Eagles rebound from rough start to claim A North title

first_img Middletown High School South shortstop Johnny Zega backhands a grounder during the Eagles’ Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals game against Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) May 20 in Lincroft. CBA outlasted the Eagles, 6-5, to continue in the tournament. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR It was hard for Zach deRocco and the Middletown High School South baseball team to think about division championship and tournament glory when it lost its first four games of the season.But things turned around quickly from there for the Eagles, who regrouped to win the Shore Conference A North Division outright and advance to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinals for the third time in four years May 21 when they beat Hightstown High School, 9-3. A four-run first-inning outburst against Hightstown ensured the No. 4-seeded Eagles (21-8) a state tournament advance to the May 25 game at top-seeded Northern Burlington County Regional High School, which is 24-4.“It’s guys giving 100 percent every day, and the chemistry really helped out,” de- Rocco said. “We started slow because we didn’t know each other.”DeRocco, likewise, has come on strong in a 5-3 season that earned him an All-A North selection by the coaches, along with center fielder Nolan Pereless and pitchers Austin Markmann as a utility player and Johnny Zega as an infielder. Markmann also was selected to the Shore’s Carpenter Cup team.“I feel great. It’s an honor, but all the props go to my teammates,” deRocco said. “If not for them playing behind me like they do, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”DeRocco said he made some small adjustments on his mechanics and intensified his focus. His curveball is his out pitch, but he’s been making greater use of his changeup.“He’s pitching with confidence,” Middletown South coach Ryan Spillane said. “He’s getting better and stronger as he goes along.”Spillane said Pereless has picked up his production.Pereless is batting .341 with 29 RBIs. Zega is next in RBIs with 19, and Dave Mangarelli and Markmann each have 14. Markmann is batting .337.The Hightstown victory was a solid rebound from a 6-5 loss to division rival Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in eight innings May 20 in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Brandon Martorano belted two home runs and drilled a walk-off single in the eighth inning for CBA. Middletown South had split two division games with CBA during the season, winning the second one, 9-5, to put the Eagles in a commanding position for the division title.DeRocco said that affirmed his belief that Middletown South could contend for championship glory.“But I felt before the season the team could go all the way,” he said.Prior to that CBA loss, Middletown South pulled out a 5-4 over Middletown High School North in the state tournament May 18. Zega hit a two-out, walk-off single in the 11th inning and also threw the last four innings of scoreless relief for his fourth victory. Jeff Lewandowski started the winning rally with a walk, and Pereless beat out an infield single. Spillane said he could not remember the last time a Middletown South player got a walk-off hit.Middletown North had a chance to take the lead in the fifth inning when it scored three runs but lost that chance when an illegal runner was called out with runners on second and third because it was the second time Middletown North used the same runner in pinch-runner situations. Middletown South retired the next batter to end the threat. “That was the most dramatic game I’ve been involved with,” Spillane said. “We have to take care of our defense and do the little things to manufacture runs. We have to execute the fundamentals and make no mental mistakes and move runners and drive them in with base hits.”“Defense is the key and, if we play our game, we can beat anybody,” deRocco said. “That includes good baserunning because we have a lot of fast guys.”Middletown South had its 14-game win streak ended in an 11-1 loss to Wall High School May 9 in the Monmouth County Tournament.Middletown South softball, likewise, is on a tear of late in a 24-4 season, winning 10 straight and clinching the A North title since a 6-4 loss to Middletown North as it headed into its NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinal game May 26 at Wall.Middletown South advanced to the semifinals when Maddie McMahon scattered eight hits with 11 strikeouts and Tiffani Lambert hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning to score Nicki Curran for a 1-0 victory over Ewing High School May 19. By WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img

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