MIDDLETOWN - Joe Stanzione was up in a spot he will always remember as long as he plays baseball.
"As a little kid, you always come to high school games watching this to happen. You always dream of it happening,'' Stanzione, a senior first baseman for the Middletown High School South baseball team, said.© Tanya Breen Middletown South's Joe Stanzione celebrates after hitting the game winning single during the seventh inning of the NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal baseball game between Clearview and Middletown South at Middletown High School South in Middletown, NJ Monday, June 14, 2021.
Stanzione, on a day where his bat kept Middletown South in the NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal game against Clearview, gave himself and his teammates a win for the ages.
His bases-loaded opposite field single off the right field fence with one out in the bottom of the seventh gave the Eagles a wild, improbable, come-from-behind 4-3 win Monday at Walter Woods Field.
"I was able to get up in that situation and do what I do, I guess and just play baseball and have fun,'' Stanzione, who belted solo home runs in the second and sixth innings, said.
Middletown South (21-8), which scored three runs in its final two at-bats, will meet Montclair (24-6-1) Saturday at 10 a.m. at Veterans Park, Hamilton Township, in the Group 4 state championship game.© Tanya Breen Middletown South's players celebrate the wild 4-3 win over Clearview Monday in a NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal.
The Eagles will be trying to win their first state title since they won Group 4 in 1996 under then head coach Steve Antonucci.
It is Middletown South's first appearance in a state final since 1999, when it was defeated by Demarest in the Group 3 final.
3 runners out at plate in same inning
Stanzione's heroics ended a game that will long be talked about when the subject is memorable and crazy games in the history of the NJSIAA Tournament.
The Eagles threw three runners out at the plate in the top of the seventh to keep the game tied 3-3.
They also scored the tying run in the bottom of the sixth when head coach Chris LeMore called a two-strike suicide squeeze with two out and runners on second and third. The run scored on a wild pitch.
"You can't doubt the heart of a champion,'' LeMore said. "We are constantly talking in the dugout about staying within ourselves and being the best we can be in that particular moment. Don't let the moment get too big.
"They're (his players) familiar with these situations. We put them in situations to make them respond, but there's no setting up the situation of being in that kind of game and that situation in that point in time.
"The one thing I can say is they've done everything we've asked from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. I just have to credit their mentality, their hard work and their character.''
Clearview (17-7) was left to rue a missed opportunity to advance to its first state final.
"Credit to them (Middletown South). They're a well-coached team. They were very prepared for it,'' Clearview coach Derrick Reagan said. "We kind of ran ourselves out of an inning (the seventh) a little bit. We got some tough breaks. There were some things that could have gone either way. There's nothing you can do about. I'm proud of our guys and our seniors. Good luck to them (Middletown South) in the state final.''
The Pioneers' first three batters in the top of the seventh, singled, doubled and singled. All three were eventually thrown out at the plate in different ways.
The first came when Matt Pontari got an overthrow of the cutoff man on pitcher Julian Costa's double off the right field fence and wheeled and threw to catcher Greg Trezza for the first out of the inning.
The second came after the second single as shortstop Will Doyle and Trezza teamed up for the out on the contact play on a ground ball by Jared McKinney.© Tanya Breen NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal baseball game between Clearview and Middletown South at Middletown High School South in Middletown, NJ Monday, June 14, 2021.
Clearview, then tried to put on the first and third double steal with the runner from first getting in a rundown while the runner from third broke for the plate. Pitcher Evan Wood, second baseman Joe Bartos and Trezza combined for the final out of the inning.
The sequence left many long-time baseball observers saying they have never seen three runners thrown out at the plate in the same inning.
"When I walked in here today, I said, 'They're a mirror image of us. They're going to do everything we do. They're going to put pressure on you,' '' LeMore said. "Our kids responded in the biggest way and at the biggest times.''
"We were saying (after the sequence), 'This is our game to win,' '' Stanzione said.
Doyle began the seventh with a single. Patrick Eagone walked and Trezza placed a perfect sacrifice bunt in no man's land between the mound and the third base line to load the bases with nobody out.
Trezza had to place the bunt where he did because Costa (6-3) had hopped off the mound quickly twice previously and thrown runners out at third.
After a strikeout, Stanzione delivered the game-winner to set off a wild celebration amongst the Middletown South players, coaches and fans.
"I was looking outside fastball, like I was the whole game,'' Stanzione said. "I knew he couldn't walk me because the bases were loaded. I am psyched for my team that we get to live to see another day and get to play for a championship on Saturday.''
Stanzione's two homers also were opposite field shots and both were towering drives.
"That kid has worked so hard on his swing this year,'' LeMore said. "To see him hit two home runs opposite field is a testament to him and his work ethic.''
Stanzione's second homer pulled Middletown South within 3-2 and came after center field Tom DeMarco had made a running catch of a sinking line drive with the bases loaded to end the top of the sixth.
Squeeze play on 0-2 count
Clearview looked like it was going to escape further trouble in the sixth when Costa recorded a strikeout with runners on second and third and one out.
He then got ahead of Wood 0-2 when LeMore took the biggest gamble of his coaching career and called for the squeeze.
"We've been saying from the beginning of the year, 'We want to put pressure on the defense,' '' LeMore said. "I wasn't going to stand on third base with the tying run on third and not have some kind of execution with it. I just went with it.''
Ben Schild broke from third. Wood offered at the pitch and the pitch rolled to the right of the plate and toward the back stop as Schild raced home with the run.
At first, the umpires said Wood did not offer. Then, they said he did offer and finally after a conference, they said Wood did not offer.
"Nobody's expecting a squeeze in that situation. Nobody's even thinking of it,'' LeMore said "Ben (Schild) had a huge jump from third base. It was just awesome to see the kids come together.
"We talk about character a lot. But, we use in the term of what are you doing when nobody is watching you. Not when everybody in Middletown is watching you. I'm super proud of them.''
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Joe Stanzione gives Middletown South baseball a win for the ages and a trip to Group 4 final
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/mlb/joe-stanzione-gives-middletown-south-baseball-a-win-for-the-ages-and-a-trip-to-group-4-final/ar-AAL2yKS6315