WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- Two squeeze bunts.
Both seemingly successful.
But only one counted.
That was the difference in Eastern’s 1-0 victory over Manalapan on Monday in the Group 4 state baseball semifinals at Monmouth University.
That and some superb pitching by Eastern junior right-hander Cole Boyan, who worked a complete game, allowing just four hits.
A.J. Funari drove in the only run, squeezing home Jack Winsett in the top of the fourth inning.
“I think I only bunted one other time this year,” said Funari, the Vikings’ senior right fielder. “But I knew I had to get it down.”
Funari’s bunt and Boyan’s masterful pitching sent Eastern, the South Jersey champion, into the state final against North Jersey champion Ridgewood on Saturday at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township.
Eastern will be seeking its second state title. The Vikings won the crown in 2013.
“It’s incredible,” said Winsett, a senior shortstop who started the fourth-inning rally with the Vikings’ first hit. “It’s our legacy as seniors.”
Boyan mixed his pitches, using command and movement to compensate for a lack of velocity.
“I think he tops out at 76 mph,” Eastern coach Rob Christ said of Boyan. “But he throws four pitches for strikes.”
Boyan improved his record to 7-0. He walked two, hit a batter and recorded four strikeouts.
“Nothing straight,” Boyan said of his pitches. “I had everything moving.”
Boyan was backed by strong defense, with center fielder Nick Zellner starting a pair of double plays. In the third, Zellner fired a strike to catcher Dylan Stezzi to nail a runner at the plate and end the inning.
“He covers so much ground,” Christ said of Zellner.
The game was a taut pitcher’s duel between Boyan and Manalapan senior right-hander Aaron Ayers, who allowed just two hits -- Winsett’s line single and Funari’s bunt -- with three walks and seven strikeouts.
Manalapan rallied in the top of the seventh inning as Nick DiPietrantonio reached on an error and Joe Mazza singled. After a sacrifice bunt, the runners were on second and third with one out.
Pinch-hitter Lou Marzo appeared to tie the game with a squeeze bunt, reaching out and directing the ball over Boyan’s head for an apparent RBI single.
But the home-plate umpire immediately called Marzo out, indicating he had stepped out of the batter’s box.
Manalapan’s coaches and spectators protested vehemently.
“I just don’t think you make that call in that point in the game,” Manalapan coach Brian Boyce said. “He [the umpire] made it about himself.”
Boyan said his emotions went from low to high on the play.
“I thought they had tied the game and then everybody was yelling and it was like a huge sigh of relief,” said Boyan, who retired the final batter on a line out to third baseman Isaac Fendrick.
Christ said Eastern had called a pitchout on the play, expecting a squeeze.
“We called a pitchout so it was the right call,” Christ said, indicating that Marzo had to reach far across the plate to make contact. “I’m just glad we had an umpire who had the intestinal fortitude to make that call.”
Manalapan 000 000 0 – 0 4 0
Eastern 000 100 x – 1 2 2
WP: Cole Boyan. LP: Aaron Ayers.