OCEAN TWP. – Ocean High School senior right-hander Blake DeMeter says he does not like to follow his in-game statistics, but as the swings-and-misses on overpowering fastballs and flinch-inducing sliders piled up over the course of the first six innings of the Spartans’ NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III first-round game against Jackson Liberty, he couldn’t help but check the book.

After learning that he had already eclipsed his career high after the sixth inning, DeMeter went back out to the mound in the top of the seventh inning, struck out the side one last time, and set a new Ocean single-game record with 17 strikeouts to nail down a 4-0 win for the eighth-seeded Spartans over the No. 9 Lions.

DeMeter’s strikeout frenzy surpassed his previous career-high of 13 and broke the previous school record of 15, set by Rick Brown in 1982, according to Ocean head coach Cip Apicelli. On top of the 17 punchouts, DeMeter also threw a two-hitter with three walks.

Ocean senior Blake DeMeter struck out a school record 17 in a 4-0 Spartans win over Jackson Liberty on Monday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“I try to think as little as possible when I’m out there, but it definitely started creeping in the back of my mind,” DeMeter said. “At one point, I asked about it after, I think, the sixth inning and someone told me and it caught me by surprise a little bit.”

With its win on Monday, Ocean earned a trip west to take on top-seeded Northern Burlington on Thursday after the 23-4 Greyhounds took out Red Bank on Monday, 8-0. Northern Burlington is the No. 1 seed in the section for the third straight year, and after winning their first sectional title in 2013, the Greyhounds lost to Hopewell Valley in the quarterfinals in 2014.

DeMeter struck out the side in four innings and struck out at least two batters in all seven innings. During a stretch spanning the third and fourth innings, DeMeter struck out seven straight batters, six of them with his slider. Eight of DeMeter’s first 12 strikeouts came on the slider, while he used the fastball to finish off his final five strikeout victims.

“I lost the feel for my breaking ball a little bit, so I went to the fastball more,” DeMeter said. “I was able to keep mowing them down with the fastball so I just kept going to it and I kind of stopped throwing the breaking ball.”

Of the 26 Jackson Liberty batters that dug in Monday against DeMeter, only six of them put the ball in play. Those six balls in play included two hits, a fly out to center field, a lineout to shortstop, a groundout to first base and an error on a ground ball to third base. Only three of the 17 batters that reached a two-strike count managed to put the ball in play against DeMeter.

“This was a different level for him,” Apicelli said. “We’ve told them for days now, ‘You’ve got one left. Every game you show up to play from now on, you are playing to get one more practice and to play another game.’ He acted today like he didn’t want this to end. Seventeen strikeouts - that’s pretty good.''

Although DeMeter cruised for most of the game, his first inning and final inning presented him with his most pronounced challenge. His three walks came in those two innings and two of them came after he had already struck out the first two batters of the seventh on a total of six pitches. He jumped ahead of Brandon Pallante in the count, 1-2, but ultimately walked him and then walked designated hitter Mike Zak on five pitches, mostly missing up in the zone with fastballs.

“I tried not to think about it, but I was probably letting the moment get to me a little bit and I tried to overthrow,” DeMeter said.

“He’s a different kind of kid,” Apicelli said. “We don’t want him to think out there, and I think for that four-to-six pitch sequence, he was thinking out there. We just want him to throw the ball over the plate.”

After a visit to the mound from Apicelli, DeMeter fired two strikes over the plate to shortstop Sean Galvin. After missing with two fastballs, he blew a third by Galvin for strikeout No. 17 to clinch Ocean’s first-round win.

DeMeter walked center fielder Kyle Tavaska on the first batter of the game after falling behind 3-0 and gave up a single to third baseman Ryan Van Wickle with two out in the first. For the third time in five batters during the first, DeMeter fell behind on the first pitch of the at-bat to second baseman Dylan Millemann, who flew out to center to strand runners on first and second base.

“I was a little nervous, since this was my first time starting a state playoff game,” said DeMeter, who said he has just started to feel healthy after dealing with arm problems leading up to and early in the season. “I might have come out a little too amped up, and I just had to settle in.”

After the first inning, DeMeter threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 21 batters the rest of the way. Seven of the nine Lions starters struck out at least twice, with No. 9 hitter Ken Pommerencke striking out once in two plate appearances and Tavaska managing to avoid striking out while going 1-for-2 with a walk and a single on an 0-2 count to lead of the third inning.

Ocean has had issues scoring at times this season, but the Spartans gave DeMeter all the offense he would need with a run in the first inning. Designated hitter Anthony Bartolomei jumped on a first-pitch offering from Jackson Liberty starter Howard Taylor – who struck out eight in a four-hitter – for a double to the right-center gap and moved to third on a passed ball. First baseman Brian Olesen knocked Bartolomei in with an RBI ground out to third base to stake DeMeter and Ocean to an early 1-0 edge.

“It definitely helps to get the lead early,” DeMeter said. “I try to throw a shutout every time out anyway, so once we got that run, I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got this.’”

Olesen also had a hand in the second Ocean run when he singled through the middle with a runner on second base in the fourth. The ball got away from Tavaska, allowing courtesy runner Bo Britton to score.

Bartolomei later added a run in the fifth on a sacrifice fly, and second baseman Frank Henry capped the scoring with an RBI single to right field in the bottom of the sixth.

Ocean will now try to do what Hopewell Valley did against Northern Burlington last season, but will have to do it without its other pitching standout on the mound. Bartolomei was the designated hitter on Monday, but has been shut down for the season with what Apicelli called a dead arm – which does not involved any structural damage.

Junior Jake Talarico is the likely choice to get the ball, according to Apicelli, but among the other options is sophomore left-hander Phil Demarco. After missing the entire season up to this point with a broken jaw, Demarco was cleared to play in game action on Monday and has been throwing bullpens throughout the season, Apicelli said.

Should Ocean knock off the No. 1 seed, DeMeter will come back into play in the sectional semifinals. During his varsity career, DeMeter has seven losses on his record, but in those losses, Ocean has scored a total of one run.

“With some more support, he might go down as one of the best pitchers this program has had,” Apicelli said. “He still might, because nobody would have been able to win those games that he’s lost when the offense is literally not scoring. When the offense gives him some runs, he is very tough to beat.”

 

Box Score

Ocean 4, Jackson Liberty 0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

R

H

E

Jackson Liberty (10-12)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

2

Ocean (17-9)

1

0

0

1

1

1

x

4

4

1

 

Jackson Liberty

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Kyle Tavaska, CF

2

0

1

0

1

0

Matt Pinto, LF

3

0

0

0

0

3

Howard Taylor, P

3

0

0

0

0

3

Ryan Van Wickle, 3B

3

0

1

0

0

2

Dylan Milleman, 2B

3

0

0

0

0

2

Brandon Pallante, 1B

2

0

0

0

1

2

Mike Zak, DH

2

0

0

0

1

2

--Billy Hart, C

0

0

0

0

0

0

Sean Galvin, SS

3

0

0

0

0

2

Ken Pommerencke, RF

2

0

0

0

0

1

Totals

23

0

2

0

3

17

CS: Tavaska

 

Ocean

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Sam Maxwell, CF

3

1

1

0

0

2

Anthony Bartolomei, DH

2

1

1

1

0

0

Marc Chernin, C

1

0

0

0

2

0

--Bo Britton, CR

0

1

0

0

0

0

Brian Olesen, 1B

3

0

1

1

0

0

Brian Kochenash, SS

2

1

0

0

0

1

Frank Henry, 2B

3

0

1

1

0

2

Tyler Rossback, 3B

3

0

0

0

0

2

Jake Talarico, RF

2

0

0

0

1

0

Kenny Pickett, LF

3

0

0

0

0

1

Totals

22

4

4

3

3

8

2B: Bartolomei
SAC: Kochenash
SF: Bartolomei
SB: Britton, Henry 2, Maxwell

 

Jackson Liberty

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Howard Taylor (L)

6

4

4

2

3

8

0

 

Ocean

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Blake DeMeter (W, 6-3)

7

2

0

0

3

17

0

 

Pitches-Strikes: Taylor 106-66, DeMeter 102-71
Groundout-Flyout: Taylor 6-4, DeMeter 1-1