Anthony Asta had no clue what was unfolding behind him as barreled around second base but assumed he would get an explanation from Marlboro head coach Jim Ferraro as soon as he coasted into third.
However, with one whipping windmill motion of his left arm, Ferraro told the junior speedster everything he needed to know. With that prompt, Asta completed an improbable journey all the way from first on what he initially thought was a game-ending grounder. He was right, only the result was much more to his liking than the one he originally envisioned.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Asta said. “It looked like a routine ground ball. I sprinted around second base and looked at coach. He sends me all the time, so I put my head down and went all out. I didn’t see anything. I had to ask everyone in the dugout after the game what exactly happened.”
With two outs, the bases loaded and Marlboro trailing by two, Ben Helmes hit a ground ball that skipped through the legs of the infielder and rolled into right field. The pace was just right for Asta to exhibit is blazing quickness as he raced all the way home with the game-winning run as ninth-seeded Marlboro completed an improbable rally in the bottom of the seventh to pull out a 3-2 victory over 24th-seeded Matawan on Wednesday in the preliminary round of the Shore Conference Tournament in Marlboro.
“Asta is one of the fastest kids in the Shore Conference,” Ferraro said of his leadoff man. “We’re playing with house money in that spot, having already scored the tying run, so I sent him.”
The rally came at the expense of Matawan’s Nick Fulop. The senior right-hander was nothing short of efficient over the first six innings, especially in keeping runners off base. He allowed four hits and two walks over that span, but more importantly, never allowed the leadoff batter to get aboard.
Until the fateful seventh.
Eric Katz drew a walk to start the frame, Pat McLaughlin followed with a single to right and Matt Lubin was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. After Asta chopped a grounder to third that Shawn Johnson fielded and fired home for the force, Fulop followed up with a strikeout before inducing Helmes into the grounder that set the runners in motion on contact and resulted in the three unearned runs for Marlboro (14-6), which won its eighth straight.
“That No. 5 pitched a heckuva a game for them,” praised Ferraro of Fulop, who scattered five hits, fanned six and walked three in suffering the heartbreaker. “We had no business winning this game. But, as bad as I feel for No. 5, I felt the same way for Adam for six innings and two outs.”
Because, that’s just how equally effective Adam Ashenfarb was for Marlboro. Relying on a heavy fastball that he pounded on the outer half against Matawan’s exclusively right-handed order, the junior southpaw forced an excessive amount of foul balls to first-base side.
But, more revealing, was Ashenfarb’s passion to compete. Touched for two unearned runs in the fourth, he shook the incident off to retire nine of the last 10 batters he faced, punctuated by striking out the side in the top of the seventh.
“It’s always good to just forget about the errors and keep throwing,” said Ashenfarb, who ran his mark to 5-2. “I knew if I threw my stuff they weren’t going to hit it. My curveball wasn’t on consistently. I was mainly going fastball.”
Mike Denino, who went 2-for-3, ignited Matawan (9-10) in the fourth with a single to center. Dan Incle reached on a error and the runners moved to second and third, respectively, on a wild pitch. With two outs, Ken Brown lined a shot that popped out of the glove of the outfielder and enabled both runners to score.
Brown raced to third on a single by John Affriol but Ashenfarb got the next batter to foul out to prevent further damage. He finished with a three-hitter that featured seven strikeouts and no walks.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner