Zach Hampton went 5-for-5 for the 9ers in a Scout League doubleheader on Wednesday night.
By Mike Olshin
Zach Hampton knows it. So does Gabe Ahlmeyer.
They know that feeling of winning at Middletown North, of being along for the ride as freshmen when the Lions stunned New Jersey by winning the NJSIAA Group 3 title in 2022, and then being an under-the-radar 1-2 mound tandem when North backed it up by winning the Central Jersey Group 3 crown last spring.
Once you know that feeling, you know you want more of it. But guys like Ryan Frontera (Seton Hall) and R.J. Kernan (Montclair State) are off to college now. So it’s not enough that guys like Ahlmeyer and Hampton are among the more experienced mound duos in the Shore Conference – they have to rise to the occasion in other ways as well.
“There’s definitely a focus of trying to be leaders as well,” said Hampton, part of a 9ers Baseball team that finished out the Fall Scout League season Wednesday night at Diamond Nation with a 5-5 tie against the Morris County Cubs. “Guys like me, Gabe, (star infielder) Dylan Briggs, Mike (Hallard) behind the dish. We have some big shoes to fill.”
Filling big shoes requires big work – and both Middletown North juniors are in the process of doing just that. Hampton, who batted .413 in the spring and earned a win and two saves on the mound in the state tournament, has made it a focus to get stronger. He’s added 15 pounds of muscle to his 207-pound frame, and the results are evident. His fastball has been up to 85 and continues to rise, and the increased power is obvious.
Hampton launched a three-run, third inning bomb to left-center as the 9ers erased an early deficit. In the doubleheader, Hampton went 5-for-5. He later struck out six in two innings, allowing an unearned run.
Gabe Ahlmeyer delivers in the first inning of a Scout League game against the Cubs.
It’s easy to see why Hampton is getting some mid-major D1 attention and exciting to see what he can do during the offseason and the spring when Middletown North will be among the Group 3 hunted.
Ahlmeyer was all lefty funk as a sophomore, frustrating hitters with his secondary pitches, tantalizing them with a tailing fastball that wasn’t blowing guys away but rather moving off the barrel and creating soft contact.
“My goal is to get my velo up,” said Ahlmeyer, who threw an impressive 50 innings as a sophomore, and captured state title wins over Hamilton West and bitter rival Middletown South. “I want to make sure I’m sitting 80 and not just topping there.”
Still, Ahlmeyer knows the funk is what makes him most successful and that was on display Wednesday night.
He got tagged for two runs in the first as Pope John’s Nick Struble launched a double over the head of the center fielder, but then pitched effectively, mixed his offering, and got some ugly swings as well.
The game marked the end of the Scout League season with the Cubs finishing as the only unbeaten (an NHL-like 3-0-3 record) to take the (very) unofficial league title. With a ton of talent on display each week, players received plenty of real-time feedback to head into winter.
“Big time,” Hampton said, when asked if the Fall season was productive. “Great competition and a lot to work on before spring.”