Baseball – No. 7 Jackson Memorial Shows Up in Big Game, Storms Past No. 4 TR North
TOMS RIVER - Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta has tried to impress upon his mostly-young team that every Shore Conference Class A South game is important and the only thing that changes from game-to-game is the "jersey you're playing against and the day of the week."
The message Malta sent through the way he used his pitching staff Thursday against Toms River North - the first place team in Class A South and the No. 4 team in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - told a different story: this game was a little bit bigger than the ones before it.
Malta went to his two top senior starting pitchers in relief and handed the ball to his shutout senior closer, Mike Dimino, to record the final six outs and the No. 7 Jaguars scored six times in the top of the seventh inning to beat the Mariners, 10-4.
The win pulls Jackson Memorial into a first-place tie with Toms River North with only two games left for each team to separate themselves. Toms River North plays at Toms River East and Brick to wrap up divisional play, while Jackson Memorial will host Brick Memorial before wrapping up the A South schedule with a trip to Toms River East.
"The goal is always to win championships and the one in front of us is the A South (championship)," Malta said. "We're playing the first place team and there aren't a whole lot of division games left so this game was our sole focus, just like every game we've played has been our sole focus."
None of the four Jackson Memorial pitchers Thursday - which included sophomore Joe Princiotta, senior Matt D'Amore, senior Nick Sefick and Dimino - threw more than 49 pitches, which means all four will be eligible to pitch on Saturday when the Jaguars play Brick in their Ocean County Tournament opener.
D'Amore was Jackson Memorial's top starter a year ago and Sefick has been, arguably, its best this season.
"We weren't necessarily planning on using all of those guys, but it was a throw day for (D'Amore and Sefick). Our hope was to get four out of (Princiotta) and hand the ball to Dimino, but the game doesn't always let you stick to your plan."
Toms River North scored in each of its first two offensive innings against Princiotta, who did manage to record three strikeouts in four outs. D'Amore came on and settled things down for the Jaguars by tossing 2 2/3 scoreless innings and Sefick picked up D'Amore by pitching out of trouble in the fifth after D'Amore passed him the ball with a runner on and none out.
Dimino was not able to do the same for Sefick after the right-hander allowed a single and a walk to start the bottom of the sixth with his team nursing a 4-2 lead, although an error allowed the first run of the inning to score before a Craig Larsen sacrifice fly tied the game at 4-4.
"I don't want to say I was glad to see them tie it up, but I was excited to see how our team responded to giving up the lead," Malta said. "You're going to run into situations during the course of the season where you think you have a game in hand and a good team punches back. I was really happy with the way our kids responded to that."
In the seventh, the Jaguars responded by hanging a six-spot on Toms River North starter Brendan Mullins, who recorded 20 of the 21 outs for the Mariners on Thursday. Mullins missed on a close 3-2 pitch to sophomore Carmine Petosa with one out and the bases loaded to force in the tie-breaking run and displayed his displeasure with the call.
Another run came home on a ground out to shortstop by sophomore catcher Andrew Sefick and Dimino delivered at the dish by dunking a two-run single into right field in front of a diving Jon Giordano to make the score 8-4.
After an error extended the inning, sophomore second baseman Christian Pellone capped the big inning with a two-run double that one-hopped the fence in left, Jackson Memorial's only extra-base hit in 11 hits against Mullins on Thursday.
Jackson Memorial twice responded to runs by Toms River North in the first and second innings by scoring in both the top of the second and top of the third. Dimino singled home the first Jackson run in the second and senior Tom Pellone punched an RBI single to right with two out in the third to tie the game at 2-2.
The Jaguars continued their clutch hitting in the fourth with RBI singles to center field by both senior Mike Koslowski and sophomore Ryan Lasko.
Seven of Jackson Memorial's starters drove in at least one run and the only two that did not were junior outfielder and Elon University commit Alex Iadisernia and junior cleanup hitter Troy Bathmann. The bottom three hitters in the starting lineup - Dimino, Koslowski and Christian Pellone - were a combined 5-for-9 with five runs scored and six RBI.
Christian Pellone continues to be the hidden jewel of the Jackson Memorial lineup out of the No. 9 spot with the team lead in batting average (.429), on-base percentage (.510) and slugging percentage (.595).
Once the lead ballooned to six, Dimino reverted back to closer mode, which has suited him well during his senior season. The Monmouth University commit began to embrace the role last season and has taken it to the next level by allowing one run on only eight baserunners (five hits, two walks, one hit batter) over 14 innings while striking out 16. He is 3-for-3 in save opportunities and Tuesday was his first win of the season.
On top of reprising his role as closer, Dimino won the starting shortstop job during camp and has been a captain on the infield when he is not shutting down opposing hitters at the end of the game.
"At the end of last year, we really started to get an idea of what the roles were going to be for this year and one of them was Mike Dimino at the end of the game out of the bullpen," Malta said. "He has been one of our leaders and you could see today, he wasn't phased. He had the error behind him, they tied the game and he just kept battling, came up with a hit in the seventh and shut it down."
Toms River North scored on a double by Justin Schaff in the bottom of the first inning, but had a chance to do far more damage. Craig Larsen led the game off with a triple but was picked off at third base by Sefick. After than, Toms River North loaded the bases with one out, but could not add to the 1-0 lead.
Larsen then came through with an RBI double to make it 2-1 with one out in the second inning but he was stranded at second base.
Jackson Memorial swept the regular-season series against Toms River North, but the Mariners could find themselves with another chance to beat the Jaguars if the Ocean County Tournament seeds hold true to form. Toms River North is the No. 2 seed and Jackson Memorial the No. 3, which means the two could potentially meet in the tournament semifinals on May 12.
"We're still learning about this group because most of them have never been in this situation," Malta said. "Being around them every day, I see the makings of a team like the ones we had back in 2011 and 2012 when we were pretty good and we're starting to see it translate to the games, but it's easy to forget they are still learning, still maturing and still improving. This was a fun game and it was good to see the guys respond to a challenge from a good team."
No. 7 Jackson Memorial 10, No. 4 Toms River North 4
|Jackson Mem (13-4, 9-3)||0||1||1||2||0||0||6||10||11||2|
|TR North (10-5, 9-3)||1||1||0||0||0||2||0||4||6||3|
|Mike Dimino (W, 1-0)||2||0||0||0||0||2||23|
|Brendan Mullins (L, 1-1)||6.2||11||10||8||4||4||101|
|Tom Pellone||2-3, R, RBI, SB|
|Mike Dimino||2-2, 2 R, 3 RBI|
|Christian Pellone||2-3, 2B, R, 2 RBI, SB|
|Mike Koslowski||1-4, 2 R, RBI|
|Craig Larsen||2-3, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI|
|Justin Schaff||1-4, 2B, 2 RBI|
|Robert Jeans||1-3, 2B, R|
|Brendan Mullins||1-3, R|