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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jun 11, 2021

MHSN Baseball Coach Says Team is ‘Back Bigger and Stronger’

By Tim Morris

A year away from the diamond doesn’t seem to have set the Middletown High School North baseball team back. The Lions have returned with a roar. In a season where the unexpected is expected because of the lost 2020 year, Middletown North has been one of the big surprises with their 8-2 record and solid overall play. Not many saw it coming. The last time the Lions played a full season, 2019, they won seven games. Head Coach Ryan McCabe expected the 2020 season to be much better with a lot of experience returning, but it never came to be.

A Last Dance World Series was arranged last summer by the state’s athletic directors and baseball coaches aimed at giving high school teams, especially the seniors, one last chance to play in 2020. The Lions were one of the good stories from that tournament, advancing to the fourth round with three impressive wins. Did it help the Lions in 2021?

“Getting a little momentum was good,” McCabe said of the tournament run.

However, only four players from that team are playing for the Lions this spring. The team’s improvement came from individual commitment on the part of the players, according to their coach.

“The kids really worked hard at getting better,” McCabe explained. “It was a developmental period and they took the time to work. They came back bigger and stronger. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They took advantage of the time off to work. They’re a great group of kids. They love baseball.”

This year, the Lions’ lost-season work ethic is paying dividends as they are 5-2 in the A North Division and looking every bit a championship contender in ’21. The Lions have been playing outstanding in all phases of baseball: pitching, defense and hitting.

On the mound, they have been led by two hard-throwers, seniors Danny Frontera and Colin Dowlen. A one-two punch like this is what any team looking to win needs.

Frontera’s return has made the Lions deep pitching staff that much better. He had Tommy John surgery on his right pitching arm his sophomore year and could have made his comeback last year.

Despite having the surgery, he did return to the team to play in 2019 as the designated hitter.

“He’s the ultimate team player. He worked hard so that he could DH for us,” said McCabe.

He has returned with a vengeance in 2021. He has been overpowering. In a win over Long Branch, he struck out 17 batters. Only one out in the game wasn’t a K. He has 44 strikeouts in 24 innings of work and is 2-1 with a 1.16 ERA. He’s headed to Seton Hall University.

Dowlen, who started in 2019 as a freshman, is also 2-1 and is pitching to a 1.22 ERA. The right-hander has been overpowering too, as he has 29 strikeouts in 18 innings.

In addition to their aces, the Lions have a number of quality arms in support of them. Frontera’s younger brother, Ryan Frontera, a sophomore has been called upon as well as senior Tony Sanson, senior Tyler Sharkey, and freshman Dylan Briggs.

“We have confidence in everyone we have,” McCabe said. “It’s a nice luxury to have.”

Ryan Frontera is batting .411 with six extra-base hits and a team-high 10 RBI. Danny Frontera is hitting .371 with five extra hits including a home run. Sansone and Sharkey are second in RBI with eight each.

North has been good at manufacturing runs using its team speed. The Lions have swiped 19 bases in 21 attempts.

Catcher Andrew Lombardi, a junior, is the third returner from 2019. He is a dual-threat as well with his bat and defense. He takes charge behind the plate, calling the game.

Behind the pitchers, North has been playing sure-gloved defense, limiting extra outs.

“We’re playing pretty good defense, taking care of the ball,” said McCabe.

The Lions winning four one-run games attests to their toughness and resilience.

“They’re a pretty mentally tough group,” McCabe remarked.

Every team still faces the prospects that at any time the season could be put on hold. “I’ve told the kids to enjoy the ride and get a little better every day,” said McCabe.

So far, it has been a very good ride.