The Shore Daily, 5/19/15
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Not the best day overall for the Shore Conference in the opening round of the NJSIAA Baseball Tournament, but there were still plenty of great performances to talk about.
The Shore went 12-14 overall on the opening day of the public tournament across all four Groups, although that figure drops to 8-14 once you take away the games that involved Shore teams going head to head. Still, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. If the Shore produces Group champions like it did last season, what happened on the first day will be a distant memory.
The biggest stunner was 14th-seeded Freehold Boro, which took out third-seeded Monroe in Central Jersey Group IV. The Colonials have been very tough against top competition this season with a pair of wins over Christian Brothers Academy and a near-miss in 10 innings against top-seeded Colts Neck in the Shore Conference Tournament on Saturday. However, this one was especially impressive because Monroe threw North Carolina recruit Robbie Peto, one of the top pitchers in the state, but Freehold's Dante Cuzzolino outdueled him with a complete-game two-hitter in a 4-1 win.
Tom Holdorf also had a moment to remember with a two-run bomb off Peto in the seventh for insurance runs. Cuzzolino had seven strikeouts and had a shutout going until the bottom of the seventh to set up a showdown with Class A North rival Manalapan in the quarterfinals.
Another double-digit seed that opened the tournament with a bang was 14th-seeded Matawan in Central Jersey Group II, which knocked off third-seeded A.L. Johnson 4-2 in Central Jersey Group II. Junior ace Adam Elliott allowed two runs in six innings and also homered to keep the Huskies tied before they pulled it out with two runs in the top of the seventh on an RBI sacrifice fly by Joe Piscopo and an RBI double by Matt Esposito. Matawan has been dangerous in the early rounds as a low seed in this bracket the past few years, and it struck again to set up a quarterfinal game against Manasquan.
The Warriors got a measure of revenge on Monmouth, which denied them a share of the overall Class A Central title with an extra-inning win on the last day of divisional play. Manasquan rolled to a 13-3 win in five innings, belting three home runs, including one by senior Tanner Cowley, who was 3-for-3. Ty Hawkins also had a three-run bomb and Jack Sheehan had a solo shot.
It looks like the momentum Manasquan built with an upset of Toms River North in the SCT carried into the state tournament, and the Warriors will look to keep it going when they face Matawan. This is a pretty wide open bracket where I would say No. 2 Governor Livingston is probably a slight favorite. Manasquan and Matawan are the Shore's only hopes, as Raritan, Manchester and Point Boro were all eliminated yesterday.
The best individual performance belonged to Ocean senior right-hander Blake DeMeter, who was incredible with a school-record 17 strikeouts in a two-hitter that powered a 4-0 win over Jackson Liberty in Central Jersey Group III. That is the single-game high for any pitcher in the Shore this season, and to get a record like that at a program like Ocean that has had numerous tremendous pitchers over the years is something to savor for DeMeter. Plus, it's not like he did it in some meaningless game, he did it in a state playoff game.
Matt Manley has the full breakdown in his game story, which includes the remarkable stat that in DeMeter's seven career losses, the Spartans have scored a total of one run. That's the Matt Harvey/Felix Hernandez program. It also reinforces that wins and losses and not the best measurement of a pitcher. Ocean will now take its crack at the team favored to win the section, top-seeded Northern Burlington, in the quarterfinals.
Playing your oldest rival for the third time in a season is never easy, so I wasn't surprised that Middletown South had to pull out a marathon to finally put away underdog Middletown North in CJ Group III. Johnny Zega's walk-off single ended a 5-4 win by the Eagles in 11 innings, with senior Nolan Pereless also helping to lead the way with a three-hit, two-RBI game. Middletown South now hosts No. 12 Hightstown in the quarterfinals.
Two top teams that had to work to survive the first round were Jackson Memorial and Toms River North. The Jaguars edged Class A South rival Brick Memorial 3-2 in CJ Group IV thanks to a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth by Nick Rocco for the defending Group IV champions. Ryan Takacs struck out seven in a three-hitter to keep them right in the game until they pulled it out.
Toms River North, meanwhile, survived the upset bid of No. 15 Shawnee with a 3-2 win of its own in eight innings thanks to a suicide squeeze bunt by Ryan Larsen that scored Joey Rose. Doug Molnar threw all eight innings and did not allow an earned run on four hits. That was huge for the Mariners considering a loss would have meant that they lost in the first round as the No. 1 seed in the Ocean County Tournament, the No. 2 seed in the SCT and then the No. 2 seed in the state tournament. Maybe getting over the hump in this one is what they needed to make a deep run.
On the flip side, Colts Neck lost in the first round as a No. 1 seed for the second time in three tournaments this season as it was stunned 1-0 by 16th-seeded West Windsor South in CJ Group IV. The Cougars also lost as the No. 1 seed in the Monmouth County Tournament and nearly lost in the Round-of-16 in the SCT before pulling out an extra-inning win over Freehold Boro. That means all of the Cougars' energy is now focused on winning the SCT, which continues tomorrow with a home game against Red Bank Catholic.
Four Shore teams are still alive in CJ Group IV, as Marlboro also advanced in addition to Jackson Memorial, Freehold Boro and Manalapan. Mustangs' ace Andrew Nardi was great again, not allowing an earned run and scattering seven hits in a complete game to beat East Brunswick 5-1. The Mustangs now have a tall order in second-seeded Hunterdon Central on the road in the quarterfinals.
Wall surprisingly went out in the first round with an 8-6 loss to Allentown at home in CJ Group III, which leaves Middletown South and Ocean as the Shore's last hopes in that bracket. In the loss, Wall senior catcher Dan Wondrack belted a school single-season record ninth home run of the season.
One of the heavyweights in the bracket, second-seeded Steinert, got shocked by No. 15 Nottingham yesterday, but that doesn't help the Shore squads, as they are on the other side of the bracket and have to get through top-seeded Northern Burlington first. However, if they do that, there is a good chance they could be the favorite in the championship game, although third-seeded Somerville is another solid team that could make a run.
It was no surprise that defending Group I champion Shore Regional smashed its first-round opponent in Central Jersey Group I, but third-seeded Point Beach getting mercy-ruled by 14th-seeded Bound Brook was a bit of an eye opener. Shore is the only local team left in this bracket, but certainly can win it again. I think the fact that the Blue Devils play up against bigger schools in Class A Central is huge because once they get to this tournament, they've already seen better competition during the regular season so they are more than ready.
Of the three South Jersey brackets involving Shore teams, only three teams are left after the first day. Toms River North is the lone local team alive in SJ Group IV, and Toms River South advanced as the third seed in SJ Group III with an 8-4 win over Oakcrest. Ray Ligouri had a double, a triple and two RBI, and Jake Ryan had three hits and two runs scored in the win. The Indians get another home game in the quarterfinals against No. 6 Triton, which shut out Pinelands. Despite the loss for the Wildcats, senior shortstop Mitch Merrill put his name in the Pinelands record books.
Barnegat, which reached its first sectional final in program history last season, moved on to the SJ Group II quarterfinals with a 4-1 win over No. 12 Overbrook. John Corbett continued his strong season by striking out seven and allowing two hits and no earned runs in five innings to get the win. The Bengals have to go down to fourth-seeded Glassboro for the quarterfinals.
Tonight is the Monmouth County Tournament final at FirstEnergy Park at 8 between CBA and Wall, weather permitting. The fun subplot is that CBA is technically still alive for all five titles in one season, although it still has a lot of heavy lifting to get through a brutal Non-Public A bracket as well as the rest of the SCT. However, if the Colts win tonight, they are two-fifths of the way there, and the only other team that has ever done it in the Shore is Wall in 2004, so the Crimson Knights will be looking to get a title for themselves and their alumni tonight.
The other subplot is if CBA decides to throw undefeated ace Luca Dalatri, who just happens to be from - you guessed it - Wall. The Crimson Knights will counter with their own No. 1 pitcher, senior Ryan Orender.
One new college commitment to report.
More on Tuesday:
- Thirty teams with double-digit seeds pulled upsets in the first round of the state tournament yesterday.
- Ramapo's Brian Cottrell, a former Brick Memorial ace, was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Rookie Pitcher of the Week.
- For those who have Netflix, the documentary "No No" on former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, who threw a no-hitter while high on LSD in 1970, is worth your time. He's an entertaining character, and there's more to him than I knew from always hearing the story about that no-hitter.
- I went and saw "Mad Max: Fury Road" in a theater literally all by myself (apparently Middlebrook in Ocean Township doesn't do much business at the 4 p.m. showings on Mondays) and yeah, it's incredible. One of the best action movies I have ever seen. Basically, it's a two-hour, relentless chase scene, and the fact that almost all of it is real and not CGI is insane. Granted, I'm biased because my brother and I have always been huge "Road Warrior" fans since we were kids, but it's one of those movies that has to be seen on the big screen. No home theater could do it justice. Here's how they pulled off some of the stunts.
On tap for today: As mentioned above, tonight at 8 at FirstEnergy Park is the Monmouth County Tournament baseball championship game between CBA and Wall. In lacrosse, the eight Shore public teams still alive in the state tournament will try to reach the sectional semifinals with wins today, while RBC plays its opening-round game.
The best bets to advance from today are undefeated Southern, Rumson, and a No. 5 Manasquan team facing No. 4 Bernards, while the others all will look to pull upsets on the road, including No. 5 Ocean at No. 4 Allentown.
I'll leave you with the 10 best posterization dunks of the NBA season, and a paddleboarder's encounter with a killer whale.