Baseball – After Losing Opener 23-0, Shore Shocks No. 1 Red Bank Catholic
WEST LONG BRANCH -- Opening day of a baseball season is a moment when aspirations meet reality and for the Shore Regional baseball team, reality hit hard enough to vaporize the Blue Devils’ hopes and dreams for 2022.
Shore went back to practice on Saturday and head coach Jay Kuhlthau had a modest goal for his squad to reflect the results of the first game: play a full seven innings against the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
The Blue Devils did not make it through the full seven innings on their home field Monday against Red Bank Catholic and it because they didn’t need to play the bottom of the seventh.
The Blue Devils worked 10 walks and came through with four big hits against Red Bank Catholic's talented underclass duo of Ryan Prior and Steve Svenson and cemented one of the biggest regular-season upsets in Shore Conference baseball history by shocking the No. 1 Caseys, 10-6, on Monday afternoon.
Shore's stunner came just three days after Red Bank Catholic pummeled the Blue Devils, 23-0, in the season-opener for both teams.
“We knew we had nothing to lose,” Shore coach Jay Kuhlthau said. “After Friday, we got together, we had a good practice and we just said ‘Let’s play hard and keep them here for seven innings. Then we’ll see what happens.’”
What happened was Shore’s biggest win since clinching the NJSIAA Group I championship in 2014, when Kuhlthau was an assistant for the Blue Devils. Shore’s last winning season came in 2016 and its last win over Red Bank Catholic came in that Group I championships season in 2014.
The Blue Devils are coming off a last-place finish with a 0-14 divisional record in the Shore Conference Class A Central standings and had lost 17 straight divisional games dating back to 2019 prior to Monday. Shore did not play RBC from 2015 to 2018 and in the four games between the teams over the past two seasons, Red Bank Catholic won by at least 10 runs each time.
Facing a lineup that crushed five home runs and put up 23 runs on opening day just three days ago, junior Christian Simonsen navigated through four innings while working around five walks and error that opened the door to three RBC first-inning runs. Shore, though, answered with three runs in the bottom of the second to tie the game and after the Caseys went back up, 4-3, in the top of the third, the Blue Devils struck for three more in the bottom of the inning to take a 6-4 lead.
“We told them this is the kind of game that takes more than just a few guys and more than just nine guys,” Kuhlthau said. “This is the kind of game that takes 20-to-25 guys to win. You need everybody on the program all in and ready to contribute in anyway you can. It took everybody on our team today.”
Junior Donovan Hughes, who started the game on the bench, followed Simonsen with three strong innings to earn the save and he also landed the knockout blow at the plate. In the bottom of the sixth, Hughes worked the count to 3-2 and smoked a a two-run single to right-centerfield, stretching the Shore lead to 10-4.
In addition to the 10 walks, Shore scored on four wild pitches despite a tight backstop on its home field. Just getting baserunners to third figured to be a challenge against Prior – a University of Virginia commit making his first high-school start – and if the Blue Devils made it that far on the bases, he wanted his players to be ready to move.
“We wanted to take the game to them,” Kuhlthau said. “We didn’t want to wait around for something to happen. We knew that, for us to have a chance, we had to been the more aggressive team, and that meant taking some chances. We told them if they get on base, they have to anticipate the ball in the dirt and be ready to take the next base, including when we are on third and trying to score. Fortunately, we got some good bounces and our guys were ready.”
Red Bank Catholic also fell victim to five errors, which was also part of Shore's formula in trying to land the upset.
“They play on turf, so we have seen over the years, our field can give a team like that problems,” Kuhlthau said. “We said, ‘Guys, we have to put the ball in play today. We have to force them to field the ball.’ We were able to put some pressure on them and they started to get a little frustrated, plus we had a tight strike zone called both ways. I think that got to them a little bit and our guys just stayed with it and tried to adjust. We got some baserunners and we were able to keep the pressure on.”
Shore’s struggles in 2021 stemmed from how much youth was on the roster. The Blue Devils turned mostly to sophomores and freshmen following a season-ending injury to senior standout Tyler Tilton and while the group took their lumps last year – and again on Friday – they looked like a team that came of age on Monday.
Kuhlthau knows there is still growing to do, but Monday is the kind of defining moment that could launch the Blue Devils toward a breakout season.
“We had a pretty good idea what we had,” Kuhlthau said. “We turned the team over to our younger group for half-a-season and we knew there would be some growing pains. But we also know playing last year gave these guys a good head start as far as what to expect and so when they got beat 23-0, they weren’t discouraged. They were disappointed, but they came back ready to work. They showed a lot of heart coming back from that loss and playing the way they played today.”
Shore 10, Red Bank Catholic 6
|RBC (1-1, 1-1)||3||0||1||0||0||0||2||6||5||5|
|Shore (1-1, 1-1)||0||3||3||1||0||3||X||10||4||2|
|Red Bank Catholic||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||PC|
|Ryan Prior (L, 0-1)||2.2||1||6||3||5||3||81|
|Christian Simonsen (W, 1-0)||4||3||4||1||7||3||103|
|Donovan Hughes (SV, 1)||3||2||2||1||4||2||64|
|Red Bank Catholic||Game Stats|
|Dylan Passo||2-3, 2B, RBI|
|Christian Simonsen||1-1, RBI|
|Donovan Hughes||1-1, 2 RBI|
|E.J. Stefanelli||1-3, 2B|
|Cole Stefanelli||0-2, 3 R, RBI|
|Joe Santi||1-3, 2 R|