BARNEGAT – Barnegat senior-right-hander Seamus Brazil was part of the most imposing pitching staff on the most accomplished team in the short history of the Barnegat baseball program as a junior last season, and the only downside was when the postseason came around, it was hard for him to even find innings, much less starts.

Saturday against Brick Memorial in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals, Brazil got his chance to go wire to wire, and the 6-foot-9 Hofstra recruit went above and beyond.

Brazil threw an eight-inning, six-hit shutout with a career-high 12 strikeouts and his catcher, Nik Fraim, delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly to center field in the bottom of the eighth inning as Barnegat walked off with a 1-0 win over the Mustangs in extra innings.

Seamus Brazil threw a six-hit shutout to pitch Barnegat into its second Ocean County Tournament final in as may years. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“That’s the best game I’ve seen Seamus pitch,” Barnegat coach Dan McCoy said. “We have a saying we use a lot around here: ‘It’s time to put your big-boy pants on.’ Seamus was wearing his big-boy pants today. He didn’t miss many spots, and he made some huge pitches in tough spots. That was mature, focused Seamus out there today, and he was pretty good.”

The eighth-seeded Bengals will march into to their second straight Ocean County Tournament championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Toms River East, when they take on No. 2 seed Jackson Memorial.

“It means a lot to us to be going back after (losing to Central in the final) last year,” Brazil said. “We’re confident this year. We’re not going to let anything that happened last year affect us, and we’re expecting to play our best game.”

No Barnegat baserunner made it as far as second base over the first seven innings against Brick Memorial senior right-hander Ian Ambrose, who pitched a complete-game four-hitter in defeat. The Bengals finally manufactured their first opportunity in the bottom of the eighth inning, beginning with a leadoff single through the middle by senior designated hitter John Corbett on an 0-2 offering from Ambrose.

Sophomore left fielder Anthony Lani followed with a sacrifice bunt right in front of home plate to push Corbett to second base, and sophomore second baseman Justin Diefenbach worked a six-pitch walk to bring leadoff hitter and sophomore shortstop Aaron McLaughlin to the plate.

“I probably should have bunted back in the fourth inning,” McCoy said, referring to the only other inning Barnegat had its leadoff hitter reach base. “Fraim has been swinging a good bat so I let him hit in the fourth, but late in the game, we were just trying to get a guy on and with the bottom of our order up, we knew we were going to try to move him over and give our guys at the top a chance to win it.”

McLaughlin jumped on the first pitch he saw from Ambrose and hit a hard ground ball that skipped into left field. Brick Memorial senior left fielder Nick Matteo covered up the hit quickly enough to prevent Corbett from scoring, but Barnegat had its first runner on third base and its senior catcher coming to bat.

“I was just looking to make contact, preferably get a ball in the air somewhere that was deep enough to get the run in,” Fraim said. “(Ambrose) was throwing his curveball out of the zone most of the game trying to get swings and misses, so I just focused on laying off that and looking for a fastball. I fouled the first two off, but he came with one and I was able to get enough of the barrel on it.”

Fraim, who hit an eighth-inning walk-off home run to beat Donovan Catholic earlier in the year, fell behind 1-2 by fouling off the first two strikes he saw, but still hit a fly ball to center field on a 1-2 fastball from Ambrose. Mustangs center fielder Corey Cathey caught the ball in medium center fielder and Corbett sprinted home from third without a play at the plate as the Bengals dugout cleared out to mob Fraim near first base.

“We’ve played in four championship games and we just won our first one,” Fraim said, referencing the Class B South division-clinching win over Jackson Liberty on Thursday. “We know what it’s like in these winner-take-all kind of games, and we’re starting to figure out what it takes to win them.”

While Barnegat cashed in on its first chance after going quietly in the first seven innings, Brick Memorial threatened against Brazil in each of the last three innings and stranded at least one runner in scoring position in five of the eight innings.

Cathey led off the top of the sixth inning with a single and scampered to third when Brazil threw a pick-off attempt past first baseman Ed Rogan and up the right-field line. Brick Memorial had three chances to drive in the first run of the game with its No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup, but Brazil struck out Cathey’s twin brother Matt, induced a shallow fly out to right by shortstop Matt Cuppari, and punched out Matteo with a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner to end the threat.

“I put myself in a tough situation with the pickoff throw up the line,” Brazil said. “I thought I had an opportunity to get an out there, but I just had to put it behind me and focus on making my pitches.”

Brick Memorial mounted a similar challenge the following inning, with designated hitter Tim Santiago hammering a double to the wall in right-center field with one out and moving to third on a shallow single to center field by first baseman Steve Schocket. Santiago took a pause to make sure that neither McLaughlin nor center fielder Max Ritner would catch the ball and had to hold up at third base with one out.

Pinch-runner Antonio Laborte stole second base without a throw to give the Mustangs two runners in scoring position with one out, and junior catcher Justin Bates hit a ground ball toward the middle of the diamond against a drawn-in Barnegat infield. McLaughlin, however, made a sliding stop to his left, popped up quickly to check Santiago at third and fired to first base for the second out of the inning.

“Whenever we have one of our in-game huddles, it’s not usually me that’s doing the talking. It’s usually Aaron McLaughlin,” McCoy said of his sophomore shortstop, a Rutgers University commit who was 2-for-4 at the plate on Saturday. “That’s a sophomore who is a vocal leader and who wants the ball hit to him in those pressure situations and wants to hit when we need a run."

Brazil answered his shortstop’s dazzling play by striking out pinch-hitter Dylan Evans with a 1-2 fastball to squash the second Brick Memorial threat in as many innings.

The Bengals defense committed two errors in the game that nearly cost them a run, the second by McLaughlin in the top of the eighth inning with two out that Brazil worked around by inducing an inning ending pop-up to strand another runner on second base. Barnegat’s defense also came up with two key plays, the second of which was McLaughlin’s play up the middle and the first was a relay from Lani to McLaughlin to third baseman Jared Kacso that cut down Brick Memorial right fielder James Donlon trying to stretch a double into a triple with one out in the top of the second inning.

Although the defense helped him out when challenged, Brazil rarely allowed Brick Memorial to put the Bengals fielders to the test. His first seven innings all ended with a strikeout, with six of those strikeouts ending with a fastball from the right-hander.

“I didn’t think my velocity was that great early, so I was just working on locating,” Brazil said. “I was able to establish the inside corner, which was a big part of my game and they weren’t really able to get the barrel to the ball. I threw a lot of curveballs today to keep them off balance and when I had to reach back for a little extra, I felt like it was there.”

Brazil was one of Class B South’s top pitchers as both a sophomore and junior, posting a 4-3 record with a 1.91 earned run average as a junior for the 20-10 Bengals in 2014. However, during Barnegat’s runs to the championship game in both the Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournaments, the Bengals turned to then-sophomore Jason Groome and Corbett to make all of their starts, with the exception of a pair of games started by Kacso.

Part of that was due to McCoy saving Brazil for an extra day to pitch in a key Class B South game, but the fact remained that prior to Saturday, Brazil had not taken the ball in a game with as much meaning as the one against Brick Memorial. Groome’s departure to IMG Academy in Florida meant Brazil would get his chance in games like the one Barnegat played on Saturday and the senior delivered the best results possible.

“We have a very deep pitching staff and it’s one of the better pitching staffs around,” Brazil said. “Groome left and that’s given opportunities for younger guys to step up and for me to step into a more prominent role. I was looking forward to the challenge this season regardless of who was on the team, and I think we’re just starting to reach our potential as a pitching staff.”

Corbett – who finished 2-for-3 Saturday and combined with McLaughlin for all four of Barnegat’s hits off Ambrose – will get the call on the mound in the championship against Jackson Memorial. Corbett won three games in last year’s Shore Conference Tournament and pitched a four-hitter in a 2-0 loss to Christian Brothers Academy in the championship game. More recently, he went the distance in an 8-5 win over Jackson Liberty on Friday to help Barnegat clinch its first outright division title.

“We have two guys we consider to be big-game, No. 1 type pitchers, which is why we feel like we can still do some damage this year,” said McCoy, whose team was the runner up in the OCT, Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA South Jersey Group II Tournament last year. “Guys are a year older and a year further on the developmental curve. I find I don’t have to get them fired up this year. They have taken it upon themselves and they know what it takes to win these games. They just have to go do it.”

 

Box Score

Barnegat 1, Brick Memorial 0 (8 Innings)

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

R

H

E

Brick Memorial (11-12)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

1

Barnegat (14-6)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

4

2

 

Brick Memorial

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Corey Cathey, CF

4

0

1

0

0

2

Matt Cathey, 2B

4

0

0

0

0

2

Matt Cuppari, SS

3

0

1

0

1

0

Nick Matteo, LF

4

0

0

0

0

2

James Donlon, RF

3

0

2

0

0

0

Tim Santiago, DH

3

0

1

0

0

2

Steve Schocket, 1B

3

0

1

0

0

1

--Antonio Laborte, PR

0

0

0

0

0

0

Justin Bates, C

3

0

0

0

0

0

Teddy Gonzalez, 3B

2

0

0

0

0

2

--Dylan Evans, PH

1

0

0

0

0

1

Totals

30

0

6

0

1

12

2B: Donlon, Santiago
SB: Cuppari 2, Donlon, Laborte

 

Barnegat

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

SO

Aaron McLaughlin, SS

4

0

2

0

0

0

Nik Fraim, C

3

0

0

1

0

1

Jared Kacso, 3B

3

0

0

0

0

0

Ed Rogan, 1B

3

0

0

0

0

0

Max Ritner, CF

2

0

0

0

1

0

Seamus Brazill, P

3

0

0

0

0

1

John Corbett, DH

3

1

2

0

0

1

--Eric Becker, RF

0

0

0

0

0

0

Anthony Lani, LF

2

0

0

0

0

1

Justin Diefenbach, 2B

2

0

0

0

1

1

Totals

25

1

4

1

2

5

SF: Fraim
SAC: Lani
Outfield Assist: Lani
CS: Ritner

 

Brick Memorial

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Ian Ambrose (L, 3-2)

7.2

4

1

1

2

5

0

 

Barnegat

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

Seamus Brazill (W, 4-2)

8

6

0

0

1

12

0

 

Pitches-Strikes: Ambrose 102-64, Brazill 101-73
Groundouts-Flyouts: Ambrose 6-7, Brazill 4-3