Ocean County Tournament Bracket

JACKSON TWP. – Faced with the task of beating one of the consistent powerhouse teams of Ocean County Saturday in order to reach its first ever Ocean County Tournament championship game, the Barnegat baseball team – seeded No. 4 in the tournament – not only had to overcome its program’s inexperience, but also its team’s recent ineffectiveness.

Fortunately for the Bengals, they have a solution to both of those problems in the form of a 6-foot-6 sophomore left-hander.

Sophomore Jason Groome pitched a two-hit shutout Saturday at Jackson Memorial and Barnegat advanced to its first Ocean County Tournament Final. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Barnegat ace Jason Groome pitched a two-hit shutout on 84 pitches and his team backed him up with eight runs over the final two innings to roll over top-seeded Jackson Memorial, 8-0, and into the program’s first ever Ocean County Tournament championship.

“We’ve been looking at this year as a big one for the program,” third-year Barnegat coach Dan McCoy said. “Our goal was to build a program that’s competing for championships every year and at the same time, had guys from past years come back to watch the team play. We had some guys back watching us today and that’s important for a young program like ours. You want to develop that tradition, and winning games like this is how it starts.”

The Bengals, who ended a three-game losing streak Saturday, will play Shore Conference Class B South rival and No. 6 Central Regional in Tuesday night’s final at Toms River East High School at 7:30 p.m. Barnegat had not won since its OCT quarterfinal win over Jackson Liberty on May 3, losing division games to Central, Pinelands and Point Pleasant Boro this week.

“When Jason’s on the mound, we always hit,” junior catcher Nik Fraim said. “We’ve hit in most of our other games, but we just had a little bit of a frustrating week this week. It’s a different attitude in these games and with Groome on the mound, we feel like we’re going to win every time.”

“This team has an ability to raise its level in a big game, and that’s something you can’t teach,” McCoy said. “This week was a tough one, but there was never a doubt that these guys were going to be at their best today.”

Groome struck out six, hit a batter, did not walk anyone and allowed only one Jackson Memorial baserunner to reach second base. Jaguars left fielder Mike Petrizzo started the fifth inning with a line-drive single to right field and moved to second on a sacrifice by sophomore third baseman Kyle Johnson – who singled in the second inning for the only other Jackson Memorial hit. Groome responded by striking out the final two batters of the inning to end the Jaguars’ best scoring threat of the game.

Jason Groome strikeout ends the 5th from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

“I felt the pressure a little bit today, but I was confident we were going to hit,” Groome said. “I felt really good out there today and the defense did a great job behind me.”

The Bengals had issues scoring against Jackson Memorial senior left-hander Matt Guarino until the sixth inning, when Fraim delivered a one-out, two-run double with the bases loaded on a 3-and-2 count to break the scoreless tie.

Nik Fraim 2-run 2B from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Jared Kacso 2-run single from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Sophomore third baseman Jared Kacso followed with a two-run single, and after a 50-minute delay for lightning, senior designated hitter Matt Owens hammered a long single off the right-field fence off new Jackson pitcher Ryan Takacs to score Kacso from third and give Barnegat a 5-0 lead.

“(Guarino) has a good curveball so we tried to lay off that and just look for fastballs,” Fraim said. “We didn’t feel like we were having bad at-bats the first couple times up, so we felt like as the game went on, we would start to hit.”

Barnegat catcher Nik Fraim delivered a key two-run double in the Bengals' 8--0 win over Jackson Memorial. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The five-run rally in the sixth began with a walk by senior center fielder Joe Letinski, whose speed became a factor on consecutive sacrifice attempts by the Bengals. Freshman shortstop Aaron McLaughlin laid down a sacrifice attempt back to Guarino, who fired the ball to second base, but Letinski slid into the bag before the throw arrived.

“Sometimes when you just put the ball in play, good things happen,” McCoy said. “At that point, both pitchers were on their game, we had some speed on the bases in Letinski, and we wanted to try to play for a run with the top of the order coming up. (Jackson) made the plays, but Joe’s speed was a major factor, and it ended up leading to a big inning.”

Groome then dropped a bunt to Johnson, who again attempted to cut down the lead runner at third. Letinski once again slid in safely to give the Bengals the bases loaded and no one out in a scoreless game.

“Those were two hard bunts that our guys fielded quickly and got rid of quickly trying to get the lead runner. We’ll take that every time,” Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta said. “I thought we might have got him on the second bunt where we threw over to third, but it was a close play and it just didn’t go our way. In a game like this where both pitchers were on and our offense was struggling, it was tough because it felt like we really couldn’t afford to give up a run there, and I think that sequence was our guys just trying to make a play to get us out of the inning.”

Joe Letinski beats throw to 2nd from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Letinski beats throw to 3rd, Malta discusses call from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Guarino responded by striking out center fielder and leadoff hitter Ryan Ulrich, but fell behind Fraim 3-and-1 in the next at-bat. Fraim took the next pitch and fouled off Guarino’s first 3-and-2 offering before driving the final pitch of the at-bat into left-center field to plate Letinski and McLaughlin.

“I went to the plate knowing I was going to come through,” Fraim said. “In that situation, you just have to battle until you get a pitch to hit. I fouled off some of his better pitches until I got one I liked.”

Despite the weather delay, Groome returned to the mound to shut down the Jaguars in order in the bottom of the sixth. To that point, he had thrown only 56 pitches and McCoy gave him the option of continuing.

“His pitch count was good, so we kept an eye on him during the delay, and when I asked him if he wanted to go back out, there was no hesitation,” McCoy said of Groome. “This was his game today, and he wasn’t giving up the ball, and in that situation, I wasn’t going to take it from him.”

After the quick bottom of the sixth, Barnegat tacked on three more runs in the seventh, capped by an exclamation point from Kacso. After Ulrich gave the Bengals a 6-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to center and Fraim flew out to left for the second out, Kacso hammered a two-out, two-run home run over the left-field fence to put Barnegat ahead 8-0. The sophomore finished the game 2-for-4 with four RBI and two runs scored to lead the Bengals' offense.

Jared Kacso 2-run HR from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

Before its late-game outburst, Barnegat’s offense was as quiet as Jackson Memorial’s, as both Groome and Guarino cruised through the opposing lineup early in the game. Guarino walked Ulrich to lead off the game, then proceeded to retire the next 11 Bengals batters, including a double play ball to erase Ulrich.

The Jaguars left-hander, who entered Saturday with a 4-0 record, did not allow a hit until Ed Rogan’s double – which deflected off the glove of a diving Petrizzo in left – to lead off the fifth. Thanks to a baserunning mistake by Rogan on a ground ball to shortstop Brandon Janofsky and an inning-ending double play by Fraim, Guarino escaped the fifth having faced the minimum number of batters.

“Up until this last week our pitching has been pretty solid,” Malta said. “But our offense is just not very good right now, and it might be starting to wear on our guys a little bit because they know we’ve got to keep teams to a low number of runs because we’re just not scoring.”

Matt Guarino strikeout from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

The Bengals will now face a B South rival in the championship game, a rarity for a tournament dominated in recent years by the three Toms River public schools and Jackson Memorial. Central won both meetings between the teams, the first with three runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat Groome, 3-2, and the second this past Tuesday by a 10-4 score. Groome’s loss to the Golden Eagles on April 22 is his only loss this season.

“It shows how competitive B South is and that the teams in our (division) are as good as anybody,” Fraim said. “It’s definitely motivation to see another team from the division in the game, especially since Central beat us twice already this year.”

Tuesday’s pitching matchup will look more like the second meeting between the teams, when neither Groome nor Central ace and University of Alabama recruit Andrew DiPiazza started. DiPiazza, who pitched in the first meeting between the teams in April, threw a complete game Saturday in Central’s 5-2 win over Toms River North, so neither ace will be available to pitch for more than three innings.

Considering the care with which Central has handled DiPiazza – considered a strong possibility to selected in June’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft – and Groome’s age, it is unlikely either will make an appearance in Tuesday’s championship, although nothing is out of the realm of possibility in a championship game.

“I don’t see us using Jason, mainly because I have all the confidence in the world in our other pitchers,” McCoy said. “We have (junior) Seamus Brazil or Kacso we can go to and we know that whoever gets the ball, that guys going to give us a chance to win.

“We know we have a special pitcher in Jason, but we also feel like we have a very good team and if we’re going to win championships, we know it’s going to be as a team.”

Kacso doubles off Guarino to end the game from All Shore Media on Vimeo.

 

Box Score

Barnegat 8, Jackson Memorial 0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

R

H

E

Barnegat (12-7)

0

0

0

0

0

5

3

8

7

0

Jackson Memorial (13-6-1)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

1

 

Barnegat

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Ryan Ulrich, CF

2

0

0

1

1

1

Nik Fraim, C

4

1

1

2

0

0

Jared Kacso, 3B

4

2

2

4

0

0

Ed Rogan, 1B

4

0

2

0

0

0

Matt Owens, DH

3

0

1

1

0

1

-- Collin O'Conner, RF

0

0

0

0

0

0

Conner Hoeler, 2B

4

0

0

0

0

0

Joe Letinski, CF

2

1

0

0

1

1

Aaron McLaughlin, SS

1

2

0

0

1

0

Jason Groome, P

1

0

0

0

0

0

-- Justin Geduldick, CR

0

1

0

0

0

0

-- Marcus Nasce, PH

1

1

1

0

0

0

Totals

30

8

7

8

3

3

2B: Rogan, Fraim, Nasce
HR: Kacso (Off Takacs, 7th Inning, 1 on, 1 out)
SF: Ulrich
SAC: McLaughlin, Groome
GIDP: Fraim, Hoeler

Jackson Memorial

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Brandon Janofsky, SS

3

0

0

0

0

0

Joe DeMaio, CF

3

0

0

0

0

1

Nick Dabrio, DH

2

0

0

0

0

1

--Eric Beal, 1B

0

0

0

0

0

0

-- Ryan Takacs, P

0

0

0

0

0

0

-- John Carello, PH

1

0

0

0

0

0

Matt Guarino, P-1B

2

0

0

0

0

1

Mike Petrizzo, LF

2

0

1

0

0

1

-- Rich Rountree, LF

1

0

0

0

0

0

Kyle Johnson, 3B

1

0

1

0

0

0

Matt Crispe, RF

2

0

0

0

0

1

Mike Schmidt, 2B

2

0

0

0

0

1

Nick Babin, C

2

0

0

0

0

0

Totals

21

0

2

0

0

6

SAC: Johnson
LIDP: Rountree

Barnegat

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Jason Groome, W (4-1)

7.0

2

0

0

0

6

0

 

Jackson Memorial

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Matt Guarino, L (4-1)

5.1

4

5

5

2

3

0

Ryan Takacs

1.2

3

3

3

1

0

1

HBP: Owens (by Takacs), Guarino (by Groome)
Pitches-Strikes: Groome 84-55, Guarino 89-51, Takacs 48-24
Groundouts-Flyouts: Groome 9-3, Guarino 9-2, Takacs 2-3