By Jeff Appelblatt
When Freehold High School’s baseball team won at Howell High School May 10, it was the first time the Colonials won the Shore Conference A North Division. But it wasn’t the first time the team ever won its division — part of the B North in 2006, Freehold shared the title with Wall High School.
Freehold coach Jon Block admitted, he wasn’t sure what to expect from his team that day. The players lost the night before in the Monmouth County Tournament.
“We were a little worried,” the longtime coach said. “We knew the kids were going to be a little bit tired from a night game the night before — from playing all those games in all those days.”
To be precise, the game at Howell the 11th in 13 days for the Colonials.
Freehold went up, 4-0, entering into the home part of the sixth inning. It appeared to be then, though, that Howell started to figure out the throws of Dane DellaValle (5-0). The hurler gave up three runs before exiting with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Block didn’t expect the Rebels to go down quietly.
“Their record was 7-10. They were playing to get into the Shore Conference Tournament,” Freehold’s coach said, adding that a team needed to hold a .500 record or better to play in the competition. “The kid they threw, [Mike Wynne], was 5-0. So when he pitches, they usually do pretty well.”
That was all Howell was going to get. Pat White came in and closed out the game for DellaValle and the Colonials. He retired four Howell batters, and Freehold won, 4-3.
Even though it had been years since one of his teams won the division, Block knew what he hoped for from his team if it was going to notch the division title.
“Anytime you’re playing for a championship, whoever makes the least amount of mistakes is probably going to win the game,” he said.
The coach was happy with the win in the quick turnaround. Block knew that reflecting on the county championship game the night before could have hurt his team’s chances. He certainly remembered the night at FirstEnergy Park well.
“We just didn’t play so well in the championship game to [Red Bank Catholic High School]. There were a couple of miscues,” Freehold’s coach said. “The different environment playing at FirstEnergy — us as a coaching staff maybe didn’t prepare them enough for that big of a game.
“I think if the game was anywhere else, it might have been a little bit different. But that was the rules. That was where the game was.”
Preparing his team to play almost every day was never a problem for Block. He knows that may have been different if more games resembled the one at FirstEnergy Park, though.
“I think it’s a lot easier to play all those games in that amount of days if you’re winning,” the coach said after his team won 10 of 13. “Now if you were losing playing 11 games in 13 days, it would not be a lot of fun. But as long as you’re winning — and you have to realize you’re not going to win every game — you just enjoy it while you can.”
Then it was time to get some players rest before the tournaments rolled around. That meant to rest some regulars against Middletown High School South the day after beating Howell.
“We are going to get some kids in today that haven’t played as much as our starters. It’s a meaningful game for seeding purposes for the Shore Conference Tournament. [But] I’m sure the committee will realize what we’re doing to let all the kids play,” Freehold’s coach said before going to Middletown. “Then they’ll base [our ranking] on the tournament and the division. These kids have been here everyday, too, so they deserve to get a little bit of playing time.
“And after today, every game might be a tournament, so I don’t know if they’re going to get that opportunity [again].”
By the time Freehold is balancing two more tournaments, the coach hopes for his schedule to be as busy with baseball as possible.