Middletown South Loses 3-1 Heartbreaker To Allentown In State Sectional Final

MIDDLETOWN – Sometimes, the ball bounces the wrong way, and the ball definitely bounced the wrong way for the Eagles in their 3-1 loss to Allentown Monday in Middletown.

In a classic pitching dual between Middletown South’s ace and Seton Hall commit Mason Christopher, and Allentown’s NJIT commit Eddie Werse, a disputed inside-the-park home run by J.C. Laquara leading off the top of the seventh inning was the difference in the game.

Laquara drilled an offering from Christopher into deep right field that Middletown South right fielder Jack Concordia tracked down and made a leaping attempt to catch, but the ball bounced off his glove. The ball bounced all the way to the base of the fence, and Concordia had trouble finding it before second baseman Brody Tacca finally retrieved it. By that time, Laquara had rounded the bases for the go-ahead run.

Middletown South's head coach, Jeff Karpell, argued the play should’ve been ruled a ground-rule double, but the umpires, after conferring with each other, ruled the play stood.

“Kind of a crazy way to lose,” said Karpell. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before, but it happened. Crazy things happen in sports. You don’t ask why; anything can happen on any given day. The ball got caught up in the mesh out there, and he couldn’t see it. We tell them to put their hands up at that point, which he did, but the umpires ruled once they went down and reached in for it, the ball was still in play, and the runner could advance. They made their ruling, and we have to move on from that.”

Allentown then added an insurance run to push the score to 3-1. Christopher gave up a one-out walk to Anthony O’Rourke, and O’Rourke advanced to second on a 4-3 ground out. Christopher reached his pitch limit at that point, and junior Dan Daley entered in relief to face Grant Howlett with two outs and a man on second. Howlett then lined a ball into left field that was ruled an RBI double on a catchable ball. Left fielder Michael Frandsen appeared to be in position for the catch, but he misplayed the ball, and it actually bounced off his face. Frandsen shook it off and stayed in the game for the final out of the inning.

Middletown South went down quietly in the bottom half of the seventh, with Werse finishing off a complete game on 110 pitches, giving the Redbirds their first CJG III title in six years. Werse struck out 10, walked two, and scattered eight hits.

The Eagles jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second but could’ve had more. Junior first baseman Giuseppe Massagil led off the inning with a line-drive single to center field. Massagil advanced to second on a passed ball and came home on an RBI single down the third-base line by senior Brody Tacca. Tacca stole second, and with two outs, Frandsen grounded a single to left, but Howlett’s one-hop throw to home was on the money and nailed Tacca at the plate.

Middletown South left seven runners on base in scoring position, and that came back to haunt them. They left a runner stranded at second in the bottom of the third. In the fourth, they left the bases loaded; in the fifth, a runner was left standing on third; in the sixth, men were stranded on second and third. Too many scoring opportunities fell by the wayside as Allentown worked in and out of trouble.

“We had a lot of opportunities to push some more runs across,” said Karpell. “But give them credit. That pitcher (Werse) bared down. Every time he needed a big out, he got it. I give a lot of credit to him and their crew; they did a great job today.”

Allentown tied the score at one in the top of the fifth on an unearned run. With two outs, O’Rourke chopped a ball to first that Massagil booted. O’Rourke advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on a ground single up the middle by Max Kleinz. Shortstop Carmine DeCrescenszo's acrobatic bare-handed grab and throw to first for the second out of the inning prevented further damage.

Christopher was the hard-luck loser tossing one of his best games of the year when it counted most. The lefty gave up three runs (one earned run), three hits, struck out nine and walked three.

“I’ve coached Mason for two years, and that was probably the best game he’s thrown from start to finish,” said Karpell. “He really gave us a chance to win today; what an outstanding job.”

It was a devastating loss for the Eagles and a tough one to swallow, but that’s baseball. If you play the game long enough, you’ll experience the heartbreaking defeats as well as the exhilarating victories. That’s why you play the game.

“What a great season we had with this group; it’s been a lot of fun,” Karpell said after the game. “I know it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we’re so very proud of them and what they accomplished this season.

“I told them, in every game, there’s got to be a winner and a team that doesn't accomplish their goal,” added Karpell. “And that’s the tough reality in sports. You have visions of moving on, and just like that, your season’s over. That’s the harsh reality of the state tournament; your season ends just like that. So, it’s a sudden end to a very great season.”

Be sure to check out and @JSNSPORTINGNEWS for updates on Allentown and its tournament run!

Photo by Mike Ready
Eagles coach Jeff Karpell addressing team after loss

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