Baseball – Jackson Little League Slugs Its Way Past Clark, Wins Section 3 Title
MANCHESTER - Twenty-four hours after learning that it could, in fact, be beaten, the Jackson Little League team put on a hitting display that served as a reminder of how dominant they have been to catapult into the state finals.
Jackson cracked four home runs - including two by third baseman Matt Potok - and used a nine-run fourth inning to bury Clark, 14-4, in four innings to advance to next week's Joe Graziano Little League State Finals, which begin Thursday in Hammonton.
First baseman Jake Wendell belted a go-ahead three-run home run to center field in the bottom of the third inning to give Jackson a 4-2 lead and starting pitcher Sean Slusak launched a grand slam in the nine-run fourth to open up a 9-4 Jackson lead.
Wendell's blast cleared the collection of spectators stationed behind the center field fence, while Slusak crushed a first-pitch fastball off a tree in left-center, with the ball bounding back onto the field.
Three batters after Slusak's homer, Potok went deep for the second time, lofting a shot over the center field fence to give Jackson an 11-4 advantage.
"We were all looking to make contact," Potok said. "We knew (Clark) was going to come back and fight so we knew we had to keep putting up runs and not give them too much of a chance."
Clark defeated Jackson 10-7 Thursday to force a winner-take-all game on Friday night. Prior to Thursday's loss, Jackson had not lost during its postseason run and did not even trail during its 10-0 start. The first lead any team had on Jackson was the 7-0 cushion Clark built in the first inning and Jackson still managed to bring the tying run to the plate in the sixth inning.
"It was really tough (to lose) and we were kind of scared, but we knew we could come back," Potok said.
Center fielder and leadoff hitter Ryan Lasko ended the game with a two-out, bases-clearing double to the gap in right-center field. Catcher Zack Rogacki scored the game-ending run from first on the play, scampering home from third after the throw from the outfield got away from Clark second baseman Matt Sot.
"It's a good feeling," Lasko said of his game-ending hit. "If people don't know how it feels (under the dogpile), it's a good feeling. It's a lot of weight on you but it doesn't feel like a lot of weight when you know you won the game."
Rogacki came on as a pinch-hitter after Caden Brooks led off the fourth with a single and ripped a double to the left-field fence - the first of two times he would reach base in the inning. He drew a two-out walk to load the bases in front of Lasko before the Jackson leadoff hitter ended the game with his double.
Three first-inning walks cost Slusak a run in the top of the first inning and the run he allowed in the third and two he allowed in the fourth were all unearned. He finished with six strikeouts, four walks and allowed four hits - all while improving to 4-0 during tournament play.
"They are a tough lineup," Slusak said. "Even when I hit my spots, they were able to hit the ball hard a few times. Watching them (Thursday), it looked like they liked to hit low pitches, so I tried to keep it away from where they wanted it, but the most important thing was to just throw strikes and give us a chance to win the game.
"We have one of the best lineups in New Jersey so we just put the ball in play and good things usually happen."
Potok hammered a solo home run high into one of the trees beyond the right-field fence to tie the game at one in the bottom of the second inning.
Potok finished 3-for-3 with two home runs, a double and three RBI. Slusak was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and four RBI, while Lasko was 3-for-4 with a double, a run scored and two RBI.
Jackson finished off its run through Section 3 having outscored its opponents 215-25 in 12 games.