OAKHURST - This Friday will mark the two-week anniversary of the day that two of the senior leaders on the Ocean Township High School baseball team experienced the "quietest bus ride they had ever taken" thanks to a second straight loss in which the Spartans squandered a big lead late in the game.

If all goes as planned, the Spartans will commemorate that anniversary with a raucous party nearly a decade in the making.

Ocean took full advantage of three errors Tuesday by Brick and senior Jake Talarico pitched six strong innings to pace the Spartans - the No. 4 seed in the Central Jersey Group III bracket - to a 6-0 win over the No. 8 Green Dragons that earned them the program's first trip to a sectional final since winning a second consecutive Central Group III title in 2007.

Eleven days prior to celebrating a trip to the semifinals Tuesday, the Spartans lamented a Shore Conference Tournament loss to Point Pleasant Borough in which the host Panthers overcame an 8-4 deficit heading into the seventh and beat the Spartans 10-9 in nine innings. Earlier in the week, St. Rose scored six in the seventh to send the game to extra innings and beat Ocean 10-8 in extra innings.

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Ocean senior Jake Talarico pitched six innings and improved to 7-0. (Photo by Sport Shots WLB)

"Quietest bus ride I've ever been on," Talarico said of the ride back from Point Boro. "You didn't hear a single sound. Nobody said a word. That was a heartbreaking loss and it was right after St. Rose, but this team has shown all year we come back late in games, we can stay strong late in games, we can win a game in the seventh inning, so we put that loss behind us. Flush it - it's a new tournament."

"Maybe that was the best thing that's happened to us, that Point Boro game," Ocean coach Cip Apicelli said. "They've been very resilient ever since."

Three days later, Ocean went six innings without scoring against Class B North rival Neptune in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III playoffs before coming to life in the seventh and winning in walkoff fashion in its final at-bat, 3-2. The Spartans then coughed up an early 4-0 lead against No. 12 Allentown on Thursday before winning on another walkoff hit in the 11th inning.

"We didn't see those games as games that brought us down," said senior shortstop Brian Kochenash, who was 2-for-4 with two triples Tuesday, the first of which was his 50th hit of the season. "We really used them as momentum: getting to extra innings and fighting and fighting and eventually pulling it out. We used it as momentum for this game and it worked."

The two dramatic wins propelled Ocean to Tuesday's semifinals and the Spartans jumped on Brick early and put the Dragons away late. Ocean scored two unearned runs each in the second and third innings and junior left fielder Kenny Pickett and Kochenash each added an RBI extra-base hit for insurance.

After squandering a one-out triple by Kochenash in the first, the Spartans struck in the bottom of the second when the turn throw on a potential inning-ending double play pulled Dragons first baseman Mike Soldo off the base and allowed the first run to cross the plate with senior Tyler Rossback picking up the RBI fielder's choice.

Sophomore Jack D'Auria followed with a single to center field to stretch Ocean's early lead to 2-0. Freshman catcher Max Winters and junior third baseman Alec Keezer each singled to help spark the rally and senior designated hitter Anthony Tedesco reached on an error in between the two hits.

Talarico and Winters each singled in the third and fielder's choice ground out to second base by Pickett set Ocean up with runners at the corners and two out. Tedesco hit a shallow fly ball to right field and the ball popped out of the glove of Nic Chirichello, allowing Talarico to trot in and Pickett to storm around the bases and score from first.

After a single by senior first baseman Brian Olesen in the fifth, Pickett blasted a long fly ball to the left-center gap that scored Olesen from first to make the score 5-0. Pickett was tagged out looking to advance to third on the relay home.

Kochenash capped the scoring in the sixth by roping a triple off the right-field fence and scoring Rossback - who reached on an error - from first to give Ocean a fifth unearned run.

"He's got 51 hits and they're not cheap," Apicelli said of Kochenash, whose 51 hits this season are a new single-season school record. "He's the guy and (the team) follows him."

"(The record) is a really cool accomplishment, but it's secondary to what we're doing now," Kochenash said. "It's been a good season. I can't wait to see how it finishes."

Talarico pitched through relatively uneventful innings in the first, second and third before laboring through both the fourth and fifth innings. Junior A.J. Serrino singled to start Brick's fourth and senior catcher Trevor Rowe followed with a walk. After a fly out to center, Winters helped out his batterymate by throwing behind the runner at first and picking him off for the second out.

Talarico issued another walk to Brick shortstop Matt Stadelberger and got out of the inning with a fielder's choice ground out to Keezer at third.

"I didn't have great strikeout stuff today," Talarico said. "I lost my command late in the game, but we made a lot of good plays. A lot of balls that could have been infield hits or errors, some good plays in the outfield, we made pretty much all of them."

Ocean first baseman Brian Olesen applies the tag on Brick's Cole Groeschel. (Photo by Sport Shots WLB)

Chirichello and junior center fielder John Prato reached on a walk and hit by pitch, respectively, with one out and Talarico worked out of trouble by coaxing a fly out to center and a fielder's choice ground out to third.

After Pat McAlinden walked and Chirichello singled to start the sixth, Talarico handed the ball off to Keezer, who retired three straight to nail down the win.

Ocean will look to capture its first sectional title in nine years Friday when it hosts No. 6 Nottingham, which beat Wall on Tuesday thanks to a one-hitter by Nick Houghton.

"It's indescribable," Kochenash said. "I've never been this far before, and I don't think any of the guys have. Hopefully we get the win."

"With every game, we start believe more and we start seeing and thinking, 'Wow, it's not that far away,'" Talarico said. "It's only one more game away now and that's good."

 

Box Score

(4) Ocean 6, (8) Brick 0

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Brick (16-11) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 3
Ocean (22-8) 0 2 2 0 1 1 X 6 8 1

Pitching

Brick IP H R ER BB SO
Tito Morales (L, 5-3)  3 5 4 0 0 2
Nic Chirichello 3  3 2 1 1 3
Ocean IP H R ER BB SO
Jake Talarico (W, 7-0) 6 4 0 0 4 3
Alec Keezer 1 0 0 0 0 1

Top Hitters

Brick Game Stats
Matt Stadelberger 1-2, BB
Nic Chirichello 1-2, BB
Jake Scott 1-3
A.J. Serrino 1-4
Ocean Game Stats
Brian Kochenash 2-4, 2 3B, RBI
Kenny Pickett 1-3, 2B, R, RBI
Jack D’Auria 1-3, BB, RBI
Max Winters 2-3
Brian Olesen 1-3, R
Jake Talarico 1-4, R