Middletown South defeats Montclair to win Group IV state baseball crown

The Middletown High School South baseball team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Group IV championship with a 6-0 victory over Montclair on June 19 in Hamilton.

Championship glory was always something Coach Chris LeMore believed his Middletown South High School baseball team was capable of achieving.

From the first day he first spoke to his team in October 2019, LeMore knew the Eagles had talented players who had the skills that are needed to win a championship.

The 2021 season will be one for the record books for Middletown South.

On the strength of a two-hit complete game by sophomore pitcher Ben Schild, the Eagles (22-9) soared to a 6-0 victory over Montclair High School to win the NJSIAA Group IV state championship on June 19 at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township.

“We were going to prepare to play in a championship game, whether it be in this final, the Shore Conference Tournament final, the Monmouth County Tournament final or the state sectional tournament final,” Lemore said. “I wanted them to know those were my expectations and that the sky is the limit. I’m really proud of the kids. They played like champions today.”

Schild relied on his fastball against Montclair and after the game LeMore said “no one could touch that pitch.”

Schild struck out seven hitters and retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced as the Eagles claimed the Group IV state title one week after winning the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional championship.

“My fastball is my best pitch and I unloaded it at 100% every time I threw it,” Schild said. “It worked. I’m very happy right now.”

The Eagles grabbed the lead in the bottom of the first inning, when senior Joe Stanzione pulled an inside pitch through the left side of the infield to score a runner from third and put Middletown South up 1-0.

Stanzione’s hit against Montclair followed his game-winning RBI single against Clearview High School in the Group IV state semifinal game several days earlier.

Stanzione said his winning hit in the state semifinal and the Eagles’ victory over Montclair rank among the top five moments of his life.

In the second inning, Evan Wood’s groundout scored Will Christopher to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. Christopher was 3-3 with two runs scored in the title game.

Leadoff man Patrick Eagone reached base three times and delivered for the Eagles with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning. Eagone roped a single to left field that scored two runs and extended the lead to 4-0.

As he celebrated the championship, Eagone said his hit was “the greatest feeling” of his life.

“Being in a state championship game and coming up big like that is something I can’t compare to anything in my life,” he said. “This is the greatest group of guys I have ever played baseball with. Being a state champion with them feels great.”

After Eagone drove in two runs, Greg Trezza followed with a single to push the lead to 5-0.

In the fifth inning, Wood drove in his second run with a sacrifice fly that gave Middletown South a 6-0 lead.

Six runs were more than enough for Schild, who allowed only one hit through the final four innings (a two-out double in the seventh). Schild shook off the double, regained his focus and got the next hitter to fly out to left field to seal the Group IV crown.

Being the starting pitcher in a state championship game was something Schild knew “three months ago” he was ready to take on. He said his start against Montclair was the best one he has had in high school.

“Winning this is one of the happiest moments of my life,” Schild said. “We have a great group of guys. Everyone respects each other on the team and everyone plays together.”

With the win over Montclair, the 2021 Eagles claimed the school’s first Group IV state baseball crown. The 1996 Eagles won the Group III state championship.

“This is a family thing. It starts with the kids and finishes with the baseball team. We preach brotherhood and now we are preaching family because that really is what it takes to be where we are right now,” LeMore said.