By Jeff Appelblatt
Manalapan High School’s baseball team was slumping. The six-game losing streak was only about half as long as the 11-game winning streak that preceded it, but the feeling of losing lingers.
However, no one was going to feel bad for the Braves. When the Cougars hosted them at Colts Neck High School May 10, their only goal was to take advantage of the struggling rival. They did so by taking a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning. Manalapan hadn’t scored three runs yet in a game in May entering the day.
“Slumping is contagious,” Manalapan coach Brian Boyce said thinking of the losses.
However, Manalapan’s bats woke up that day in Colts Neck. The only cheers the rest of the way were from Manalapan’s side of the field, as its fans watched the Braves come back and win, 8-3.
Colts Neck pitcher Dillon Pellechia was unable to get an out before he gave up five runs to the hard-hitting Braves in the sixth. Even worse for Pellechia and the Cougars was that the Braves kept hitting singles, leaving the bases loaded batter after batter.
Matt Sullivan, Mike Perlamuter, Rob Gargano and Vinny Lanza each hit with the bases full.
“Hitting is contagious,” Boyce said. “Hopefully, we can build upon it.
“We scored some runs today. That’s been our issue. We hadn’t been scoring.”
Pellechia didn’t give up any more hits to the Braves, but he was forced to keep watching from the dugout. Manalapan only scored one more run in the sixth, but the Cougars’ 3-0 lead became a 6-3 deficit by the end of the inning.
Anthony Jomo wasn’t giving anything back to Colts Neck. The Manalapan pitcher allowed nothing in the sixth.
Manalapan also wanted more runs. Batting back around the lineup, the Braves added on another two runs and took an 8-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh.
Jomo walked a batter in the final inning, but Colts Neck saw its chance for a comeback fade away in only minutes.
“We had a job to do, and we did it for five innings. We just didn’t do it for the last two,” Cougars’ coach Mike Yorke said. “We can’t just play five innings of baseball and then not play two innings.
“Our starting pitcher got a little tired, and we didn’t do a good job holding our lead.”
If the Braves didn’t get their offense going and Pellechia kept the Braves quiet, Gargano would have gotten the loss. He gave up two earned runs in fewer than five innings pitched, but he helped himself out with a pair of hits amid Manalapan’s rally.
“We lost [six] straight,” the junior said after the win. “Two-out hits helped us a lot. We just had to get the ‘W.’ ”
One win wasn’t enough for Manalapan to win the division, though. While the Braves took over in Colts Neck, Freehold High School closed out the Shore Conference A North Division with a win over Howell High School.
Gargano wasn’t fazed.
“We live in the moment,” he said, excited to get the feel of winning back again.
Winning a division never guarantees anything. Manalapan has its bats right back where it wants them.
Two days after beating Colts Neck, Manalapan went to Memorial High School and beat up on the Tigers, 12-1.
Manalapan and Colts Neck are currently waiting to see when and where they’ll play tournament baseball.