Manalapan regains its momentum in title chase

Manalapan regains its momentum in title chase


Manalapan regains its momentum in title chase


Eighteen days ago, there was no reason to believe Manalapan was going to be a serious contender to defend its NJSIAA Group IV championship.

The Braves were 12-11 before their Central IV first-round game at Brick Memorial and had lost six of their previous nine.

“We were thinking nothing’s going to happen with the season,” said Manalapan senior shortstop Brian Lamboy, who along with senior pitcher-first baseman Joe Serrapica are the only returning starters from last year.

Something has sure happened with the Braves’ season. They are one win away from becoming the third Shore Conference school after Toms River South (Group III in 2002 and 2003) and St. Rose (Non-Public B in 2008 and 2009) to win consecutive state championships.

“It’s unbelievable,” Lamboy said.

Manalapan (17-11), will meet Hillsborough (17-13) at 11 a.m. today at Toms River North’s Ryan Field in the Group IV state championship game.

Nobody can say Manalapan does not deserve to be here. To win the sectional title, they defeated Ocean County Tournament finalist Brick Memorial; Shore Conference Tournament and Ocean County Tournament champion and Shore Conference Class A South co-champion Jackson Memorial; Class A North champion Middletown South; and perennial state power Steinert. Steinert, Jackson Memorial and Middletown South were the top three seeds in the section in that order.

Then, in the state semifinal, the Braves pounded a highly-regarded Cherokee team

“I truly believe that after the Jackson Memorial game when Mike Knauf (a junior catcher) hit the home run (Knauf led off that game with a home run), that was it right there,” Lanboy said.

“It really started with the first inning with Brick Memorial when Ryan Ranieri got a big two-out hit (a two-run triple),” said Manalapan coach Brian Boyce, who picked up career win No. 200 in the Cherokee game. “Since then beating Jackson, leading off a home run, and then all of the sudden we got energized against Midd. South, it just kind of snowballed.”

There is a distinct difference in this Manalapan run. Last year, the Braves, were expected to win a state championship. They graduated eight starters and 18 seniors from that powerhouse 29-3 team. Manalapan has won 11 straight state tournament games.

“This has been awesome, and the kids really deserve it, because they’ve worked hard all year and things didn’t break our way early,” Boyce said. “Now, things are starting to break our away.”

Boyce, who is in his seventh season at Manalapan and 12th season as a head coach overall, is no stranger to a team making a surprising run in the state tournament. He was North Bergen’s head coach in 2001, when the Bruins were seeded sixth in North 1, Group IV and advanced to the state championship game before they were defeated, 4-3, by a powerhouse Toms River East team.

The Braves will be facing a Hillsborough team, whose coach Norm Hewitt, recorded career win No. 600 in the Raiders’ first round win over Watchung Hills. Hillsborough is a team that tradtionally relies on pitching and defense.

Serrapica (5-3, overall and 2-0 in the state tournament since he came back from a shoulder strain that prevented him pitching for three weeks) will get the ball for Manalapan.

“We know from last year, the state tournament is our tournament,” Serrapica said. “We’re the defending Group IV state champs and we want to defend it in the state championship game.”

More USA TODAY High School Sports