Middletown North drop out of Delsea in Group 3 and head to final for first time in 39 years

A player does not make a team. However, in the case of Middletown North, one player improves an entire team.

When Colin Dowlen, a fifth-year senior right-hander, is on the mound, Middletown North is a completely different team – more competitive, more unified, more successful.

Dowlen, a rookie from Seton Hall University, brought out the best in his teammates on Monday in the South Central Group 3 semi-final. Dowlen scattered six hits with six strikeouts, drove in three runs at home plate and led Middletown North to its first group championship in 39 years with a 6-1 victory over Delsea in Franklinville.

Middletown North is now 10-2 in games Dowlen has appeared in. The Lions advanced to the group final for the first time since 1983 when they lost to Elizabeth in the league game. Middletown North won their first section title in 33 years last Friday.

Middletown North (20-10), winners of 11 straight games, will meet Cranford in the Group 3 final at 10 a.m. at Bob DeMeo Field at Veterans Park in Hamilton, Mercer County. Cranford (25-4), ranked No. 8 in the state by NJ.com, was a 12-1 winner over Ramapo in Monday’s North 1-North 2 semifinal.

Because of his get it and throw it style, fast-working Dowlen is a dream for defenders. He asked Delsea to hit 11 ground balls. His infield sucked them all in. Shortstop Ryan Frontera had seven assists, including one on a game-ending 6-4-3 double play at the bat of the last batter Dowlen was eligible to face. As the Delsea runner beat the pitch from second to first, the umpire team hit the runner first when the Delsea runner hit a contextual slide, which is now illegal in high school baseball.

“Colin (Dowlen) gets the ball and walks away,” Frontera said. “We love playing behind him. Our goal is to make as many plays as possible so he can stay in the game.

“The book on them was that they weren’t a good team on the pitch, but today they caught it all,” Delsea head coach Joe Smith said. “He (Dowlen) is good. He was around the area. We never had anything against him. Five of our hits came with two outs.

Dowlen was particularly effective at striking out the first batter in an inning, which he did five times. He showed off his big breaking curve and hard slider early on, then threw more fastballs late in the game.

“As the game went on I used more fastballs because I didn’t want to speed up their bats,” Dowlen said.

Dowlen threw no more than 20 pitches in an inning. After six innings, he was at 98 pitches, leaving him 12 for seventh. He retired Delsea’s first batter on three straight strikes. He threw seven pitches to Landon Burns before Burns landed a single.

Head coach Ryan McCabe trotted to the mound and advised that his Delsea shortstop Max Van Auken would be Dowlen’s final batter. Under NJSIAA pitching rules, a pitcher can face a batter even if it puts them over the 110-pitch limit during the batter.

Delsea started senior left-hander Jake Watson and for two innings Watson batted Middletown North. In two innings, he struck out five. He was surprisingly knocked out after taking the team out in the second.

“He (Watson) had back problems,” Smith said. “Our plan was for it to only go three or four innings, anyway.”

“I wasn’t disappointed to see him come out,” Middletown North head coach Ryan McCabe said.

Middletown North broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third. Right George Starr replaced Watson and walked North’s No. 9 hitter Colby McMahon. McCabe played for a point and Matt Adamson beat McMahon for second. After a walk, Dowlen drilled a single through midfield scoring McMahon.

However, it was an inning of 10 batters, five runs and three hits in the fourth that gave Middletown North control of the game.

Andrew Lombardi tied on walks to start the inning and was sacrificed to second by Jason Quardt. Dylan Briggs beefed up a Texas League single down the left field line by bringing in Briggs. Then came a walk and an error, another walk and a two-run single from Dowlen that gave North a 6-0 lead.

That was more than enough for Dowlen. He pitched smart with a big lead. He gave up his only run in the fifth when Burns hit a double and later scored on an infield grounder from Frankie Master.

Looking ahead to the Group 3 final, Dowlen will be eligible after four full days off.

“Colin is normally a guy every six days,” McCabe said. “We’ll see how he feels. I’m sure he wants the ball, though.

“I do,” Dowlen said.

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Joe Zedalis covers baseball for NJ.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Josephzedalis