By: Matt Lamb
August 4, 2016/ Freehold, NJ – The defending ABCCL champion Monmouth Monarchs gave the Freehold Clippers all they could handle Thursday evening at Michael J. Tighe Park in Freehold, never relenting despite trailing throughout the game. However, their 9th inning comeback attempt fell just short, as the Clippers hung on to secure a 7-6 win and a spot in the ABCCL Championship round.
Paced by four hits from CJ Gearhart (Robbinsville, NJ/ The College of New Jersey), the Clippers were able to answer every Monarchs run up until the last inning, where they recorded the final out with the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run at the plate. P.J. Strahm (Milltown, NJ/ Bucknell University, PA) faced only one Monarchs batter and teased a pop out into foul territory for the final out. “We always fight to the end, and no matter what happens, we’ll stay strong,” Gearhart said.
The Clippers came out swinging early, scoring the game’s first run in the bottom of the 1st inning on three consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly. In the early part of the game, Clippers starting pitcher Mike Ramirez (Old Bridge, NJ/ New Jersey City University) was dominant. He did not allow a hit until the 4th inning, and threw a total of six innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits while striking out six.
The Monarchs recorded their first run in the top of the 4th when Alex Galy (New Orleans, LA/ Tulane University, LA) lifted a single into right field to bring home Christian Estevez (River Edge, NJ/ Rider University, NJ) who had singled and stolen second base, to briefly even the score up at one each.
However, following a hit batsman and infield error, back-to-back RBI hits from John Moschella (Little Silver, NJ/ Tufts University, MA) and Gearhart in the bottom half of the inning helped the Clippers take back the lead, 3-1.
Their two run edge did not last long as the Monarchs loaded the bases in the top of the 5th inning when Cres Ciliberto (Philadelphia, PA/Mercer Community College, NJ) was hit bay a pitch following singles by Joe Rotelli (Morganville, NJ/Brookdale Community College, NJ) and Tyler Pavone (Emerson, NJ/College of St. Joseph, VT). From there they used smart base running to score two runs on an infield single by Luis Hidalgo (Ridgefield, NJ/Bloomfield College, NJ) to tie the game at 3-3.
Clippers answered in the bottom half of the fifth inning. A single, walk, sac bunt and Monarchs error produced one run and a second run came in on a sacrifice fly, reclaimed a 5-3 lead.
The Clippers extended their lead late in the game with Moschella scoring on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the 6th and an RBI single from Gearhart in the bottom of the 8th to establish what seemed like a safe 7-3 advantage. “I wasn’t trying to do too much at the plate, just make good contact and put the ball in play,” Gearhart said. “We were just trying to tack on insurance runs in whatever way possible.”
Despite a four-run lead in the top of the 9th, this game was far from over. With one out, Estevez reached on an error and Galy singled in the following at-bat. A second out was recorded, but the Monarchs still continued to claw back. Joe Santigate (Staten Island, NY/ Wheaton College, MA) singled to left to plate Estevez, reducing the deficit to 7-4. He and Galy would both score on a long double from Anthony Santoro (Manalapan, NJ/ Rutgers University-New Brunswick) that carried all the way to the left field fence. His clutch drive cut the lead to just 7-6 and brought the go-ahead run to the plate. But the storybook ending was not to be and the Clippers held on for the victory.
The Clippers have won each of their playoff games thus far by just one run. “Everyone’s contributing right now, so we just want to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going to work hard and try to do whatever it takes to win,” said Gearhart.
The Clippers will now advance to the 2016 ABCCL Championship round on Saturday at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, which will start at 11 a.m. They will await the winner of Friday’s contest, which will feature the Monarchs and the New Jersey Angels, who have made a splash to this point in the playoffs coming from deep in the rankings. The Monarchs will look to get to the championship game for the 4th straight year, and set up a rematch with the Clippers. Friday’s game starting time is 5:30 p.m. at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel.