Considering how carefully opponents have pitched him and how much power he has hit for, Toms River North senior Joey Rose has been arguably the hottest hitter in N.J. this season. On Saturday on his home field, Rose will face a heat check the equivalent of a red-hot three-point shooter pulling up from half court.

Rose has caught the eye of scouts and observers alike this season with his gaudy numbers and will put his season to the test Saturday against arguably the top pitcher in the country. Rose and his Mariners team host Barnegat and left-handed ace Jason Groome in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals at 2 p.m. at Ryan Field.

Heading into the play Saturday, Rose is hitting .425 with seven home runs and 26 RBI and those figures all more impressive considering how often pitchers have elected to pass on giving Rose anything to hit. He has walked 14 times and been hit eight more, which contributes to his .629 on-base percentage. His slugging percentage is also a robust 1.075 thanks to the home run power, as well as his four doubles. Those 11 extra-base hits account for the comfortable majority of his 17 total hits.

Joey Rose celebrates his first inning two-run home run vs. Jackson Liberty. (Photo by Eric Braun)

Rose has had two two-home run games and two more of his homers have come in clutch spots. He hit a walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Toms River North a 12-10 win over Jackson Memorial on April 25 and also belted a first-inning homer in Monday’s OCT quarterfinal win over Jackson Liberty.

While Rose has been a standout among hitters at the Shore and around the state he is not the only Toms River North hitter having a huge season. Junior shortstop Mike Nyisztor and junior outfielder Austin Feigin are also enjoying breakout seasons at the plate for the Mariners, with Nyisztor hitting .529 to go with a homer and five doubles while Feigin is hitting .419 with three doubles and a pair of home runs.

With Nyisztor, Feigin and Rose hitting at the top of the lineup, Toms River North is scoring an average of 8.47 runs per game – third best among Shore Conference teams and tops among teams outside of the small-school Class B Central – while hitting .370 a club with a .515 team-wide slugging percentage.

While Saturday marks the toughest challenge yet for Toms River North’s powerful lineup, it also marks the toughest challenge of the season for Groome. After a 19-day absence due to the NJSIAA’s ineligibility ruling, Groome returned to action Saturday against Pinelands and fired a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts to lift Barnegat to a 2-0 win over the Wildcats.

Barnegat is seeking to earn its third straight trip to the Ocean County Tournament final and the Bengals got to Saturday’s game by winning without Groome. Senior Jared Kacso pitched a complete game Monday as the Bengals handed Point Pleasant Boro its first official loss, 4-3.

Barnegat ace Jason Groome. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)

Although his first two starts of the season technically don’t count since he was not legally eligible, Groome has delivered up to expectations each of the three times he has taken the mound. He struck out 10 while allowing one hit against a one-loss Point Boro team and struck out 19 of the 21 batters he faced in a no-hitter against Central Regional before being deemed ineligible by the state. So far, his fastball has settled in between 90 and 94 miles-per hour and topped out at 96 in the no-hitter.

Saturday also marks the beginning of the month-long push to the MLB Draft, during which Groome can increase his profile. He entered the season as the consensus No. 1 pick, but his recent hiatus and other factors like signing bonus demands, age and comparative velocity (fellow high school senior Riley Pint has consistently thrown his fastball between 96 and 100 miles-per-hour this season while University of Florida junior A.J. Puk has been up to 98 this spring) have been cited by experts as reasons that Groome has gone from surefire No. 1 pick to more of a No. 1 longshot that is still likely to be a top 10 pick.

Groome can certainly begin reassert himself as the top player in the field over the next four weeks, but Rose is the player with a chance to open eyes Saturday. He has already put himself on the radar of Major League scouts this spring and three trips to the plate against one of the top pitchers in this year’s draft could leave a lasting impression and also help his team reach the Ocean County Tournament final.