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Aug 03, 2022

Middletown North Baseball Team Wins State Championship

By Tim Morris

It has been called many things – stay the course, remain patient, trust the process or just be yourself. Whatever you call it, Middletown High School North’s baseball team had plenty of it and more this spring as the Lions captured the program’s first-ever NJSIAA Group III state championship. After being under .500 for much of the season, North ripped off 12 consecutive wins, including six in the state tournament, en route to the state crown. Even when the Lions were 9-10 and hadn’t even qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT), Head Coach Ryan McCabe never wavered in his trust.

“When we were struggling in the early season, I was still confident in what we had,” he explained. “We were in a lot of close games. When we played Freehold Township away under the lights and beat them after they had beaten us and then came back to beat Christian Brothers Academy, I felt it was a big turning point. We had played well. That two-game push got us started. A lot of the early season was finding roles for the guys and battling through injuries. They were a really resilient group. They knew their strengths and to stick to our identity.”

Part of that identity was a relentless offense.

“We were line-drive hitters,” McCabe said. “We had no holes in the lineup one through nine. We got a lot of two-strike and two-out hits.”

The Lions didn’t just wait for a big inning; they could manufacture runs with their speed.

“We were aggressive on the bases,” noted McCabe.

Along with the potent offense, the Lions played solid defense behind a deep pitching staff that included one of the Shore’s top starters in Colin Dowlen, who pitched to a 1.17 ERA.

Sticking to what they did best would certainly be rewarded. By sitting out of the SCT, the Lions picked up non-conference games to get ready for the state playoffs. Those games allowed the Lions to build up a head of steam going into the Central Jersey Group III sectional. They carried a six-game winning streak into the first round.

Middletown North’s playoff opener was hardly auspicious. They nipped Robbinsville, 3-2, behind Dowlen’s 11-strikeout one-hitter. Colby McMahon was 2-4 with two RBI, and Zachary Hampton went 2-4 with one RBI. With North being the 10th seed, this would be the Lions’ last home game of 2022.

After that narrow escape, the Lions rolled over JFK-Iselin, 12-0, as Michael Weinbel and Matt Adamson combined to pitch the shutout with Ryan Frontera and Hampton each driving in three runs and Andrew Lombardi a pair to lead the offensive outburst.

Behind the reliable Dowlen, Sayreville fell in the semifinals, 8-4. The North ace allowed just one earned run and had 11 Ks. Adamson drove in three runs to pace the attack, and McMahon had two RBI.

Defending champion Colts Neck awaited in the final. The Cougars jumped all over the Lions in the first inning, leaping out to a 5-1 lead. Displaying all the resilience McCabe had referred to, the Lions bounced back and beat the defending champions, 14-11, in a slugfest.

Frontera went 4-5 with a home run and three RBI. Lombardi and McMahon also had three RBI as North won its first state sectional title in 33 years.

In relief, Adamson stopped the bleeding and picked up the win.

As sweet as the sectional championship was, there were two more games to play (to a state title) which the Lions were well aware of.

“No one was content,” said McCabe. “The players said, ‘Two more to go’ after the Colts Neck win.”

With five days between the Group semifinal and final (June 13 and 18), the Lions caught a break because they could throw their ace, Dowlen, in both games.

Dowlen’s six-hitter quieted the bats of South Jersey winner Delsea, 6-1, in the semifinals. He had three RBI to help his own cause.

Now, just one game and team separated North from its first-ever state championship: a 25-4 Cranford squad.

“They were one of the best teams in the state,” noted McCabe. “We had a good handle on them. They like to run a lot.”

That put pressure on catcher Aidan Sheehan, who was up to the task.

“Teams were going to test him,” McCabe pointed out. “He threw multiple runners out in a game during our playoff run.”

McCabe was able to limit the Cranford running game, which played a part in the Lions’ 5-4 triumph – so did the pitching of Dowlen and Adamson. Dowlen worked 7.1 innings, and Adamson got the last two outs in the top of the eighth to record the win.

Lombardi played his role with the bat. He tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the fourth with a scorching home run and then tied it again in sixth at 4-4 with an RBI single.

The game went into extra innings, and Dowlen and Weinbel started it off with singles. They moved to second and third on a sacrifice fly. With Lombardi up next and having hurt Cranford twice all ready, the Cougars took no chances and walked him to load the bases, setting the stage for a frantic finish. Jason Quardt hit a comebacker to the pitcher for a force out a home. With Quardt running hard to first, the throw to base was errant, and Weinbel, who didn’t stop running, raced home with the winning run. Middletown North was state champion.

The 2022 Middletown North state champions are: Matt Adamson, Gabe Ahlemeyer, Dylan Briggs, Aldo Casale, Colin Dowlen, Ryan Fairhurst, Ryan Frontera, Michael Hallard, Zachary Hampton, RJ Kernan, Matt Klimovich, Andrew Lombardi, Ian McGoldrick, Colby McMahon, Tony Sansone, Nick Palmadesso, Eddie Patrick, Jason Quardt, Aidan Sheehan, Karl Strauch, Connor Walsh and Michael Weinbel.

As a Middletown North alum (class of 2002) who played shortstop for the Lions in three straight sectional finals, McCabe knows how important the state championship is not just for the ’22 Lions.

“I know what it means to this community,” McCabe said, adding that he has received texts from former players throughout the run to the Group III title.