LAKEWOOD – Christian Brothers Academy sophomore Joe Escandon flirted with a perfect game through five dominant innings before an error ended his bid in the bottom of the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Monmouth County Tournament championship game at First Energy Park in Lakewood.
The eighth-seeded Colts, however, went on to an 8-1 victory over sixth-seeded Ocean to claim the title.
Senior Anthony Celestre couldn’t come up with a hard-hit grounder to second base and was charged with an error ending Escandon’s shot at perfection.
“Losing the perfect game didn’t matter anymore,” said Escandon. “I just wanted to get us out of here with a win as soon as possible.”
Escandon then lost his shutout three batters later as the Spartans scored an unearned run without the benefit of a hit. A walk, sacrifice fly and run-scoring fielder’s choice ground-out ruined his shutout.
Escandon – an Ocean Township native – then lost his no-hitter in the seventh inning when Spartans senior shortstop Ryan Toomey drilled a 1-2 pitch to the warning track in right field for a double.
Nick Callano followed with a single to center and Escandon loaded the bases with a two-out walk before the hard-throwing lefty recorded his fifth and final strikeout to complete his tour de force.
“It bothered me most when I lost the shutout,” said Escandon. “I have been playing with most of these guys since I was eight. They’re a good lineup but I just wanted to say, ‘You guys didn’t get a run off of me.’”
The Colts (12-4) offense backed Escandon’s gem with nine hits, including three extra-base hits in the win.
Escandon’s fastball-changeup combination had Ocean hitters baffled from the first pitch on when he retired the first 15 batters he faced. He finished throwing a tidy 91 pitches with 60 of those strikes. He meticulously worked the outer half of the plate with his fastball setting up his changeup on the inside.
“My changeup was the biggest thing working for me,” said Escandon. “Throwing my changeup on any count is so important to me. I think I threw one curve the whole night.”
CBA’s defense kept Escandon’s perfect-game bid intact through five with two sparkling plays in the field.
Junior right fielder Braedin Hunt made a sliding catch near the right-field foul line for the second out of the third inning and senior Anthony Celestre made a sliding stop on a ball hit up the middle and from his knees fired a perfect strike to first for the first out of the fifth inning.
Celestre got the Colts on the board with a one-out RBI double in the top of the third off Ocean starter Kevin Schoenberger (4-1). Senior shortstop Tommy Ditullio then followed with a two-out, two-run single handing Escandon an early 3-0 lead to work with.
Hunt, who was a 2018 All-Shore selection when he hit .453 with three home runs and 19 RBI, had been struggling at the plate with an average hovering around the .200 mark, but broke out big Tuesday banging a two-run double to the left-center gap pushing the lead to 5-0 in the top of the sixth to give Escandon a nice cushion to work with.
Junior Ben Settino followed with a single, moving Hunt to third, who then scored on a wild pitch to make it a 6-0 game. The Colts then extended the lead to 7-0 on an RBI single by junior catcher Mason Wolf.
In the top of the seventh, Hunt drilled an RBI triple to nearly the same spot in the outfield as his double, increasing the Colts lead to 8-0.
Prior to Tuesday’s game Hunt had been showing signs of breaking out of his season-long slump and if he can recapture his stroke from a year ago, that would make CBA, which has won 10 of 11 games, an even more dangerous team moving forward.
“I feel like I’ve been hitting a lot of balls hard and just missing some pitches,” said Hunt. “So, it was probably just a matter of time before one of them found the gap.”
With the win, Escandon improved to 4-0 on the year and was voted the Tournament MVP. He finished allowing one run, zero earned runs, two hits, one walk and a hit batter.
The title was their ninth in program history – first since 2016 when current University of North Carolina stars Brandon Martorano and Lucas Dalatri led the Colts to three straight championships – and fourth in six years.
“It shows we came here to play and we’re not going to fold after big players graduate,” said Escandon. “We’re just playing as a team and playing good baseball and it’s exciting to get something of our own.”
Schoenberger was the victim of three Ocean errors that led to six unearned runs.