By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — There might have been a little jet lag for the Mainland Regional baseball team in late March when the Mustangs got back from their spring training trip to Arizona. Mainland stumbled out of the gate, losing to St. Augustine Prep and Cedar Creek to start the season. It didn’t take long for the Mustangs to shake the cobwebs free, however.
Since that loss to Cedar Creek, the Mustangs have ripped off six straight wins, including Friday’s 10-0, 6-inning victory over visiting Absegami. Mainland has allowed just eight runs during the win streak while posting three shutouts, and got another outstanding pitching performance from senior right-hander Anthony Capasso, the ace of the staff, on Friday.
Capasso went five innings, allowing just a fifth-inning single to Zack Bakely, while striking out 10 and walking two to pick up the win. He got plenty of support from the offense, as Mainland (6-2) scored a pair of runs in the first and blew the game wide open with a six-run third inning.
“I feel pretty good on the mound. The last two outings I felt pretty good, coming into this game. I was trying to get as many strikes as possible,” Capasso said. “I know they’re a young team, so I just wanted to go after them and see if they could hit it. When you start pitching with a lead, you get your confidence up. You can throw strikes that maybe you didn’t want to throw when you were tied, but you can afford to go after them a little bit more.”
“We started off a little slowly, but the bats are coming around and we’re starting to look good,” said left fielder Mike Dalessio, who keyed Mainland’s big third-inning rally with a three-run triple to center field. “You always know you’re going to get quality innings out of Anthony. It does get a little boring, though, in left field when you don’t get much hit out to you. But he’s been a great pitcher helping our team win.”
Matt Epstein’s two-run single in the first gave Capasso an early cushion, and the Mustangs built on the lead in the third. Marty Cortellessa followed up Nick Atohi’s double wtih an RBI single to left to make it 3-0, and Mainland loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch to Epstein and an infield single by Sean Dillon. An errant pick-off throw to third plated a pair of runs as Mainland took a 5-0 lead, and after a walk Matt Lawler, Dalessio drilled a shot to deep center. He came all the way around to score as the Braves had a little bit of trouble with the relay throw, and the lead swelled to 8-0.
“As a team, we’re always picking each other up,” Dalessio said. “Once one guy starts hitting well the other follow. We all know we can hit the ball. It starts with Nick (Nutile), and when he gets going everyone gets going.”
Nutile, the leadoff hitter, went 1-for-4 with a double and run scored, and both Atohi and Dillon went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Anthony Barretta came off the bench and blasted a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the fifth, and Cornelius Masterson ended the game via the 10-run rule with an RBI single to left in the sixth.
“Right now, we’re focused on Millville on Monday because they are a really good team. But as it gets closer to May we’ll be looking more toward the playoffs and working to get a better seed,” Dalessio said.
“I think we’re really for the next couple of weeks. The team is picking it up with the bats,” Capasso said. “The pitching is still the key, and I think everything is coming together well. I feel like (our younger guys) are confident. They feel like they can compete with anybody in the league and they know people are looking at us like the Mainland we were before.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN