Jackson, DeSclafani led CN to CJ final

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Anthony DeSclafani experienced the roller-coaster ride that is baseball. Seemingly coasting to a victory over top-seeded Jackson in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals, DeSclafani was touched for a three-run home run by Greg Janofsky in the bottom of the seventh that lifted the lifeless Jaguars to a 4-4 tie.

Thatwas the low.Afewminutes later, he stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the top of the eighth for the Cougars with a chance to redeemhimself.Hewould, hitting a double that led to thewinning run in Colts Neck’s wild 5-4 win in Jackson onMay 27.

“I had to forget about it [the home run]; that’s baseball, it happens,” saidDeSclafani. “Things go up and down. I had to forget that, bear down, and keepmy teamin the game.”

Which he did, retiring the next three Jaguars. Then he would have an opportunity for redemption leading off the eighth.

“I wanted to hit the ball hard,” he recalled.

And he did. A line drive that hit the base of the wall in right center field for a double that set the Cougars up to retake the lead, which they did onMike O’Reilly’s sacrifice fly to center.

The bottom of the eighth would go no smoother for DeSclafani than the last of the seventh did. Kevin Needham got it going with a lead-off base hit. A sacrifice bunt moved the tying run to second. Brian Soloman singled to right, but it wasn’t deep enough to score the runner from second.

The Jags had runners on the corners with one out when the game would end unconventionally. DeSclafani got PeteKelich to hit a grounder to second base. The Cougars got the force at second but couldn’t turn two. Jackson had tied the game up.

Not so fast.

On the relay throw, the field umpire ruled that shortstop Bill Noble had been interfered with on his attempt to throw the ball to first, and it was called a double play. Just like that, the Cougars were moving on to the state sectional final for the second time in three years.

“We want to play as long as we can,” said DeSclafani, who beat Jackson for the second time in less than a week “We are playing well together as a team.”

DeSclafani and the Cougars appeared headed for a routine 4-1 triumph before the Jags erupted in the seventh.

MarcAsta led off the Jackson first with a home run to left field off a change-up. Jackson would get two more hits off the Cougars ace in the inning, but DeSclafani held them to that one run.

Pat Speechio would get that one run back in the top of the third, homering over the right field fence.

Colts Neck would break the 1-1 tie in the top of the fourth on DeSclafani’s RBI single that scored Chris Coutros, who had started things with a double.

Ethan Jackson padded the lead with a two-run home run in the top of the fifth that made it 4-1.

“It was right down the middle of the plate,” Jackson said of the pitch he hit for his home run.

With DeSclafani rolling along on the mound, the 4-1 lead seemed safe. Then came the seventh. Pete Kelich started it off with a single, and DeSclafani then issued his first base-on-balls. He then fell behind Janofsky 3-1, and after getting the count to 3-2, Janofsky fouled a couple of pitches off before driving a fly ball over the left-field fence that tied it up.

Cougar coach Mike Yorke went to the mound but did not takeDeSclafani out of the game. He trusted him to battle through it and get out of the seventh without any further damage.Yorke’s trustwaswell founded.

Jackson, though, clearly had the momentum, until DeSclafani’s double gave it back to Colts Neck.

DeSclafani (7-1) got help fromhis defense with center fielderAshton Jackson catching a long fly at the wall in the bottom of the sixth with a runner on. Noble made some nifty pickups on slow grounders.

The win was the 20th on the season for Colts Neck (20-6) while Jackson ended its season at 18-7. The Jaguars had been eliminated from the Shore Conference Tournament by Colts Neck and De- Sclafani, 6-5, on May 22.

The Cougars’ Ethan Jackson experienced the highest of highs, a no-hitter in Colts Neck’s first-round win over Rancocas Valley, 13-0. It was the first no-hitter in school history.

I felt really good, everything was working,” he recalled.

Jackson (5-3) said he was aided in a small way by an infield error in the first inning that had made him stop thinking about the no-hitter.With the Cougars bashing the ball, 13 hits including a Jackson home run, the game went only five innings. Jackson fanned eight and walked one, and had smacked a threerun home run.

Mike Denlinger had a triple and three RBIs, Dave Liebers drove in four and also had a triple. DeSclafani and Joe DeNora each had doubles as the Cougars had five extra base hits.

Manalapan, Howell and Freehold Borough also qualified for the state playoffs.

Manalapan hosted Howell in its firstround game and rode Ryan Harvey’s three-hitter to a 10-0 win.

Harvey (6-2) struck out six.

Matt Cook, the leading home run hitter in the Shore (eight), hit a grand slam in the third that broke the game open. Pat Flanagan, who has more hits than anyone in the Shore (43), went 3-3 as Manalapan improved to 15-9.

Howell fell to 12-10.

The Braves’ state playoff run ended in the next round with Steinert scoring a 6- 0 win. Nick Turano had a pair of doubles to lead the Braves, who were still alive in the Monmouth County Tournament.

In Group III, Freehold Borough lost its quarterfinals atMonroe, 3-1. Losing pitcher Matt Yuhas (6-5) tossed a five-hitter.

The Colonials, who made great inroads under Jon Block this year, returning to the postseason, fell to 13-11.

Freehold Borough ended its season at 13-12 after falling to Christian Brothers Academy, 8-3, in the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals.