mad, really mad [when that happened],” said Frein, who is 4-1 primarily as a reliever. “It boosted me to throw my best.”

“It was a very crazy game,” first baseman Ryan Huth said. “It shows the determination this team has.”

It’s a different team from 2008, which had few close games with its a power-hitting lineup.

“For a long time now we’ve had this great group of guys who showed flashes of something great,” Nice said. “This is the most resilient team I’ve been around. We know we have to win close games and know what it takes, just making contact. They know how to face adversity.”

It showed in the sectional semifinals victory, 4-3, over Toms River High School South (22-4) May 30 when the Redbirds rallied for four runs in the sixth inning.

The Redbirds hope their focus can last for two more games.

Outdoor track and field

Devon Hoernlein and Kassidy Mulryne each medaled in two events for Allentown in the NJSIAA Group III outdoor championships to secure a return for both to the Meet of Champions (MOC) June 10 at Northern Burlington County Regional High School.

Hoernlein was fourth in the 1,600-meter run in 4:15.43 and fifth in the 3,200 in 10:54.57, which reset her school record. Mulryne was fourth in the high jump, clearing 5-2, and fifth in the 400 hurdles in 1:04.25.

“They both worked extremely hard as did many other girls on the team, and Kassidy won’t have to worry abut running three of four events this time as she had this season,” coach Drew Lachenmayer said. “They’ve both been there before. The first time you’re happy to make it and the second time you expect to do well. We expect that from both.”

Allentown finished 19th in the team standings.

Lorna Drexler was hoping for a possible wild-card selection after finishing eight in the discus with a top throw of 104-8. The top six finishers advanced.

In last year’s MOC, Hoernlein ran a school record of 11:21.91 in the 3,200 for 24th place and Mulryne was 18th in the high jump at 5-2.

“Since the county meet, they’ve turned in strong showings and when it means the most, they’ve performed,” Lachenmayer said.

For Mulryne, it was a challenge when she turned in her early-round jumps in the high jump that included her best one, broke away to run the hurdles and came back to finish the jumps.

Their efforts a week earlier helped Allentown win the Central Jersey, Group III meet for the first time, finishing well ahead of Lawrence High School in the team standings, 102-76⅓. Mulryne turned in winning performances in the 400 hurdles (1:04.03), 100 hurdles (15.27) and high jump (5-4) and was fourth in the long jump (15-10½). Hoernlein won the 1,600 in a school record of 5:01.08, won the 3,200 in 11:03.87 and was fourth in the 800 in 2:22.72 behind teammate Sara Gutter’s time of 2:20.38 for second place in that meet.

Gutter also was fourth in the 3,200 in 12:11.75.

Drexler was third in the discus in 1:08.84, and Sara Soliman also advanced to the group meet in the 400 hurdles by finishing fifth in the sectionals in 1:08.84.