Mustangs knocked around and out of CJ 1 playoffs

Keyport bats boom in another tournament washout

By: Rudy Brandl
   Steve Venuto and his Manville High baseball team felt a strange sense of déjà vu during last Friday afternoon’s Central Jersey Group 1 playoff game against Keyport.
   Playing at home in a tournament game for the second time this year, the Mustangs got hammered again early and never recovered. Franklin had done the damage in the first round of the Somerset County Tournament back in April and Keyport came to town with some booming bats in last week’s sectional quarterfinal.
   Keyport exploded for seven runs and eight hits against MHS senior ace John Anderson (4-5), who also absorbed the bulk of the damage when Franklin posted an 11-1 rout in the county contest. Keyport’s bats calmed down in the later innings but the fifth-ranked Red Raiders cruised to an 11-2 triumph, leaving the fourth-seeded Mustangs scratching their heads.
   "They just started off hitting and we didn’t have it today," said MHS junior pitcher Justin Jurkowski, who allowed four runs on three hits in the final five innings of relief. "The first few innings are the most important and that’s when they got us."
   "They were the better team, no doubt about it," Venuto added. "It’s tough to get whacked at home in the first round of the tournament. All the games we lost this year we lost in the first inning. We fell behind early and lost the game."
   Manville (12-6) couldn’t get much going against Keyport right-hander Joe Behan (6-3), who got the nod because ace Brian Langan had pitched in a county tournament game earlier in the week. Behan didn’t have Langan’s 88-mile per hour fastball, but he mixed his pitches sharply and finished with 12 strikeouts.
   "He pitched a hell of a game," Manville senior Orlando Rodriguez said. "His fastball was good in the first and second inning but then he started bringing in the slider."
   By the time the Mustangs started hitting Behan, they were in an 8-0 hole. Keyport hit the ball hard in the first two frames, starting with three straight base hits to open the game.
   Anderson got ahead of Langan 0-2 in the count but the Keyport leadoff man hit a single. Adam Bruton, who led Keyport’s 11-hit assault with a 4-for-5 performance, laced an RBI double for the first run. Jay Vitiello doubled for a 2-0 lead and came around to score on a two-out hit by A.J. Yoncofski.
   The Red Raiders went right back to work in the second. Pat Denardo singled and No. 9 batter Steve Cline blasted a double down the left field line. Langan walked to load the bases with no outs. Bruton delivered a two-run single to center to make it 5-0.
   Anderson retired the next two batters but walked Behan while Langan stole home. Yoncofski delivered another two-out RBI single to complete the surge.
   "They hit the ball, that’s it," Anderson said. "Most of the pitches were pretty much where I wanted them to be. They’re good hitters."
   MHS went quietly in the first two frames but got two men on in the third when John Saladin singled and Chris Hardgrove reached on an infield hit. Rodriguez hit a 3-2 pitch to center field for the final out.
   The Mustangs got on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Anderson doubled over the first base bag and scored on a bad-hop single by Jurkowski. The rally was stopped by a spectacular Keyport defensive play. With one out, Robert Snyder hit a bloop to shallow left-center field. Jurkowski took off believing he could score on the hit but Langan made a tremendous grab and fired back to second base for the double play.
   Manville answered another Keyport run with one in the bottom of the fifth. Eddie Gryzeski reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to second on an error. Chris Hardgrove, who went 3-for-4 to lead the MHS offense, ripped a two-out RBI single.
   The Mustangs got three more men on base in the next two frames but stranded them on the bases. Venuto wasn’t able to implement any strategy or use his running game. He had to stick to the basics and hope for a big inning.
   "I’m a little disappointed I really couldn’t coach today," Venuto said. "You have to play catch-up and be conservative to get back in the game."
   While the loss was disappointing, it wasn’t a game the Mustangs gave away. That was the case in the 8-7 loss to Roselle Park that ended Manville’s seven-game win streak earlier in the week. Keyport simply rode into town and hit the baseball.
   "We didn’t make many mistakes, but they came out hitting the ball," Snyder said. "It almost felt like the Franklin game. They hit the ball in the beginning and we didn’t. When we started hitting, we hit it right at them."
   Jurkowski settled in and didn’t allow a big inning, although the Red Raiders posted single runs in each of the last four innings. Jurkowski struck out seven and walked three batters in a solid relief outing.
   Behan never allowed the Mustangs to fight back from the huge deficit. He struck out at least one batter in every inning and the Red Raiders advanced to the CJ 1 semifinals against No. 1 Middlesex.
   The Mustangs were scheduled to complete their season with a home game vs. New Providence yesterday afternoon.