Christian Brothers Academy baseball coach Marty Kenney was firm.
This would be Joe Escandon’s last batter of the Monmouth County Tournament championship game on May 7 at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.
Escandon faced a bases loaded jam with two outs. Even though he held a comfortable lead, the senior left-hander really wanted to finish this baseball game.
The Ocean Township High School batter worked the count to 2-and-2. Then Escandon froze him with a changeup over the plate. The batter struck out looking and the Colts celebrated on the field.
Escandon had done it. The Ocean Township native and CBA ace pitched a complete game, on 91 pitches, against the players he grew up with.
Christian Brothers beat Ocean Township, 8-1, for the program’s ninth county championship and first since 2016. The eighth-seeded Colts topped three higher seeds en route to the title, including top-seeded Wall Township High School, 1-0, in a quarterfinal at Wall on April 28.
“Our strength is pitching and defense,” Kenney said. “When you do that well, you’re in every game, which has been the case.”
In the championship, Escandon was on with both his 85 mile per hour fastball and his 70 mile per hour changeup, which look the same out of his hand.
“He’s got very good command,” Kenney said. “His fastball keeps hitters honest and his change is outstanding.”
“When his change is working, he really gives hitters a difficult time,” the coach added.
On the season, Escandon is now 4-0 with an 0.60 earned run average. He has surrendered just seven free passes, five walks and two hit batsmen, in 23.1 innings.
Escandon controls his pitches and can throw them in any count. He also maintains a stoic expression and a calm mindset throughout each start. As an athlete who doubles as a pinch runner and outfielder, he even fields his position well.
But on May 7, it was Escandon’s stoic expression and calm mindset that convinced Kenney to start him. The coach normally wouldn’t throw a kid against his childhood friends. But he had no issue doing that with Escandon.
“Nothing seems to bother him,” Kenney said. “You can’t tell whether he’s doing well or poorly.”
The lefty had every reason to stay even versus Ocean Township. For one night at least, CBA’s biggest weakness, hitting, became a strength.
The Lincroft school slammed 10 hits and “a lot of hard outs,” Kenney said. Eight Colts players scored a run.
Junior first baseman Braedin Hunt barreled two hits and knocked in three runs. Senior outfielder Anthony Celestre drove in two runs and scored another one.
“As a lineup that was probably our best game,” Kenney said. “We were aggressive.”
Since that county championship victory, CBA has won three more regular season games. Overall, the Colts are 13-1 in their last 14 games, since starting 2-3.
Their pitching staff is elite. The aces, Escandon and junior right-hander Pat Reilly, are a combined 11-0 with an ERA under 1.00. Two other CBA hurlers, senior left-hander Evan Mahns and senior right-hander Anthony Pillari, also sport ERAs below 1.00.
That staff could carry the Colts far in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A sectional tournament. And if the lineup continues to hit like it did in the county title game, CBA might even win the thing.
“We are playing with confidence,” Kenney said.