Midd. North coach Ryan McCabe gives his team a rave review after its 8-4 victory over Somerville.
Colin Dowlen pitched a three-hitter and Middletown North seemed to utilize every nook and cranny in its lineup to hammer out 11 hits on its way to an 8-4 victory over Somerville in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 semifinals on Tuesday in Somerville.
The Seton Hall University-bound Dowlen limited sixth-seeded Somerville (15-14) to two earned runs, striking out 11 and walking three in a complete game effort in which he expended every one of his allowable pitches under NJSIAA rules.
It was a good day for the Shore Conference in the section as fifth-seeded Colts Neck (17-7-1) picked off top-seeded Steinert 4-1. Middletown North (18-10), the 10th seed, travels to Colts Neck on Friday for a 1 p.m. sectional championship game. That winner gains a berth in high school baseball’s final week and a shot at a Group 3 state championship.
“My curveball was there and I was able to slow it down at times,” said Dowlen, more noted for a fastball that’s been clocked at 91. And it was every bit of that on several occasions. “It’s really a knuckle-curve. And I threw some sliders, too.”
As the game progressed it was clear the potent Somerville lineup was hunting fastballs. Dowlen simply adjusted and got the Pioneers to chase that knuckle-curve and wave at the slider.
Somerville had a 3-1 jump start through three innings against the hard-throwing Dowlin but the Middletown North bats sprung to life with big rallies in the fourth and sixth innings to be sure Dowlen’s effort would not be wasted.
“You have to give them credit,” said Somerville coach Chris Banos. “They had some big hits in big spots. And, unfortunately (for us) their kid was on. We struck out a lot but we did battle.”
Indeed, seven of Middletown’s North eight runs were scored after two were out.
Somerville starter Chase Wengryn was nearly through the top of the fourth, perhaps stranding Zachary Hampton on first after a leadoff single. But Dylan Biggs, the Lions No. 8 hitter, ripped a first-pitch double to left field to chase Hampton to third base. Then Wengryn had another shot at keeping the Pioneers in front, 3-1, when he got to a 3-2 count on No. 9 hitter Colby McMahon. Middletown North’s second baseman, however, hammered a single into left field to score both runners and tie the game at 3-3.
That clutch hit flipped that lineup to the top and the Lions continued to roar. Matt Adamson, who hit the ball hard in three of his four at bats, doubled down the left field line as McMahon raced to third. Ryan Frontera followed with a two-run triple to left-center field that put Middletown North in front, 5-3. And that was all for Wengryn.
“We just had to get the bats going,” said Dowlen, who waited until the sixth inning to join the Lions’ hit parade. “Briggs had two big hits for us and Colby’s hit just kept things rolling.”
It was Briggs who ignited the rally in the sixth with a one-out double down the left field line. Adamson came to the plate with two outs and he had already doubled twice and scored two runs. This time he hit a hot smash at third baseman Ed Duffy, who was fortunate to knock it down. But Duffy could not make a play on the infield single as Briggs scored the Lions’ sixth run and Adamson reached first safely.
Adamson was 3-for-4 on the day and scored three runs from the leadoff spot.
“Matt has been a leader for us all year,” said Middletown North coach Ryan McCabe. “He missed two or three weeks with mono and we got him going slowly after he got back, putting him at the bottom of the order. But he forced us to move him back up pretty quickly.”
Ryan Frontera then singled to left and both runners moved up a base as the ball was misplayed in the outfield. Dowlen then greeted the Pioneers’ second reliever, Matty Wright, with a back-breaking two-run single to left to boost the lead to 8-3. Dowlen was nailed trying to stretch the hit into two bases when Wright took the relay, wheeled and gunned him out at second base.
But the damage was done. Somerville was down to its final six outs and Dowlen was still dealing.
“We had a six-game losing streak (May 5-19) a couple weeks ago and at a time of the season that wasn’t great,” said Banos. “But we never packed it in.” In fact, the scrappy Pioneers won four straight, including an 8-7 upset of third-seeded Hamilton West on Saturday. And Somerville still had a last gasp rally to throw at Dowlen.
Somerville’s leadoff hitter Parker Muratore opened the sixth by drawing a seven-pitch walk. Brayden Keller then reached on catcher’s interference. Wright bounced into a forceout at second to put runners on the corners with one out. Tyler Stone then hit a hot shot that bounced over the third baseman and into left field for an RBI single, shaving the deficit to 8-4.
But Dowlen reached back and struck out the next two batters to end the threat as his pitch count crept past 100. Dowlen then retired the bottom of the Pioneers’ lineup in order in the seventh to close it out.
“Colin is just as good a pitcher as he is a leader,” said McCabe. “And he’s a very good pitcher. He was last year, too.”
The teams traded runs in the first inning as Dowlen’s bouncer to the left side brought Adamson home from third with the game’s first run. Adamson led off the game with a double into the left-center field gap, barely beating center fielder Wright’s throw to second. He took third on a wild pitch.
Dowlen was heaving cheddar in the bottom of the inning, striking out two tough customers in Muratore and Keller to start his outing strong. But the discerning Wright drew a walk and Stone, the cleanup hitter for a reason, followed with a double to right field as the speedy Wright raced all the way home from first. Stone, trying to take third on the throw home, was nailed by catcher Aidan Sheehan’s perfect throw.
Sheehan also caught two runners trying to steal, asserting himself after the Pioneers perhaps surprised the Lions with some early aggression on the basepaths. It was that aggression that enabled Somerville to take an early 3-1 lead when it struck for two runs without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the third.
Dowlen struck out Somerville’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to start the third and was nearly out of the inning when he knocked down Muratore’s hot shot comebacker. But his errant throw to first allowed Muratore to reach. Muratore wasted no time putting Somerville’s aggression into practice and stole second and third while Keller was working the count full. Dowlen then walked Keller, who stole second on the first pitch to Wright.
Wright then jumped on a 1-0 pitch from Dowlen and hit a shot that leaked through the third baseman to deliver both runners and put a very pumped Somerville bench up 3-1.
But it was almost all Middletown North from there. The Lions, by the way, have won nine straight and 11-out-of-12 games. In fact, Middletown North is 13-2 since it stood at 5-8 on April 30. That’s quite a statement in the deep and talented Shore Conference.
Somerville’s season, meanwhile, more resembled a rugby scrum through the rugged Skyland Conference, which it attempted to navigate minus the top flight pitching required.
“We were in a lot of battles this year,” said Banos. “We earned every win.”
One look at the Stony Brook-bound Wright’s uniform in the post-game gave one the indication of the intent of the Pioneers players. Wright looked like he had just finished a shift in a coal mine, as he was covered with a shovel full of Frank ‘Nap’ Torpey Athletic Complex soil.
“It’s tough,” said Wright. “I just played my last game with my high school team, the guys I grew up with.”
NOTES: Dowlen has pitched to a 7-2 record and a 0.97 ERA He has 78 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 43.1 innings. At the plate, he’s been just as ferocious, batting .579 with 33 hits and 21 RBI. … Stone led Somerville this season with 34 hits, 7 triples and 26 RBI as he batted .410. Wright led the Pioneers with a .446 batting average and 11 doubles. Keller stole 30 bases.