Baseball – Toms River South Tops Brick for Ocean County Legion Title
POINT PLEASANT BOROUGH - As a soon-to-be-sophomore at Toms River High School South, Jordan Erbe has his eyes fixed on Ken Frank Field and playing on the varsity squad for the coach whose name is on the school in center field.
Erbe has that in common with a good number of his teammates on the Toms River South Post 129 American Legion Baseball team and despite the fact that so many of them will be battling for their first taste of regular varsity experience in 2017, they closed out a Legion season by beating a team with lots of varsity experience.
Erbe pitched four innings, played a flawless shortstop for the other three and helped spark a decisive two-run fifth Monday night that lifted Post 129 to a 3-2 win over Brick Post 348 in the Ocean County American Legion Baseball Championship game at Point Pleasant Boro High School.
Toms River South will play in the opening round of the state-wide tournament Saturday at Moody Park in Ewing against a Mercer County opponent to be determined.
"It felt even better to win because they were older than us and we're basically a bunch of guys going into sophomore year," Erbe said. "Now, we have a lot of confidence going into next year knowing we could play with them and beat them."
Erbe's all-around performance earned him the championship Most Valuable Player award and also helped Post 129 rally from a one-run deficit. He finished 1-for-2 at the plate and scored two of the three Toms River South runs, including the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth.
The two-run fifth started with a one-out infield single by right fielder and No. 9 hitter Sam Conover, who contributed on the Indians varsity team this past spring as a pinch runner. With that speed on base, Post 129 put on the hit-and-run with Conover taking off for second and Erbe shooting a ground ball through the right side to chase Conover to third with one out.
"Coach (Dave Fanslau) did a great job calling that," Erbe said. "It was in the back of my mind. I wanted to do it anyway. Sam Conover is real fast and he can definitely go first to third on a ball like that, which is huge with nobody out. I didn't hit it all that hard, but it got the job done."
Catcher Connor Leatherman followed with a shallow line drive to center that dropped in front of Brick center fielder John Prato and allowed Conover to dart home with the tying run. Second baseman Colin Mackle then stepped in a smacked a line drive to the left-center gap to score Erbe with an RBI double.
Matt Shiffer - who hit .360 with seven doubles for Toms River South during his junior season this past spring - earned the win with three scoreless innings of relief. He recorded seven of the nine outs on ground ball outs - four of which were handled by Erbe at shortstop. He also notched a key strikeout in the top of the seventh with the tying run on second base and one out and Leatherman also threw out a potential base-stealer at second base in the top of the fifth. Shiffer allowed two baserunners in three innings - two on errors and another on an intentional walk.
Brick began the final frame when starting pitcher Matt Stadelberger reached on an error. Pinch-hitter Joe Cappola sacrificed Stadelberger to second base, but Shiffer came back with a strikeout of right fielder Kenny Bala for the second out. Stadleberger went to third on strike three in the dirt.
Post 129 then opted to intentionally walk Prato, an All-Shore outfielder this past spring who was batting No. 9 in the order after arriving late and entering as a substitute, to put runners on the corners with two out. After Prato stole second base, shortstop Vinny Galderi hit a chopper toward the mound that Shiffer plucked out of the air with a leaping stab. The senior-to-be flipped to first base for the championship-clinching out.
Brick opened the scoring in the top of the first on a sacrifice fly by catcher Jerry Hutchison. Second baseman Chris Salsano began the rally with a leadoff single and was erased on a fielder's choice ground out by first baseman Mike Soldo. Third baseman A.J. Serrino then delivered a one-out double to left to set Hutchison up for the fly ball to center field that scored Soldo.
Toms River South answered right back in the bottom of the inning on a throwing error on a stolen base by courtesy runner Tyler Diaz. With Diaz stealing second and Hutchison's throw skipping into center field, Erbe trotted home from third base after beginning the inning with a leadoff walk.
Leatherman followed Erbe's walk with the first of his two singles and finished the game 2-for-3 with the tying RBI.
Post 348 grabbed the lead back in the top of the third against Erbe on an unusual RBI fielder's choice by Serrino. With runners on the corners and one out, Serrino hit a sinking line drive to right that dropped in for what appeared to be a single. Soldo, however, was caught in between first and second waiting to see if the ball would drop and Conover fielded it on a hop and fired to second for the force out as Galderi scored from third.
Galderi began the inning with a single, stole second base and advanced to third on a ground out to shortstop by Salsano. Saldo then walked ahead of Serrino's at-bat.
Stadelberger went the distance on the mound for Brick, allowing two earned runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
Toms River South's OCALB title capped off a 2016 summer in which Post 129 won the regular-season championship with a 10-2 record, edging Brick (8-3-1) in the standings. While Toms River South started just one player (Shiffer) with regular varsity playing time from this past spring, Brick featured six - Soldo, Serrino, Stadelberger, Hutchison, Prato and Pat McAlinden - who were regulars on the Green Dragon's 16-11 2016 team.
Prato, however, did not suit up for Post 348 for most of the season because of other sports commitments and Serrino left Monday's game in the sixth inning with a left knee injury that he sustained while running out a ground ball out and stepping on first base awkwardly.
Toms River South's high school team is coming off a 22-win 2016 season in which the Indians won the outright Class A South championship and with the youth on hand on the 129 roster, Frank appears to have some help on the way to pair with returning impact players Shiffer, junior T.J. Scuderi, senior left-hander Justin Fall and others. Frank has indicated he plans on returning for his 40th season as head coach at Toms River South.
"Coach Frank's a great coach and once you get to him, you learn a lot," Erbe said. "You feel like you can do anything playing for that team."