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Eagles earn top seed in sectional tournament; eye second straight state title

Middletown High School South third baseman Evan Wood jumps up in the air at home plate to congratulate teammate #22 Joe Stanzione on hitting a three-run home run during a game against Manalapan on May 12 in Middletown. Middletown South is the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament.

MIDDLETOWN – The NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament will begin June 1 and the Middletown South High School baseball team is in pursuit of a second straight state sectional title.

The Eagles, who are also the defending Group IV state champions, received the No. 1 seed in the state sectional tournament when the tournament brackets were released on May 25.

Led by Ben Schild, Joe Stanzione and Evan Wood, Middletown South has soared to a record of 19-9. The Eagles won the Monmouth County Tournament for the fifth time in program history on May 18 when they defeated Wall High School, 11-1.

“If we keep playing like we have been, I think we can do what we did last year,” Stanzione said, referring to winning the state sectional crown and the Group IV state title. “I think we are really starting to come together as a team. We are hitting together more and our pitchers are taking advantage of what they do (on the mound).”

In the Monmouth County Tournament championship game, Schild struck out 11 Wall hitters and allowed one unearned run in 5.2 innings.

Schild has developed into one of the top scholastic pitchers in the state. He began his junior campaign by dialing up a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts against Freehold Township.

For the season, Schild is 5-0 with a 0.99 ERA and 81 strikeouts. At the plate, Schild has contributed 22 hits and 10 RBIs to the Eagles’ offense.

Stanzione is leading the way at the plate in his final season at Middletown South. He is batting just under .500 with 13 home runs and more than 30 RBIs.

Jackson Memorial High School’s Marc Fink holds the Shore Conference record for the most home runs in a season (14). Stanzione is one home run away from tying Fink’s record and two home runs away from setting a new standard for the conference.

Against Wall in the Monmouth County Tournament championship game, Stanzione went 3-4 with two home runs and three RBIs.

Coach Chris LeMore said Stanzione was the “catalyst” in leading the Eagles to the 2021 Group IV state championship and said having him back in 2022 is a key factor in the team’s success.

“The good thing for us right now is having Joe back,” LeMore said after a game against Manalapan on May 12. “He gives us the leadership we are looking for. He has established himself as the leader of the program and the kids are doing a good job following along.”

Wood is having a strong junior season, contributing at the plate and out of the bullpen. He is batting .472 with two home runs and 18 RBIs. On the mound, Wood is 4-1 and has an ERA under 0.40 in just over 18 innings pitched.

Junior Will Christopher, senior Rob Cangelosi and sophomore Louis D’Alessio have been productive at the plate and in more substantial roles this season.

Christopher, senior Brendan Roche and sophomore Brevin Bezick have pitched well in the rotation behind Schild.

Danny Corcoran, Steve Boguszewski, Joe Bartos, Ryan St. Clair, Matt Silva and Brendan Silva are newcomers who have made contributions to Middletown South’s success.

That has been a pleasant sight for LeMore, whose main focus since taking over the team two years ago has been the development of each player in the program.

“My focus is not on winning and losing. My focus for this program is helping the kids get better,” he said.

Middletown South will face Steinert High School of Mercer County on May 28 in its final tuneup before the state sectional tournament begins.

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