Stanzione breaks Shore HR record in Middletown South's first round win

MIDDLETOWN – After tying the Shore Conference single-season home run record with his 14th dinger in Saturday's 3-0 win over Steinert, it didn't take Middletown South slugger Joe Stanzione long to break the record.

In his first at-bat of Tuesday's 8-1 win over Princeton in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV first round, Stanzione drilled one to deep left-center that looked like a sure homer off his bat. Unfortunately, it got hung up in a strong wind blowing in and died.

Princeton starting pitcher Kenny Schiavone wouldn't be so lucky on Stanzione's next at-bat.

The hulking Stanzione ripped Schiavone's third pitch of the at-bat over the left-centerfield wall to set the Shore Conference single-season home run record with his 15th homer. As are most of Stanzion'e long balls, it was a no-doubter off the bat and set off a wild celebration of Eagle teammates as he crossed the plate. The blast, coincidentally, was also Stanzione's 100th hit of his career.

"What he's done is really a hard thing to do for a high school kid," said Middletown South head coach Chris LeMore. "And for him to just miss one in his first at-bat then come back and put an exclamation point on it is really something - I'm really proud of him."

"He's been even-keeled all year," added LeMore. "He's not a kid who comes in and plays for himself. He's a leader of this program, and each and every day he comes out here and does everything he can to help us get better. He's everything you want and a really good baseball player."

"It was a curve ball about belt high," said Stanzione of his record-breaking homer. "It feels great. I wasn't really thinking about it. I just try to go up there every time and help my team out the best I can. I really didn't feel any pressure, I was trying my best to just go up there, square a ball up and get things happening and it did."

Stanzione's path to Shore Conference immortality wasn't without hurdles that the power-hitter righteously overcame.

His junior season was wiped out because of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. It was a crushing blow to Stanzione and his Eagles teammates as that team was a preseason pick to challenge for the No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference.

Because of the lost season, the NJSIAA granted a "bridge year" to athletes in the 2021 and 2022 classes allowing them to play for one more season. Stanzione is part of a group of athletes taking advantage of the ruling while taking classes at Brookdale.

The Bridge Year Pilot Program is part of a 2020 state law established to provide "the opportunity to offset disruptions to learning opportunities and participation in extracurricular activities."

"I don't think he (Stanzione) envisioned it to go like this," said LeMore. "But now that he's in it, he's just focused on trying to put good bats together and be the best player he can be to help his team win."

Stanzione is committed to Gardner-Webb University, where he'll play baseball for the Runnin' Bulldogs next spring.

The New Jersey state single-season home run record of 18 is held by California Angels star and Millville, New Jersey native Mike Trout, who accomplished the feat in 2009, and Ashton Bardzell of Ramsey. He smacked 18 dingers in the 2014 season.

Middletown South (21-9), ranked No.1 in the Shore and 18th in the state, is the defending NJSIAA Group IV champion and No.1 seed in the 2022 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV bracket.

As talented as they are, the Eagles could conceivably make another run to the group final, which would leave Stanzione with five more games to play. Could he tie or break the record of 18? Probably not, but as hot as Stanzione is at this juncture of the season, I certainly wouldn't rule it out.

Junior Ben Schild (7-0, 0.85 ERA) was again magnificent on the mound for the Eagles.

After giving up a leadoff single in the top of the first inning, Schild retired the next 14 batters in a row, including seven consecutive strikeouts at one point.

"I don't like giving up hits, especially to lead off the game," said Schild. "It got my adrenaline going and I went straight at the hitters. As soon as I got to two strikes I was throwing every single pitch like I wanted to strike them out; they didn't get much going after that."

In seven innings of work, he allowed 0 ER and two hits while striking out 14 batters and issuing one walk and a hit batter.

"Ben's done a really nice job," said LeMore. "He really responds well to adversity. He is what he is; people are going to get what he gives. He just goes out there and tries to be the best version of himself every time he takes the ball."

He had four 1-2-3 innings. After allowing a single and a walk to lead off the top of the seventh, he struck out the next two batters before an error let in an unearned run. He then struck the final batter to close out the game in true Schild fashion.

"It's a big win. We knew they were a pretty good team coming in," Schild said. "So we wanted to get out to a lead early. On the mound, I was just trying to find the strike zone early and set the tone, and thankfully, I did that. I'm just happy we're advancing.

"I got a little out of the groove," Schild said of the seventh inning. "My arm was getting a little tired but I just bounced back and threw the ball were I wanted to at the end and stayed in control."

Schild finished with 110 pitches.

As well as he pitched, Schild still couldn't stop praising Stanzione after the game.

"We literally saw history today," said Schild. "He's amazing. Every single time he goes out on the field we expect something from him and he delivers every single time."

The Eagles jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Sophomore right fielder Brevin Bezick led off with a walk and moved into scoring position at second base on a 4-3 groundout by Evan Wood. He came around to score on an error by Princeton shortstop Peter Hare.

Middletown South tacked on two more runs on Stanzione's record-breaking shot in the bottom of the third inning. A couple of Eagles players attempted to retrieve Stanzione's trophy ball in the densely wooded area behind the fence but came up empty.

A four-run fifth inning broke the game open, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead. Bezick led off the fifth with a line-drive single to left before Wood followed with an infield hit and Stanzione walked to load the bases with no outs.

Schild then helped his cause by bouncing a single up the middle, scoring Bezick and Wood. Senior DH Robert Cangelosi ripped a single to left to again load the bases. After that, senior second baseman Steve Boguszewski grounded into a fielder's choice at second, scoring Stranzione. Princeton centerfielder Jensen Bergman made a diving catch of Brendan Silva's sinking line drive that could've cleared the bases but resulted in a Silva sacrifice fly and a 7-0 Eagles lead after five innings.

Middletown South added a run in the sixth to push the score to 8-0 on a walk and stolen base by Bezick and a 5-3 RBI groundout by Schild, scoring Bezick, who had moved to third on a groundout by Stanzione.

What's Next For Middletown South

On Saturday, Middletown South will play ninth-seeded East Brunswick, which beat No. 8 seed Freehold Township 8-6 on Wednesday, in the second round.

"It's a great feeling," said Stanzione on getting that first state playoff win out of the way. "When we have Ben on the mound we know we're the best team. He did his job today and we were able to put some runs behind him."

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