RED BANK – Under beautiful spring conditions, junior right-hander Declan Leary and junior reliever Steven Svenson combined to shutout Christian Brothers Academy 3-0 Sunday in a Monmouth County Tournament semifinal matchup Sunday at Count Basie Field in Red Bank.
In a contest played between two of the elite programs in the Shore Conference that know each other all too well, it was once again a heated rivalry game played in front of a standing room-only crowd that loudly made it known who they were rooting for.
Last season, the Caseys knocked CBA out of the MCT in the first round and two years ago in the semifinals. Christian Brothers returned the favor in last year’s South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals by beating the Caseys 3-1 to eliminate them.
“Honestly, there’s no love lost between these two teams,” Red Bank Catholic head coach Buddy Hausman said. “It’s always a rivalry game and records are always thrown out the window. Players on each team want to show why they’re there and not here. They’ve grown up together, they know each other.”
The Colts have won nine MCT championships and have reached the finals 12 times, while the Caseys have three MCT titles to their name and now nine final appearances.
“It’s always something special playing these guys,” Leary said, a second team All-Shore selection last season. “Every year you see the fans come out and you feel the energy, especially in a tournament game like this.”
Red Bank Catholic scored the winning run in the bottom of the first and the pitching duo of Leary and Svenson made it hold up.
George Washington commit Alex Stanyek – a first team All-Shore selection last season – led off the bottom of the first with a booming double into the gap in right-center. He advanced to third on a 6-3 groundout by third baseman Sean Griggs – a 2022 second team All-Shore pick – and came home on a RBI grounder by senior first baseman Frankie Scrivanic - a Seton Hall University commit.
The Colts threatened in the top of the second when third baseman Wyatt Hunt grounded a single up the middle and junior left fielder Jack Micik walked to put men on first and second. However, Leary got sophomore Will Fahey on a sharp grounder to the first baseman Scrivanic who fielded it cleanly and made the play unassisted.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Leary said. “The team had my back. I asked them to get me a run before the game and they did, and it worked out.”
Leary encountered some trouble in the top of the fourth but wiggled his way out of it thanks in part to All-Shore catcher Shane Andrus - a Drew University commit - nailing a runner at second on an attempted steal.
“That’s why Shane is Shane,” Hausmann said about his catcher. “He’s caught a lot of games; this is his fifth game this week. His arm was bothering him a little bit, but he said to me, ‘I’m not missing this game for anything,’ so he was ready to go.”
Colts sophomore catcher Dan Tsimbinos led off the fourth with a walk, but was caught stealing on a absolute lazar throw to second by Andrus. The next batter, senior Wyatt Hunt, worked a walk and centerfielder Matt Difeo lined a shot off the third baseman Griggs, who recovered and fired to first, but Difeo beat it out for a single putting runners on first and third with one out.
Hausmann went to the mound for a chat with Leary, but ultimately left him in to finish the job. Leary then got junior Jack Mocik on a pop up to second and sophomore designated hitter, Will Fahey, on a liner into left field to end the inning.
“I got tired a little bit,” Leary said. “I got back to the dugout and reset and got through the fifth; so it was alright. I knew we had Steve, Marzo (Ethan Marzo) and all the guys ready to go and I have confidence in all of them. I kind of got gassed out at the end.”
Leary retired the side in order in the fifth but after giving up a one-out walk in the sixth and having thrown 88 pitches, Hausmann brought in junior reliever Steven Svenson who was perfect while setting down all five batters he faced. Leary went 5 1/3 innings without allowing a run with two hits, six walks and two strikeouts.
“He battled and dodged a lot of bullets,” said Hausmann. “He’s got a lot of innings in his career here and he’s only a junior. He was tested and was fortunate to keep that zero on the board.”
Meanwhile, Colts starter, righty Chris Levonas, who entered the game with a 0.26 ERA allowing one run in 27 innings pitched, was sailing along facing just 15 batters through innings two through five when he began to tire in the sixth inning.
Griggs led off the sixth inning and was hit by a pitch before Andrus lined a single to right putting runners on the corner with one out. Sophomore left fielder Dylan Passo then drew a walk to load the bases and that was all for Levonas. Senior Brennan O’Keefe relieved Levonas to face centerfielder Matt Brunner, who was coming off a six-RBI game last week versus Holmdel.
Brunner then calmly laced a two-run single into right for a 3-0 lead giving the Caseys two very important insurance runs.
“That was awesome,” said Leary. “I think that really sealed the deal.”
“Oh my gosh, it couldn’t have been better,” Svenson added of Brunner’s big hit. “It was such a relief seeing those two runs come in.”
Brunner had struck out his two previous at bats but was unperturbed coming to the plate with the game still on the line.
“Basically, I just wanted to get a hit,” said Brunner. “I put it behind me (the strikeouts), it’s 0-for-0 every single at bat. It was a great feeling, it was exciting.”
O’Keefe then got the final two outs of the inning, but the damage had already been done.
Levonas went 5 1/3 innings giving up three earned runs, three hits, three walks while striking out seven on 100 pitches.
Svenson then worked a perfect seventh to pick up the save and the Caseys are on their way to Wednesday’s final.
“I closed against them last year,” Svenson said. “And it was packed, so the experience from last year and it being a tournament game, the nerves were gone after the first pitch. It’s great to pitch in a game like this. Especially when the fans are behind you and you’re throwing strikes; it’s unbelievable.”
Hausmann has a stable of pitchers he could’ve turned to but decided on Svenson and it worked out.
“Stevie pitched great,” Hausmann said. “But I trust them all. We have a 1.57 team ERA and not many high schools can say that when we have nine guys that pitch.”
The second-seeded Caseys will face top-seeded Ranney, which beat No. 4 seed Rumson-Fair Haven 4-3 in eight innings and are ranked No.1 in New Jersey.
“I loved it, I loved the atmosphere, everything about it,” Brunner said of the overflow crowd on hand. “It was a huge game. Even the umpires were getting into it. Everything about it, I loved it.”