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Rebels rally past Manalapan for 5-3 victory on Opening Day 2022

Howell High School center fielder Devon Smith beats the throw to home plate to score a run during the team's season opener against Manalapan on April 2 in Manalapan. Howell defeated Manalapan 5-3.

MANALAPAN — Opening day magic brought the Howell High School baseball team a seventh-inning rally that helped the Rebels defeat Manalapan High School in the 2022 season opener on April 2 in Manalapan.

Trailing 3-1 entering the top of the seventh, the Rebels scored four runs in their final at bat and then closed the door on the Braves in the bottom of the inning to post a 5-3 victory.

“It’s a good one,” Coach Eric Johnson said after the win. “We felt like we were playing some good baseball, but we had some mistakes here and there. We were able to string some hits together at the end and it worked out for us.”

Senior Daniel Furlong, who pitched a complete game, started the rally in the seventh by reaching on a bunt single and advancing to second on a throwing error. The Rebels followed with a walk and a single to load the bases with no outs.

The Rebels had momentum and Johnson could sense something big was on the horizon for his squad.

“You kind of felt things were moving in our direction and we were able to keep that momentum going,” he said.

Furlong scored to make it 3-2 after the Braves were unable to finish off an infield fly that was hit by Jeremiah Wojenski. The error allowed the other runners to advance to second and third with one out for sophomore Braden Walsh.

In his first career varsity start, Walsh had a golden opportunity to keep the rally going with the tying run 90 feet away and he delivered by smacking a 3-2 pitch the opposite way to the gap in right-center. Two runs scored on Walsh’s triple as the Rebels took a 4-3 lead.

“It felt amazing,” Walsh said of his triple, which was his first varsity hit. “I got down to two strikes and knew I needed to do a job and put the ball in play. I saw a pitch elevated and just took it the opposite way.”

Walsh was smiling ear to ear after the game, knowing his memorable hit helped his team win the game.

“It really feels awesome,” he said. “Just seeing all my teammates out there at home plate cheering me on was a great feeling.”

Sophomore Nick Gallo drove in Walsh with a sacrifice fly as the Rebels took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh.

Furlong, who was fired up after starting the rally in the top of the inning, finished the job by getting the Braves in order and striking out the final two batters he faced.

“Any win on opening day is helpful and our team did it (today). I think we can beat anyone, honestly,” said Furlong, who finished with seven strikeouts.

Sophomore third baseman Joe Zito had two hits and scored a run, while senior centerfielder Devon Smith had a hit and scored a run.

Johnson, who is in his 12th season at the helm of the Rebels, remembers winning his first game as Howell’s coach on an opening day more than a decade ago.

The Rebels’ comeback victory over Manalapan is another season-opening win Johnson will always remember and one he believes shows how resilient this year’s team will be.

“We have been preaching to these guys all preseason that when something bad happens you can change it, you have to fix it, and they did. They went out there and stayed calm and stayed focused. It was good to see everyone on the same page in the field and in the dugout,” he said.

Howell and Manalapan will finish a two-game series on April 4 in Howell. The Rebels will begin a two-game series against Middletown North High School on April 6.

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