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Marlboro finding its stride as Monmouth County Tournament nears

Marlboro High School second baseman Nick Wright tries to turn a double play during a game against Long Branch on May 20 in Long Branch. Marlboro defeated Long Branch 11-4.

The Marlboro High School baseball team has been racking up victories on the diamond during the last few weeks.

After a 1-4 start in 2021, the Mustangs (9-7) won eight of their next 11 games. On May 20, the Mustangs defeated Long Branch, 11-4, on the road.

Marlboro’s recent hot streak has the Mustangs ready to enter the Monmouth County Tournament as the No. 10 seed. The Mustangs will host Manasquan in the opening round.

Coach Craig Helfgott is hoping his team’s play over the past few weeks will continue in the county tournament and when the Mustangs begin state tournament play in June.

“It’s nice to get hot at the right time of the season,” Helfgott said. “We have been pitching well, playing good defense and we have been racking up some runs lately. Hopefully, we can do some damage in the next couple of tournaments.”

Marlboro rebounded from a 1-0 loss to Neptune in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament by sweeping a two-game series with Long Branch and scoring 27 runs in the two games.

In their last five victories, the Mustangs scored six or more runs, including 16 runs in two of those two wins.

“The whole team looks good hitting right now,” senior shortstop Joe Lomangino said. “We are believing in ourselves and believing in each other. We are having fun and winning on top of it. There’s no better feeling.”

Marlboro’s offensive firepower was on full display early in its May 20 contest against the Green Wave as the Mustangs struck for four runs in the first inning.

Senior Alex Jankowski singled to left to score two runs for a 2-0 lead.

Following an RBI fielder’s choice by Antonio Vitale that made the score 3-0, senior Frank Talarico capped the inning with a single that scored a run and put the Mustangs up 4-0.

Marlboro added four more runs in the third inning. The Mustangs came to bat leading 5-0 before sophomore Andrew Briskin smacked a triple into the right field corner to score a run and push the lead to 6-0. Briskin had a single, double and triple and drove in two runs in the game.

Marlboro led 8-0 following an RBI double by junior Julian Buchman. Lomangino brought home Buchman with a line drive single up the middle to make the score 9-0 in the third inning.

Lomangino recorded his second RBI in the fourth inning with his third single, making the score 10-0. The senior reached base in his first four at-bats of the contest.

“I’m just locked in hitting right now,” Lomangino said. “The team has had the right approach at the plate. We feel comfortable going into the next two tournaments.”

The 10-run lead provided plenty of support for Vitale, who had the Long Branch hitters searching for answers against his fastball early and his off-speed pitches in the late innings. Through four innings, Vitale had six strikeouts.

After Long Branch scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth, Vitale rebounded by retiring nine batters in a row going into the seventh inning.

Helfgott knew there was no stopping his starter and Vitale struck out the side in the seventh inning to finish with 11 strikeouts as Marlboro won, 11-4.

“The goal is always to go out and get a win and I’m glad I got that,” Vitale said. “My curve was working well in the later innings. It feels great to get wins going into the Monmouth County and state tournaments.”

Marlboro will play the Ranney School on May 22 and begin a two-game series against Manalapan on May 24.

The fun and success the Mustangs have had lately is exactly what Helfgott was hoping his players would experience after the 2020 campaign was lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s nice to see the kids have some fun and get on a nice winning streak. They have really taken advantage of their opportunities and are having a nice season,” the coach said.

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