Wall, No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, traveled to Class B North rival Ocean on Wednesday afternoon and worked out a 4-2 victory in eight innings, but not without controversy.
With the score knotted at two in the top of the eighth inning, Ocean’s Sam Maxwell raced into the left-center field gap and with a full-extension dive appeared to track down a long fly ball off the bat of Wall’s Jack Gifford.
However, in the act of jumping to his feet and lifting his glove for proof of the catch, the ball popped out of his mitt, and the batter was awarded the lead-off double.
“The home-plate umpire immediately made the out call,” Ocean coach Cip Apicelli said. “(Maxwell) was completely face first on the ground, stood completely up, had the ball pop out and then the umpire put his hand down. Because he stood up, now it’s not a catch? The ball came out five seconds after the play. … I just think that’s wrong.”
After a passed ball moved Gifford to third base, designated hitter Brendan Barcas drilled a 1-2 fastball up the middle through a drawn-in infield putting the Crimson Knights on top 3-2 with his first career varsity hit.
“In the beginning of my at-bat I was just trying to push the ball to the right side and move Jack to third,” Barcas said. “After the passed ball I had two strikes and shifted focus on putting it in play, even if it was something week. He came in on me with a fastball and I was able inside-out it and punch it through. We definitely felt a little pressure being on the road and headed into extras against a tough divisional opponent, but we’ve been in close games before and know how to handle ourselves.”
Ocean forced extra innings by pushing a run across in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and a runner on first, Maxwell kept the comeback bid alive with a single. Sophomore shortstop Brian Kochenash, who finished 2-for-4, then slapped a bouncing ball to second base that sneaked under the glove of Branden Biegert, allowing pinch-runner Andrew MacNeille to scamper home with the tying run.
Spartans senior Ryan Lillie ended up the tough-luck loser, as the left-hander worked into the eighth while striking out three, walking one and allowing four runs, two unearned.
Wall’s Tyler Swiggart was equal to the task.
“I like to work down in the strike zone,” Swiggart said, “and the umpire wasn’t really calling it much, but I had to keep living there, trying to get ground balls, just continue to do what I normally do and hope for the best. But it all worked out in the end.
The right-hander finished with two strikeouts, a walk and a pair of unearned runs over seven innings, while scattering six hits.
“Tyler isn’t an overpowering guy,” Wall coach Todd Schmitt said of his ace, “it’s his ability to locate pitches that puts him over the top. Today it took him a little while to adjust to the umpire’s zone, so that may have made him look a little off. But he looked fluid on the mound and threw about 100 pitches with ease. I was very pleased with his performance today.”
Wall opened the scoring in the third inning. Ryan Orender led off with a single and scored on a two-out error. Branden Biegert’s two-out bases-loaded walk in the top of the seventh inning scored Nick Martinez, who finished 2-for-4, with the go-ahead run for the Knights
Wall added its eighth-inning insurance run on a single by Chris Barcas, which scored his brother Brendan, and Bobby Patterson worked past a leadoff walk to record the save.
Marcus Blackmon scored Ocean’s first run in the sixth inning on a Jim McGrorry sacrifice fly.
“Everything that was out of our control and could go wrong, went wrong,” Apicelli said. “But I can’t lay blame on the umpires for this one. We kicked the ball around today the top team in the Shore…but it still took eight innings to beat us. We’re right there with them. That’s what I’m looking at.”