Shore Conference Tournament Championship

Monday, June 4

At FirstEnergy Park, Lakewood, 7 p.m.

No. 8 Toms River North vs. No. 11 Central

 

No. 8 Toms River North (21-8, 11-3 in Class A South)

Head Coach: Andy Pagano, fifth season

Past Shore Conference Championships: 3

Road to the Final: Defeated No. 25 Manchester 10-0; No. 24 Point Beach 16-0; No. 16 Point Boro 7-6; No. 13 Monmouth 6-0.

 

Probable Starting Pitcher

Jared Bellissimo, LHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
6-1 52 38 11 62 1.61

 

Top Relief Options

Brendan Mullins, RHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
3-3 46.2 40 11 36 1.20

 

Craig Larsen, RHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
3-0 22.2 19 10 26 3.09

 

 

Possible Lineup (Based on recent games)

Position Player Avg H 2B 3B HR R RBI
SS Craig Larsen .495 48 13 3 7 32 40
CF Alex Klalo .280 26 5 0 0 32 10
P Jared Bellissimo .398 37 7 1 5 18 33
C Justin Schaff .367 36 9 0 1 10 25
1B Brendan Mullins .333 21 4 0 0 18 10
DH Sam Angelo .388 19 6 1 1 16 15
RF Jon Giordano .295 23 3 0 4 12 15
LF Robert Jeans .352 19 3 0 0 15 6
2B Dylan Feigin .154 8 1 0 0 17 4

 

 

No. 11 Central (18-8, 9-5 in Class A South)

Head Coach: Mike Casale, third season

Past Shore Conference Championships: 1

Road to the Final: Defeated No. 22 Rumson-Fair Haven 1-0; No. 27 Keansburg 4-0; No. 14 Toms River East 3-2; No. 2 Wall 1-0

 

Probable Starting Pitcher

A.J. Smith, RHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
8-4 63.1 55 21 35 2.76

 

 

Top Relief Options

Tyler Aires, LHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
2-0 19.2 9 13 26 0.36

 

Ryan Galati, RHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
4-2 38.2 47 14 29 4.34

 

Colin Stacy, RHP

W-L Innings Hits Walks Strikeouts ERA
2-1 31.1 26 13 14 2.23

 

 

Possible Lineup (Based on recent games)

Position Player Avg H 2B 3B HR R RBI
2B Ryan Galati .322 28 3 0 0 16 15
SS Colin Stacy .261 24 4 0 0 13 11
C Tom Ruscitti .402 33 8 0 10 21 32
3B Vance Pelino .325 27 5 0 2 12 20
RF Tyler Aires .282 22 5 1 2 10 12
1B Mike Masino .274 20 1 0 0 15 8
CF Shane Black .258 25 2 0 0 17 2
DH Daniel Greene .000 0 0 0 0 1 0
LF Nick Altieri .188 13 3 0 0 4 0

 

Head-to-Head

April 3 at Central: Central defeated Toms River North, 8-4

Colin Stacy earned the win with 5 2/3 innings of two-hit relief and also went 2-for-4 at the plate to lead Central past the Mariners for its third straight win to open the year. Vance Pelico was 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI, Shane Black was 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored and freshman Mike Masino was 1-for-4 with a pair of RBI. Jon Giordano took the loss for Toms River North and led the offense by going 2-for-4 with a double and a solo home run. Craig Larsen also drove in a pair of runs in the loss.

 

April 23 at Toms River North: Toms River North defeated Central, 3-0

Brendan Mullins pitched a two-hit shutout with one walk and seven strikeouts to help Toms River North avenge its early-season loss to the Golden Eagles. Mullins also went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored and sophomore Robert Jeans was also 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Craig Larsen doubled and drove in a run as well. Ryan Galati suffered the loss with five innings of work and Tom Ruscitti accounted for one of the two hits off Mullins by ripping a double.

Toms River North senior Jared Bellissimo. (Photo by Matt Manley)

More on the Teams

Toms River North is seeking its second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship and third since 2013. The Mariners are led by a senior core that includes Craig Larsen, Jared Bellissimo, Brendan Mullins, Justin Schaff and Alex Klalo – all of whom have been varsity contributors over the past three seasons and starters for the past two.

Larsen and Bellissimo have established themselves as two of the best all-around players in the Shore Conference over the past two seasons and Mullins has been among the Shore’s top pitchers since his sophomore season. Schaff, meanwhile, is one of the Mariners’ vocal leaders and as a two-year starter at catcher, he has handled one of the most accomplished pitching staffs in the conference.

Bellissimo and Mullins split Wednesday’s 6-0 win over Monmouth Regional on the mound, in part because Bellissimo was limited to 70 pitches. He will not be limited on Monday night, but Mullins’s success this season – particularly in his April 23 start against Central – makes him a possibility to appear and perhaps even to start. Larsen has pitched in relief since his last start on May 1 and has not allowed a run in three appearances as a closer.

Larsen enters Monday as the Shore Conference leader in RBI with 40 despite spending the entire season in the leadoff spot for Toms River North. Both he and Bellissimo have a two-home run game this season, with Larsen doing it twice. He homered twice and drove in eight in a win over Brick Memorial and hit two homers in a win over Brick that clinched the Class A South co-title. Bellissimo homered twice, tripled and drove in seven in a win over Southern.

Toms River North senior Craig Larsen. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The bottom four hitters in the Toms River North lineup are juniors and sophomores. Juniors Sam Angelo and Jon Giordano have had solid seasons and some big hits at the plate, with Giordano hitting a home run in the first game vs. Central. Sophomore Robert Jeans has emerged as the starter in left field, while junior Dylan Feigin and sophomore Nick DeRose have split time in the batting lineup while playing second base and third base, respectively.

Central, meanwhile, is even more reliant on its seniors than is Toms River North. The Golden Eagles will likely have seven seniors among the 10 starters on Monday night, with right-hander A.J. Smith chief among them. Smith is 13-4 over the past two seasons with a 2.11 ERA and is coming off the defining start of his career. On Wednesday night against Wall in the SCT semifinals, Smith pitched a nine-inning, four-hit shutout on 110 pitches to lead Central to a 1-0 win over the No. 2 seed in the tournament and the No. 1 team in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10.

Over the last two seasons, Smith has pitched just one inning of relief against Toms River North and it was a scoreless frame in a 4-1 loss to the Mariners on opening day of 2017.

Central has a number of senior options with whom to back up Smith on the mound. Senior Tyler Aires will likely be the first choice as long as his left shoulder is feeling up to the task. The southpaw has been dominant when he has pitched this season, but has battled some shoulder discomfort over the past two seasons that flared up as recently as Central’s first-round SCT win over Rumson on May 23.

Ryan Galati and Colin Stacy have also come up big for Central over the course of the season, with Stacy beating Toms River North back on April 3 and also throwing an inning in the 3-0 loss on April 23 after Galati threw the first five.

Central senior Tom Ruscitti leads the Shore Conference with 10 home runs, which is also a Central single-season record. (Photo by Matt Manley)

While Smith was the star of Central’s semifinal win over Wall, senior catcher Tom Ruscitti has been the star of Central’s season. After a down season as a junior in which he did not hit a home run, Ruscitti leads the Shore as a senior with 10 longballs to go with 32 RBI. He homered in each of Central’s NJSIAA Tournament games but has been quiet in SCT games (3-for-13 with no extra-base hits).

Aires was the offensive hero in Wednesday’s win over Wall, connecting on a solo home run in the ninth inning to account for the game’s only run. After hitting .229 in Central’s first 14 games, Aires – a Shore Sports Network All-Shore outfielder as a junior – is hitting .367/.500/.667 over his last 11.

Monday’s championship game pits the most recent Shore Conference Tournament champion against the very first Shore Conference Tournament champion. Central won the inaugural SCT in 1980 and will be playing in the championship game for the first time since then on Monday night.

Toms River North, meanwhile, could very well be the first team in SCT history to win the tournament without having to beat a team seeded in the top 10. Central at No. 11 would be the highest seed the Mariners would have defeated thanks to major upsets by No. 24 Point Beach over No. 9 Raritan, No. 16 Point Boro over No. 1 CBA, and No. 13 Monmouth over both No. 4 Jackson Liberty and No. 5 Jackson Memorial.

 

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