Altieri shuts down Absecon as Ocean City draws even in first-round ACBL playoffs seriesBy DAVE O'SULLIVAN
ABSECON — When a baseball team has its back up against the wall in the playoffs and is in a must-win situation, it wants a bulldog it can throw out there on the mound. A guy who isn't going to give in and is going to come up with his best performance. Sounds a lot like Zach Altieri.
The former Ocean City High School star and current standout at Hofstra University completely shut down Absecon in Game 2 of the opening-round Atlantic County Baseball League playoffs series on Tuesday night, fanning eight and allowing just one earned run as Ocean City won, 7-2, and kept its title hopes alive for at least one more day. Absecon won in dramatic fashion on Monday night, on a walk-off home run by Gio Contreras, but Ocean City evened the series behind Altieri's performance and a big two-run home run by former St. Augustine Prep star Chris Jablonski.
Game 3 is set for Wednesday night at 7 at Pitney Park. Game 2 was originally supposed to be played in Ocean City, but had to be moved to Pitney Park because of unplayable field conditions at 5th and Bay Avenue due to afternoon rains.
Ocean City, the home team despite the Absecon location, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by Jablonski following a Sean Carew double, and a run-scoring infield single by Marty Cortelessa (Mainland High). Absecon, the No. 3 seed, got a run back in the third on a sacrifice fly from Ray Keelan, but Ocean City tacked on four runs in the bottom of the inning and let Altieri do the rest.
Altieri limited Absecon to just five hits while throwing 124 pitches. He mixed a mid-to-upper 80s fastball with a sharp-breaking curve and a good change-up — a pitch he just began throwing in March at the start of his sophomore season at Hofstra.
"They had a couple of guys warming up, so I thought we might see somebody else in the seventh inning, but when you're 6-foot-4, 230 and full of muscle I guess you can do stuff like that. My arm hurts just looking at (124 pitches)," said Absecon coach John O'Kane. "He was good. We knew he was going to be tough. He hits his spots, he hides the ball well — you can't pick up anything out of his hand because he has a different delivery at the top. He's a bulldog."
"That's the best I've felt all year, in that last inning. It was a good team win, we got some hits. We just have to be ready for tomorrow. My arm felt great. I had short rest since I pitched on Thursday, so I knew I just had to keep staying loose and keep throwing strikes. My change-up was working well. I actually just started throwing it this year. My pitching coach (at Hofstra) said I needed a third pitch, and you can see how the change in speed really throws hitters off. I was throwing it in all different types of counts to try to keep them off balanced, because they have a good lineup," Altieri said. "I never really needed a change-up in high school, but in college, everyone jumps on your fastball. If you miss your spot by a couple inches, they are going to rock it for a double in the gap, so you really need that change-up to keep them off balanced. I've been throwing it since about March, and I've been throwing it a lot, working on the grip. I've been working on it a lot during my bullpen sessions."
Former Mainland standout Brian Khoury stroked a one-out double to left in third, and Jablonski followed that up by crushing a two-run homer to deep right field to put Ocean City up 4-1. After a single by Cortelessa, Rick Carlucci padded the lead with an RBI double down the left-field line. Drew Khoury added a run-scoring single to center to push the lead to 6-1. Absecon got a run back in the fourth on a home run by Jimmy Versage on an admitted mistake by Altieri.
"I love it, this team is grinding every night. It's summertime baseball, and it doesn't get any better than that. I'm enjoying every minute of it. In this league, 1-through-9 it looks just like a college lineup. In college, everybody was all-state, all-county, that kind of thing. (In ACBL) I've been playing against these guys since I was 10 years old, so they know what I have. Like that home run to Versage, I made a mistake and he made me pay," Altieri said. "I felt like I was getting stronger as the game went on. I had a rough inning in the third, but I kept getting more loose and throughout the game I got stronger."
Andrew Mormile went 2-for-4 to lead Absecon, and Jablonski finished with two hits, two RBIs and a pair of runs scored for Ocean City.
O'Kane said he had a feeling this first-round series was going to go the full three games. That's just the kind of rivalry it's been between these two clubs the past couple of years.
"These guys, four years ago, knocked us out in the first round. We're in a decent spot. I don't know what they are looking at in terms of pitching, but I have two big-time pitchers ready to go tomorrow, so we'll be ready. I have my horse, Matt Allen, and also Ryan Johnson, so between the two of them we have two big-time arms ready to go," he said. "We have some guys who are in a little bit of a slump, but when (Altieri) has an outing like that, you can get into a little bit of a slump. Ocean City is scrappy, so we knew it was going to be tough. I had a feeling it was going to be three games. They always play us tough. They don't have a great record, but I knew they were tougher than their record. They are a very tough No. 6 seed."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullsays