Tag: Justin Nastasi

Out of the Blue come the Jays of Middlesex, back where they belong: in yet another sectional final

Last year, Middlesex had a strong of four straight Central Jersey Group 1 titles snapped by Point Pleasant Beach. Losing on their home field at Mountainview Park made it even worse.

But one other streak involving the Garnet Gulls continues Friday, when the Blue Jays will play Point Beach for the fourth straight season in the sectional title game.

Much will be different about the matchup. To begin with, it’ll be down the Shore, with the previous ones all coming up in Middlesex County. Add to that, it’ll be the first time they’ll meet with Point (22-5) as the defending champion.

Friday’s game is in Point Pleasant at 4 pm.

Middlesex actually ended Point’s season four straight years: in 2017 and 2018 in earlier rounds, and then beat them in the CJ1 finals in 2019 and 2021 (with no baseball in 2020 due to COVID). Last year, the Garnet Gulls finally broke the hex.

The other thing different is that Middlesex (17-8) has only a handful of returnees from the teams that faced Point Beach the last two seasons, with Alfonso Esposito and Aiden Kozak probably the biggest two impact players back, along with others who have stepped up big-time in Michael Canavesio, Justin Gordon and Tommy Lavornia.

Click below to hear Middlesex head coach Justin Nastasi talk about his team’s season, and the Central Jersey Group 1 Final against Point Pleasant Beach:

Middlesex’s Nastasi isn’t surprised at Woodbridge run to the North 2, Group 4 final

Hunterdon Central is the top seed in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 NJSIAA playoff section, and for good reason. They’ve had a tremendous season, are loaded with talent, including legitimate MLB draft prospect Kyle McCoy, and are one of the deepest teams in the state.

They’re ranked No. 5 in the NJ.com Top 20 this week, too.

But Ridge was the second-seed, and No. 6 in the state last week, and Woodbridge beat them.

Few gave them a chance.

But the Barrons believed, and so did Justin Nastasi, whose team swept the Barrons in a mid-May home-and-home to clinch the White Division title outright over Woodbridge.

But still, Nastasi says he knew it was a good Woodbridge team they beat, one that could be poised to make some noise in the state tournament.

While his Blue Jays will be taking on Point Pleasant Beach for a fourth straight time in the Central Jersey Group 1 finals – 4 pm Friday at Mountainview Park – the Barrons will play top-seed and heavy favorite Hunterdon Central in the North 2, Group 4 title game, at 3 pm on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Nastasi believes the Barrons very much have a chance.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Justin Nastasi about the Woodbridge Barrons:

Middlesex is right where everyone expected them to be; now it’s time to win a 5th straight CJ1 title

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And so it goes for Middlesex under Justin Nastasi, who has his top-seeded Blue Jays back in the Central Jersey Group 1 title game again.

And yet again, they will play Point Pleasant Beach. The Garnet Gulls have had their state tournament run ended in each of the last three seasons by the Blue Jays: in 2018, 2019, and last season, en route to the Group One title.

Friday, the top-seeded Blue Jays (23-6) play second-seed Point Beach (19-9) in the CJ 1 final at 4 pm at Mountainview Park.

About the only question for Nastasi is who he will start Friday afternoon, likely either Stephen Young or Aidan Kozak.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk about the Blue Jays’ season and the final against Point Beach:

Young’s gem gives Middlesex first-ever GMC White Division crown, via season sweep of Woodbridge

In the first inning Thursday, Stephen Young struck out Woodbridge leadoff man AJ Bosch, but walked the next two batters. After a double steal, he found himself in a second-and-third, one-out jam.

So he did what he always does in that situation: strike out the next two batters and head back to the dugout.

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After the Middlesex senior unofficially threw 30 pitches in the first inning, he bore down and never tossed more than 17 in the next six. Ultimately, he fanned 12, struck out the side three times, allowed six baserunners all game, two hits, retired the last eight batters he faced, and added two insurance runs at the plate with a double in a three-run fifth inning that gave the Blue Jays some breathing room.

And with the 5-0 win, Group 1 Middlesex (17-3, 13-3) – playing up in the GMC White Division for the first time in school history – won the pennant outright thanks to a 5-0 victory over the Barrons (16-4, 12-4).

It was Woodbridge starter Eddy Nunez who was cruising early, going one-two-three in the first and second innings, not allowing a baserunner until the third, not allowing a hit until the fourth. But that hit was a two-out double by Chris Hopf, Jr., and Matt Venutolo drove in courtesy runner Colin Deem to make it 1-0, the only run it turned out the Blue Jays would need.

In the fifth, Middlesex dinked-and-dunked Woodbridge and Nunez – who took the loss – to death.

Aidan Kozak reached on a one-out infield hit, and Mike Salvatore did the same on a hit-and-run. His slow roller right down the middle between first and second actually drove Kozak to third. Woodbridge first baseman Ty Kobylakiewicz was holding the runner on, and when Kozak attempted to steal, second baseman Drew Lukachyk covered second leaving a gaping hole, making him run a log way to get the ball as it died on the edge of the outfield grass. That’s when Young’s single made it 3-0, and after a fly-out, the third infield hit of the inning – this one Bobby Ulmer, Jr. – made it 4-0.

Winning the White Division title means Middlesex will go on the board first from the White at the GMC seeding meeting, and there will be some intrigue to see how many Red Division teams get taken ahead of Middlesex.

Any team would love to avoid the four or five seed, which would mean avoiding likely top-seed St. Joseph-Metuchen until the finals.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will have live Twitter coverage of the seeding meeting, starting at 9 am. Follow on Twitter @CJSportsRadio.

Click below for postgame reaction from Middlesex’s win over Woodbridge:

Middlesex pitcher Stephen Young
Middlesex head coach Justin Nastasi

No. 10 Middlesex seeks 5th straight league win since stepping up to GMC White when North Brunswick rolls into town for twinbill

They didn’t expect to play a Friday doubleheader, but when North Brunswick visits No. 10 Middlesex this morning for an 11 am first pitch, they’ll “play two.”

Rain and thunderstorms in the forecast forced the postponement of Thursday night’s matchup between the Blue Jays (4-1) and Raiders (3-3), now a divisional game since Middlesex moved up to the GMC White Division.

But the Jays are still in Central Jersey Group One, where they’ve won the last four sectional finals dating back to 2017, and five in the first six seasons played under head coach Justin Nastasi.

There should be some good pitching matchups, as North Brunswick plans to throw Rutgers-committed junior Zach Konstantinovsky will start Game One, and sophomore Kyle Anderson the second game. Middlesex will toss senior ace Stephen Young and junior Alfonso Esposito. Who will face off against the other will be determined once the lineups come out Friday morning.

Click below for a preview of the game with both head coaches:

Middlesex head coach Justin Nastasi
North Brunswick head coach Mark Blevins

Another walkoff! Middlesex wins Group 1 title on Geist’s 13th inning hit

It wasn’t as dramatic as the grand slam Bobby Ulmer hit Monday to send Middlesex to the Group 1 title game – after all, it was a seeing-eye single – but its importance, ultimately, was even greater, owing to the bigger stage,

Mark Geist’s two-out single to left just past a diving Dean Licari at third base won Middlesex their third Group 1 title in the last four seasons, as they beat New Providence 4-3 in 13 innings, in a game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Middlesex got a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI double by Matt Venutolo, and it held til the seventh.

But in the top of the seventh, New Providence got to Jays’ starter Raiden Yost for 3 runs – one allowed by reliever Stephen Young – to take a 3-1 lead.

Still, as Middlesex has shown time and time again in the postseason, they’re never out of it.

Matt Venutolo led off with an infield hit, then Mark Geist – who would later be the hero – walked. A bunt by Ty Nicolay moved the runners up. Stephen Young’s walk loaded the bases, before a sac fly by Anthony Long got Middlesex within one, and Ryan Vollmer’s single tied the game.

That’s the way it would stay until the 13th, thanks to the brilliant pitching of Stephen Yong, who came in with two outs in the seventh, and finished the game to get the win.

In the 13th inning, Bobby Ulmer – the walk-off grand slam hero Monday in the semis against Woodstown – drew a leadoff walk.

A.J. West laid down a sac bunt that moved Ulmer to third, and a grounder to second by Venutolo pushed him to third. That’s when Geist pushed a pitch past the third baseman, bringing Middlesex the championship.

The Blue Jays finish 22-4, winning their seventh state title in program history, in ten tries.

Click below to hear postgame reaction from Middlesex’s Group 1 title game win:

Mark Geist
Senior catcher Mark Geist, with the game-winning hit
Junior pitcher Stephen Young, who threw 6 1/3 innings of scoreless relief
Middlesex head coach Justin Nastasi

Middlesex is ready with skill, magic – or anything else – to win Group 1 title

There have been five state titles in baseball in Middlesex High School’s history.

Three of them have come in the last eight years.

And there’s a chance to add one more Saturday when the Blue Jays – the Central Jersey Group 1 champions – take North 2 champ New Providence down at Veterans’ Park in Hamilton.

Game time is 1:00, and Central Jersey Sports Radio will have live play-by-play of the game, starting with a special pregame show at 12:10 pm. Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino will call all the action, and you can listen live by clicking here.

Middlesex has won its last two games in the state tournament in walk-off fashion.

Last Friday in the Central Jersey Group 1 championship game, a bases-loaded ground ball to second scored the winning run in a 2-1 victory over Point Pleasant Beach, when the Gulls’ second baseman threw wide of home plate to get the runner from third on a force play.

Then on Monday afternoon – in the Blue Jays’ final game of the year at Mountainview Park – junior Bobby Ulmer, down 0-2 in the count, with his team trailing 7-5 with two out and the bases loaded – whipped the home fans into a frenzy when he smacked a Grand Slam to left field to win the game 7-5, and send his team into the statewide Group 1 final against New Providence.

The win has tuned Ulmer into a local legend in Middlesex who won’t soon be forgotten, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s title game against New Providence.

Middlesex and the Pioneers have met twice before in the state finals. The Blue Jays beat them in the 1990 final, but New Providence returned the favor in 1998.

Click below to hear previews of Saturday’s Group 1 championship game between Middlesex and New Providence:

Middlesex senior starting pitcher Raiden Yost
Middlesex 6th-year head coach Justin Nastasi

Middlesex success began with O’Donnell, but Nastasi was there, too

The Middlesex baseball program had run aground when Mike O’Donnell came on board, having moved just up the road from Franklin, where was started his first year out of school as an assistant, and found himself the head coach at the end of the season.

Born and raised in Middlesex, when he had the opportunity to take over as the head coach there, he jumped.

And one of his first calls was to Justin Nastasi.

All he did was bring the school its second-ever Group 1 title in 2007, and its first-ever GMC title in 2012.

So, when another opportunity beckoned after the 2014 season – to move on up to the Athletic Director’s office at Middlesex – that became a no-brianer, too.

And so did the decision as to who he should hire to be his replacement: Justin Nastasi.

And though the Blue Jays won their first of five Central Jersey Group 1 titles under Nastasi that year, it wasn’t the easiest transition right off the bat, but it eventually worked out.

In his sixth season, Nastasi’s Blue Jays have not only those five Central Jersey Group 1 titles, but two statewide championships, and they’ve been tot the overall title game three times.

Saturday will be their fourth trip.

Saturday at 1 pm, Middlesex (24-4) takes on North Jersey Section 2 Group 1 champion New Providence (17-7) at Veterans’ Park in Hamilton, in a game that can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Air time is at 12:10 for the pregame show, featuring a host of interviews, with Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino calling all the action. Click here to listen live.

Click below to hear Middlesex Athletic Director Mike O’Donnell talk about the recent development of the Blue Jays’ program, and the current string of success:

Middlesex gains Group 1 final on Ulmer’s dramatic, walk-off grand slam

A walk-off home run is the stuff kids dream of, maybe before they even play Little League.

But how about a walk-off grand slam with two outs, on an 0-2 pitch?

That’s exactly what junior DH Bobby Ulmer did Monday afternoon at Mountainview Park, sending his team and their fans into utter delirium.

It didn’t win Middlesex a championship, but it did give them a 7-5 victory and send the Blue Jays to the Group 1 final for the fourth time in five seasons, where they’ll try to win the school’s third Group 1 title under sixth-year head coach Justin Nastasi, and the program’s sixth overall.

Listen to Middlesex junior Bobby Ulmer’s walk-off grand slam.
Middlesex DH Bobby Ulmer

CLICK HERE for Bobby Ulmer’s live postgame interview with Mike Pavlichko on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

The Blue Jays (21-4) will play in the Group 1 title game Saturday afternoon at 1:00 at Veterans Park in Hamilton, facing North 2 champion New Providence. The Pioneers (17-7) beat North 1 title winner Hasbrouck Heights 12-1 in a five-inning mercy rule-shortened game in the other semifinal Monday.

Middlesex got the scoring going in the top of the first, when they took a two nothing lead on an RBI double by Ulmer – who finished the game with a pair of doubles and six runs batted in. He drove in pitcher Stephen Young – who led off the game with a single – and Ryan Vollmer, who worked a one-out walk.

Woodstown cut it to 2-1 when Middlesex conceded the run with a groundout by Ben Woodruff following a one-out triple by Chase Swain, who would do even bigger things in the fifth inning.

It was there Woodstown began to hit Young, who looked to be cruising, retiring five batters in a row to close the fourth.

But before that, Middlesex would extend the lead to 3-1 on an RBI single in the fourth by Matt Venutolo.

In the next half-inning, Caden DeSiato worked out a walk for Woodstown, and Brent Williams moved him to second with a single. Chase Reiger beat out a bunt onto the grass down the third base line that Young fielded, but he had no throw by the time he got to it and everyone was safe.

Thenm on a 2-2 pitch, Swain cranked a grand slam to left field to give Woodstown a 5-3 lead.

Young settled back in and got three flyouts on the next six pitches to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Reiger was settling in, and came out for the seventh just three outs away from sending his team to the Group 1 final.

But just like against Point Pleasant Beach in the Central Jersey Group 1 title game, Middlesex loaded the bases and won the game.

In that game, however, the Jays loaded the bases with no outs. This time, it was a little more dramatic.

Ty Nicolay, the nine-hitter, led the inning off with a single. Stephen Young followed with the same.

Woodstown head coach Mark DiCastro had seen enough, and pulled Reiger for Lucas Prendergast, who had started the game at second base. The junior started well, striking out the hero in the game against the Gulls, Anthony Long.

On a 1-0 pitch, Ryan Vollmer hit a ground ball to first that could have been the ballgame. First baseman Tyler Wolf fielded a few feet from the bag, threw to second, but the toss was wide and pulled second Baseman Brant Williams – who moved over from third to replace Prendergast, now on the mound, off the bag. Everyone was safe.

Even had Wolf just gotten the one out, the game would have been over when Raiden Yost flied out to left. Instead, there were two out and the bases still loaded.

That brought up Bobby Ulmer, who quickly found himself in an 0-2 hole.

On the next pitch, he found the lawn behind the left field fence, and it was all over. A walk-off grand slam, capping a wild comeback, and giving Middlesex its second straight state playoff walkoff win.

Click below to hear postgame reaction from Middlesex’s 7-5 Group 1 semifinal win against Woodstown:

Middlesex pitcher Stephen Young
Middlesex head coach Justin Nastasi

Blue Jays fly into fourth straight CJ1 title game with 11-0 win over Florence

Scroll down to hear postgame reaction from pitcher Aidan Kozak and head coach Justin Nastasi.

On what looked like it would be a great day for baseball, the skies opened up like a waterfall at Mountainview Park in Middlesex.

Just in time, Raiden Yost’s blast to deep centerfield went over the head of Nick Corsi, driving in Mark Geist and Stephen Young, and the Blue Jays walked off with an 11-0 mercy rule win as a wall of rain swept in from the Watchung Mountains beyond left field to douse the celebratory proceedings.

It was quite the day at the plate for Middlesex, which scored three runs in the second, five more in the fourth, and capped it off with three in the bottom of the fifth.

Not to be outdone by a gem from sophomore starting pitcher Aiden Kozak. Raiden Yost was supposed to start this game when it was scheduled for yesterday. But on a “gut feeling” head coach Justin Nastasi told Central Jersey Sports Radio before the game, he gave the ball to Kozak.

And all he did was throw five innings of two-hit shutout ball, striking out ten Florence hitters, while walking one, and hitting another batter. It was as good an effort as you could dream of, and it keeps Yost and Stephen Young free of any pitch limitations Friday when Middlesex hosts 6th-seed Point Pleasant Beach Friday at 1 pm for the Central Jersey Group One title.

You can hear the game on Central Jersey Sports Radio with Justin Sontupe and Chris Tsakonas calling all the action. Pregame is tentatively set for 12:40 pm. Click here to listen.

In the second, A.J. West got on with a two-out single, and Matt Venutolo moved him to second on a ball in the hole to short that Artie Piotrowski couldn’t decide where he wanted to throw. His toss to second for the force was too late. Geist Walked, then so did Ty Nicolay to drive in the first run, while Young knocked in two more with a double to give Middlesex a 3-0 lead.

In the fourth, the Jays would get five more runs, but not before about a 15-minute delay, as the home plate umpire complained he wasn’t feeling well in the heat. He left the game, and one of the other umps moved behind the plate.

When they came back, Venutolo led off with a triple, then Geist cranked a homer off a fan’s tent just beyond the left field wall to make it 5-0. Following a bunt by Ty Nicolay that resulted in the first out, Young hit a double, Anthony Long walked, and Ryan Vollmer blasted a three-run homer to right field to make it 8-0.

That was all for losing pitcher Nick Corsi, who swapped places with centerfielder Dillon Sanfillipo. After a single to Raiden Yost, he got out of the inning.

But then in the fifth, Venutolo led off with a double, and Geist’s signle drive him in, making it 9-0. Nicolay flew out to left, and Young walked. After long flew out to center, Vollmer launched one over Corsi’s head. He looked like he might make a play, but didn’t, and the final two runs came in.

Now, Middlesex will play in the Central Jersey Group 1 title game for the fourth straight season.

After a sectional semifinal loss to South River in 2016, Middlesex beat Metuchen for the title in 2017, then Point Beach in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. So, this will be the third straight meeting with the Garnet Gulls with the championship on the line.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko’s postgame reaction with Middlesex sophomore pitcher Aidan Kozak and head coach Justin Nastasi: