#23 Rob Chiusano (Photo by Mike Ready - JSN)
#23 Rob Chiusano (Photo by Mike Ready - JSN)

Middletown South Outlasts Colts Neck, Advances To Sectional Semifinals

MIDDLETOWN – Middletown South’s junior third baseman Rob Chiusano and his cousin Pat Dempsey, also a junior, were going through pre-game warmups Wednesday when they were informed that their grandfather, Carmine, had just passed away.

The pair rushed home to comfort their close-knit family and to pay their respects to their grandfather. But at the urging of family members to go back and play, they eventually decided to return to the field and be with their teammates for the Eagles NJIAA Central Jersey Group III quarterfinal-round game against Colts Neck, knowing that’s what their grandfather Carmine would’ve wanted.

“It was a rough one today, but I did it for him (his grandfather),” said an emotional Chiusano. “The family was like, go play, go play, go play, go play, so I did. I had to do it for him, for my family, and for my team. Of course, he’d want me to play.”

Middletown South head coach Jeff Karpell told Chiusano and Dempsey that family comes first and not to worry about returning for the game.

“I said to them, ‘If you guys need to stay home, don’t worry about it. We got it covered,’” Karpell said. “He came back to me and said, ‘Coach, I’ll be back, I want to play in this game.’”

Chiusano did come back, and as fate would have it, he broke the game wide open with a base-clearing three-run triple up the alley in left-centerfield to push the Eagles lead to 11-4 in a seven-run third inning. As he slid into third and popped up, he pointed to the sky in honor of his grandfather. He then scored on a wild pitch to put the Eagles up by eight. And as it turned out, Middletown South would need all four runs in their 13-8 victory.

“It made the day a little nicer,” said Chiusano of his big hit. “Of course, some things are bigger than baseball. So, you got to deal with it, move on, and try to win our next round on Friday; that's what I’m looking forward to.”

Chiusano singled and scored in the Eagles five-run second inning that wiped out a 3-0 deficit. He tripled and scored in the third, singled, and scored the Eagle's final run on a single by Brody Tacca. On the day, he went 3-for-4 with a triple, three RBI, and three runs scored.

“I can’t believe the focus he came back with,” said Karpell. “It’s just a testament to him and what he wants for this team.”

Chiusano has had an injury-plagued career but has battled to stay on the field this season to his credit.

“He broke his orbital bone earlier this season,” Karpell said. “Then, he came back for a game and on a pitch down to second in between innings, he took one off the face again and we had to get him a mask that he’s been wearing most the season.”

“This is his first year playing high school baseball because he’s been injured the first two years and he’s a junior,” Karpell added. “It’s been a tough story for him, a tough climb. He’s just been a real resilient kid, so I’m not surprised he was able to bring it back together today and show a lot of focus.”

Middletown South overcame an off day in the field Wednesday. They committed four errors, which led to seven out of eight Colts Neck runs being unearned.

“To be honest, it was a sloppy game,” said Karpell. “We gave away a lot of runs. Defensively, it wasn’t our best day; offensively, I thought we looked tremendous. If we can continue to hit like this, we’re going to be a very difficult out. I can’t remember a day like this all year where we just had a tough day like that defensively, but you have days like that, and you hope you can find a way to win, and we did. You just need to find a way to get it done this time of year; there are no style points. We were able to overcome it, and that’s what good teams do.”

Middletown South banged out 13 hits and has two players with three hits and two with two hits. Jack Concordia went 3-for-5 with two runs scored; Tacca had two hits in three at-bats, including a walk, double, RBI, run, and two stolen bases, while Lou D’Alessio went 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs, two RBI, and a stolen base.

D’Alessio also had a stellar day in the outfield, showcasing his arm and athleticism, running down and making a couple of nice grabs. The senior centerfielder made a pretty running catch in left-center in the fourth, threw a strike on the fly to home plate on a fly out to him to hold a runner at third in the fifth, and started an inning-ending 8-6 double play in the sixth when Colts Neck was threatening with runners on first and second and the score 12-8.

“I think we have to clean some things up defensively, but offensively, I think we did our job,” said D’Alessio. “The four errors can’t happen again, or we’ll be walking home. On the double play, I kind of played it back and tried to deke the runner like it was going to drop, maybe get him a little farther off, and I got the throw in behind him. My arm has come a long way. I worked on my arm strength this off-season, and it's paid off. I feel pretty locked in at the plate right now; I’m seeing all the pitches well. I just try to get my pitch, not do too much, and when it comes, just hit it where it was pitched.”

Senior Mason Christopher got the start and the win for the Eagles, pushing his season record to 6-1. He went four-plus innings, allowing eight runs – one earned run – seven hits, two walks, and struck out five on 99 pitches. Jacob Wenzel came in relief and went two innings, giving up a two-run single, while junior Dan Daley closed out the game with a scoreless seventh.

Colts Neck scored three unearned runs in the top of the second, but the Eagles answered with five runs of their own in the bottom half to take a 5-3 lead. Concordia had a two-run double in the inning that did the most damage.

The Cougars pulled to within one, 5-4, with an unearned run in the top of the third, but Middletown South blew the game wide open with seven runs in the bottom half of the third with Chiusano’s three-run triple, the big blow of the outburst.

Sixth-seeded Colts Neck chipped away at the Eagles lead, scoring one in the fourth and three in the fifth to pull within 12-8, but D’Alessio’s fielding gem in the top of the sixth took the air out of their sails, and they went scoreless in the seventh.

Senior Casey Gardiner went 2-for-5 with three RBI for the Cougars, who finished the season at 16-10 and a share of the Class A North title with CBA and Middletown South.

Third-seeded Middletown South advances to play No. 2 seed Robbinsville (19-8) this Friday at Robbinsville. Senior Brevin Bezick (5-3, 1.22 ERA) is the projected starter for the Eagles.

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