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Marlboro defeats Manalapan, 7-4; advances to state sectional tournament semifinals

Marlboro High School second baseman Nick Wright bashes a single to center field during a game against Manalapan on June 5 in Manalapan. Marlboro defeated Manalapan 7-4 to advance to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament.

The Marlboro High School baseball team is firing on all cylinders and playing its best baseball of the 2021 season at the perfect time.

The No. 9 seed Mustangs (14-7) won their seventh straight game with a 7-4 victory over No. 1 seed Manalapan in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament on June 5 in Manalapan.

Marlboro will host Old Bridge in the sectional semifinals on June 8. The winner will advance to the state sectional championship game.

“We have really caught fire the last couple of weeks,” Marlboro coach Craig Helfgott said. “We have been pitching extremely well. The bats have come alive and we have been scoring a lot of runs against good pitchers. I’m really proud of everyone on this team right now.”

Against Manalapan ace Joe Mazza, the Mustangs erupted for four runs in the third inning to grab a 4-0 lead. Nick Wright led off with a single and scored on Joe Lomangino’s triple for a 1-0 lead.

Mark Capell doubled to score a run for a 2-0 lead. Pinch runner Jason Giordano came home on an error to make it 3-0.

Senior Antonio Vitale capped the inning with an opposite field single to score a run and make it 4-0. Vitale finished the game with two RBI.

“I trust anyone on our roster to do their job at the plate,” Helfgott said. “We have locked in on taking certain approaches at the plate and it has paid off the last few weeks.”

Manalapan stormed back in the bottom of the third. Anthony Matrone and Anthony Matteis each singled with two out and the Braves scored on an error to trim Marlboro’s lead to 4-3.

Manalapan’s three runs did not phase Capell, who is a Yale University commit. The Mustangs’ senior righthander only surrendered one more run in a complete game performance that included seven strikeouts.

“I was ready to go with what I had,” Capell said. “I knew everyone had my back. We got some big hits and a couple of insurance runs that got me locked in.”

In the fifth inning, Marlboro took a 5-3 lead on Vitale’s double to score Julian Buchman.

“Two outs doesn’t change anything,” Vitale said about his approach at the plate. “You gotta stay composed and hit the ball where it’s pitched. That’s what I tried to do.”

Knowing that games between the teams are always intense, Vitale said it was nice to see his teammates pull through in the big moments against Manalapan to keep their state tournament run alive.

“It’s a back and forth battle between two teams that might not like each other, so it’s always nice to come out with the win,” Vitale said. “Manalapan is a very good team. I’m just glad we were able to come here and do what we needed to do.”

As Capell kept Manalapan off the board, the Mustangs gave their ace two insurance runs in the seventh inning. Senior Frank Talarico doubled to drive in a run to make it 6-3 and scored on an error for a 7-3 lead.

The stage was set for Capell to finish the job, but the end did not come easy as Manalapan’s first three batters reached base.

Capell did not panic as he retired the next two hitters on fly outs.

After walking Matteis to force in a run that cut the Mustangs’ lead to 7-4, Capell got ahead of Tom Guidice, 0-2.

While Capell did not hit the exact location he wanted to hit on his next pitch, it was enough to get Guidice to lift a lazy fly ball to centerfield where Buchman made the catch to send the Mustangs to the sectional semifinals.

“The seventh inning gave us a little scare, but we settled down and I made some big pitches,” Capell said. “It was good enough to get the job done.”

Knocking off Manalapan is a “huge win” for the program, Helfgott said, but he and his players have their sights on winning two more games and claiming a state sectional championship.

“It’s a step in the right direction of where we are trying to get to, but where we are trying to get to is still two wins away,” the coach said. “Our job is not done yet. Our guys are hungry to hang a banner in our school.”

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