Baseball – Toms River North Pounds Southern to Win Second Straight OCT Crown
TOMS RIVER – For the second straight year, the Toms River North baseball team entered the Ocean County Tournament disappointed about coming up short of a Shore Conference Class A South championship.
And for the second straight year, the Mariners took out their frustrations on the rest of Ocean County by winning a tournament championship.
Junior left-hander Jared Bellissimo threw six solid innings and was at the center of a 16-hit attack on offense that led Toms River North to a 13-4 win over Southern Thursday at Ken Frank Stadium, which sealed Toms River North’s second straight Ocean County Tournament championship run and fifth overall. It marks the first time Toms River North has ever won consecutive OCT titles.
Toms River North finished off its title run by beating Toms River South in the semifinals and Southern in the championship game – two teams that swept the Mariners during the Class A South regular season and handed them four of their five losses within the division.
PHOTO GALLERY: TR North vs. Southern by Ray Richardson
“We had our ups and downs and I think that we came out hungry,” Toms River North coach Andy Pagano said. “We had a chance to redeem ourselves against a team that beat us twice in games we felt like we didn’t execute at our best. That was our goal today.”
Thursday night, the Mariners handed Southern senior left-hander Zach Fillmore (5-1) his first defeat of the season on the mound. The Rams hurler began the by winning his first five decisions, including one against Toms River North in the first meeting between the teams.
Toms River North touched Fillmore for four first-inning singles, including RBI hits by third baseman Austin Feigin and junior catcher Justin Schaff. Two innings later Schaff blasted a triple to deep left-centerfield as part of another two-run inning and also added an RBI single in the seventh to cap a 3-for-5, three-RBI game.
Bellissimo also had a hand in the rallies during the first and third innings, singling in the first and doubling during the third. He also doubled in a run during a three-run sixth inning, which made it 9-2 after Southern had trimmed the Mariners lead to 6-2 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth.
“We lost to (Fillmore) in the first game, so we knew what he was coming at us with,” Bellissimo said. “We just tried to put the bat on the ball with some hard contact.”
Schaff and Bellissimo were two of three Toms River North players with three hits on Thursday night. Junior second baseman Craig Larsen also went 3-for-5 with two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI, which came on a double that made it 5-0 in the fourth inning.
Senior shortstop Mike Nyisztor was named the tournament Most Valuable Player and capped his MVP run by going 2-for-4 with two RBI on Thursday. For the tournament, Nyisztor went 7-for-14 with two doubles, five runs scored and three RBI.
“Last year, it felt good to win the tournament for the seniors who put in a lot of hard work to get us in that position,” Nyisztor said. “This year, it was great to see some of the younger guys step in and get to experience it. It’s special because it’s a team accomplishment and you always want to be able to go out on top as a senior. It’s good to win this and hopefully, we’ll keep it going.”
The early offense was more than enough to back Bellissimo who coasted through the first four innings while allowing just one hit and one walk. He ran into trouble in the fifth inning when Southern loaded the bases with none out on a walk by No. 7 hitter Joe Colonna, followed by consecutive singles by Cole Markley and Noah Brown.
The Mariners traded a run for an out by getting the force out at second base on a ground ball by Joey Robertson and Bellissimo followed that up with a strikeout to move within an out of escaping the inning with one run allowed. The junior left-hander then induced a fly ball by catcher Nolan Watson to medium right-center, but right fielder Nick Sibilia lost the ball as it transitioned from the lights to the twilight. The ball dropped in front of Sibilia and another run scored with Robertson moving to third and Watson cruising into second base.
Bellissimo bounced back by getting Marcos Matias to pop up on the infield, with Bellissimo taking charge and making the play.
In Toms River North’s first loss to Southern, Bellissimo settled for a no-decision while allowing two earned runs on six hits and four walks over 4 1/3 innings. He was much sharper on Thursday, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks over six innings with a season-high seven strikeouts.
“Jared’s a way better pitcher right now than he was back when (Southern) first saw him,” Pagano said. “He wanted to redeem himself and he wanted the ball. I honestly think Jared’s changeup was the difference. With all of their righties, I thought they’d be out in front of him a little bit.”
“My changeup was on – all my pitches were on tonight,” Bellissimo said. “I lost my command a couple times, but I battled.”
For the tournament, Bellissimo was 2-0 while allowing three earned runs on nine hits with three walks and 13 strikeouts over 13 innings. He also went 6-for-18 at the plate with two doubles, a triple and six RBI.
Toms River North’s triumph denied Southern its first Ocean County Tournament championship since 1977. The Rams reached the final for the first time since 1983 and are in line for the program’s first winning season in more than a decade.
Fillmore only made it to the third inning, when he passed the ball off to senior right-hander Nick Simone following a one-out double by Bellissimo. Simone entered Thursday having pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the OCT while allowing just two hits and no walks with eight strikeouts. On Thursday, Toms River North solved him to the tune of six runs in 3 2/3 innings, which included four walks.
“All our guys have been working really hard on our hitting,” Nyisztor said. “We hit before practice, stay after practice and all of that. So it was just good to see all of that pay off.”
(4) Toms River North 13, (3) Southern 4
|TR North (16-6)||2||0||2||2||0||3||4||13||16||1|
|Jared Bellissimo (W, 4-1)||6||5||2||2||2||7||95|
|Zach Fillmore (L, 5-1)||2.1||6||3||3||0||0||48|
|TR North||Game Stats|
|Jared Bellissimo||3-5, 2 2B, RBI|
|Craig Larsen||3-5, 2 2B, 3 R, RBI|
|Justin Schaff||3-5, 3B, 3 RBI|
|Mike Nyisztor||2-4, BB, 2 R, 2 RBI|
|Austin Feigin||2-4, BB, 2 RBI|
|Nolan Watson||1-4, 2B, 2 RBI|
|Cole Markley||1-3, R|
|Vaughn Walker||1-1, 2B, R|