Pontari, Middletown South top Freehold Township in state sectional tournament

  1 / 4 
The Middletown High School South baseball team celebrates #27 Matt Pontari hitting a home run at home plate during a game against Freehold Township on June 5 in Middletown. Middletown South defeated Freehold Township 5-3 to advance to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 4 
Middletown High School South starting pitcher Matt Pontari tosses in a strike during a game against Freehold Township on June 5 in Middletown. Pontari had six strikeouts on the mound and three hits at the plate in Middletown South's 7-4 victory over Freehold Township to advance to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 4 
Middletown High School South shortstop Will Doyle fields the ground ball and alertly throws out the Freehold Township runner at third base during a game played on June 5 in Middletown. Middletown South won 5-3. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  4 / 4 
Middletown High School South third baseman Evan Wood gets a base hit during a game against Freehold Township on June 5 in Middletown. Wood had two hits and an RBI for Middletown South in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
×
  1 / 4 
The Middletown High School South baseball team celebrates #27 Matt Pontari hitting a home run at home plate during a game against Freehold Township on June 5 in Middletown. Middletown South defeated Freehold Township 5-3 to advance to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 4 
Middletown High School South starting pitcher Matt Pontari tosses in a strike during a game against Freehold Township on June 5 in Middletown. Pontari had six strikeouts on the mound and three hits at the plate in Middletown South's 7-4 victory over Freehold Township to advance to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 4 
Middletown High School South shortstop Will Doyle fields the ground ball and alertly throws out the Freehold Township runner at third base during a game played on June 5 in Middletown. Middletown South won 5-3. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  4 / 4 
Middletown High School South third baseman Evan Wood gets a base hit during a game against Freehold Township on June 5 in Middletown. Wood had two hits and an RBI for Middletown South in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

It wasn’t the start Matt Pontari and the Middletown South High School baseball team were expecting against Freehold Township in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament on June 5 in Middletown.

Before Pontari, who was the Eagles’ starting pitcher, and his teammates got back to their dugout, the No. 6 seed Patriots had a 3-0 lead and had No. 3 seed Middletown South on upset alert after the top of the first inning.

But as Middletown South coach Chris LeMore said later, he knew his players were going to back up their “brother” and never give up until the final out.

In the bottom of the first, the Eagles scored three runs to tie the game and went on to defeat the Patriots, 5-3.

Middletown South (17-8) will face No. 2 seed Hunterdon Central High School of Flemington in the state sectional tournament semifinals on June 8.

“When you have kids that are going to constantly battle from the first out to the 21st out, it really makes coaching the game a lot of fun,” LeMore said. “We don’t look for just one guy to step up, we look to everyone to step up. They have been like that since the first day I met them. They never got down. I’m 100% proud of all my players.”

LeMore credited his players’ mindset of having “good at bats” to the first inning comeback.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, sophomore Ben Schild grounded out to score a run that cut the Patriots’ lead to 3-1.

With runners on second and third and two out, Will Christopher reached on an infield single that scored a run and cut Freehold Township’s lead to 3-2. Evan Wood followed with single to bring home the run that tied the score, 3-3.

“It was the biggest energy we had all year,” Wood said about tying the game. “It was super exciting. It felt great to come back in there and see everyone hyped up and we kept it going the rest of the game.”

Pontari settled down after his rough first inning. The senior righthander pitched five straight scoreless innings and finished with six strikeouts.

In the bottom of the fourth, Pontari blasted a home run to left field that gave Middletown South a 4-3 lead. He finished the game with three hits.

“It was a great boost of confidence,” Pontari said of his home run. “I was just trying to put the bat on the ball. It gave us the lead and we went to work from there.”

In the top of the fifth, Pontari retired the Patriots in order, including two straight strikeouts, as the senior had a pep in his step.

In the bottom of the fifth, Middletown South added a run to take a 5-3 lead.

Pontari retired eight of the last nine hitters he faced. He struck out the side in the sixth inning.

 

In the top of the seventh, the Eagles turned to Wood to close the game. Knowing he did not have his “best stuff,” Wood said he pitched to “contact” in his attempt to record the save.

With two out, the Patriots had the bases loaded, but Wood got Matt Villapiano to fly out to left to end the game and send the Eagles to the sectional semifinals.

“I was trying to get the ball on the ground or a soft fly ball and that’s exactly what I got to get out of it,” he said. “I know I have a good defense behind me. If the other team puts the ball in play, my defense is going to make the play for me.”

Before facing Hunterdon Central in the state sectional tournament semifinals on June 8, the Eagles will play Marlboro in the first round of the Monmouth County Tournament on June 7.

LeMore said he is proud of what his players have been able to accomplish this season and said it is “an honor” to be the Middletown South baseball coach.

“I’m fortunate to come here and coach each and every day,” he said. “I have a great family and a great baseball family. I have a good job. I’m a lucky man.”