JACKSON TWP. - The last time Jackson Memorial sophomore Nick Beetel pitched against Toms River North, he held the potent Mariners lineup to two runs but watched from the dugout as Craig Larsen hit the game-winning double to send Toms River North to the Ocean County Tournament championship game.

Beetel again confounded the Mariners hitters in Thursday's NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal game but this time, when Larsen came up as Toms River North's last hope in the top of the seventh inning, Beetel had the ball in his hands.

Jackson Memorial's sophomore left-hander pitched a four-hit shutout against the three-time defending Ocean County Tournament champions on Thursday and the Jaguars - the No. 3 seed in the section - blanked the No. 6 Mariners, 3-0, to advance to the sectional semifinals Tuesday against No. 7 Vineland.

"Today, it felt like I was in control of the outcome," Beetel said. "Last game, I left in a 2-2 tie and I'm just sitting on the bench just hoping the team does well. Today, I was able to pitch the entire game and control the outcome."

Beetel was in control from the outset, allowing one baserunner in each of the first four innings and two in the fifth, but stranding them all thanks to a strike-heavy workload in his 91 pitches and a defense that not only did not commit an error but went above and beyond the call of duty with some of the plays it made.

Jackson Memorial sophomore Nick Beetel. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Jackson Memorial sophomore Nick Beetel. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Beetel struck out just three against three walks, which meant the defense was earned its no-error game by taking care of 17 balls in play, including one double-play on the second batter of the game.

"They have been a very good fastball-hitting team against us in the past, so me being a softer pitcher and relying on breaking stuff has helped me succeed (against Toms River North)," Beetel said. "They don't strike out almost ever, so they are putting everything in play. If I can create softer contact, it helps a lot."

In the final inning, Beetel lined up against the bottom of the order and junior Jon Giordano reached on an infield single to lead off the frame, giving Larsen a chance to come up if the Mariners could avoid the double play. After inducing a pop-up for the first out, Beetel nearly got the aforementioned double play, but pinch-hitter Donovan Varga beat it out at first to give Larsen - hitting .482 with seven home runs and a Shore-Conference-leading 36 RBI - a chance to hit and extend the game.

Beetel got Larsen to ground out to sophomore third baseman Jake Wendell for the final out of his complete game.

"He has been a nine-or-ten strikeout guy for us later in the season," Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta said of Beetel. "Today he had to pitch to contact and I think he embraced it. When you you see your defense making plays, you start to think, 'I'll just flip this ball in here and get a ground ball' and you wind up pitching with more confidence."

Infield defense turned out to be the difference in the game and Wendell found himself in the middle of three of the game's most important plays, not including the final out by Larsen. He picked a scalded ground ball by Jared Bellissimo for the final out of the third inning to strand a Toms River North runner and he recorded the putout on the final play of the top of the fifth, in which senior shortstop Mike Dimino made a play to his back-hand side and flipped to Wendell at third for a force-out.

"In the first inning, Jake Wendell made the play where his glove fell off and he still made the play and that sort of set the tone," Beetel said. "Mike Dimino made the play where he threw the ball to third for the third out, which was a big play in the game. The defense was making plays all game and knowing I had them made the job easier."

Wendell also hit the hard ground ball that resulted in the game's lone error and it came at the most opportune time for Jackson in the bottom of the second. With runners on second and third, his smash to the right side got past Bellissimo at first and into the outfield to score courtesy runner Kyle Thaiss and Dimino with the game's first runs.

The Jaguars added a run in the bottom of the fourth when sophomore center fielder Ryan Lasko reached out for an offspeed pitch from Toms River North starter Brendan Mullins and smacked it off the fence in left to score Dimino from first after the senior shortstop singled with two out and nobody on.

Lasko has served as the leadoff hitter for most of the season but traded lineup spots with classmate and second baseman Christian Pellone, with Lasko moving to No. 9 and Pellone going to the top. Lasko struck out four times against Toms River North in the OCT semifinal and Pellone was 2-for-3, but the roles were reversed on Thursday: Pellone was 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and Lasko went 2-for-2 with the RBI double.

"Christian at one point was leading the team in hitting and going back and forth with Alex (Iadisernia) for the top average and that was hitting out of the number nine spot," Malta said. "We've liked him in that spot but we thought we'd give him a shot to lead off the game and have Ryan as that second leadoff.

"With Ryan, you look at the numbers and you know they are going to come up," Malta said. "He's had good at-bats for us, so regardless of the spot in the order, he is due to get some to drop. I don't know if moving to the nine spot made it easier or took pressure off but I always like having that length to the lineup where it never feels like you're facing the bottom of our order. Anybody can beat you."

Dimino, meanwhile, continued to flash his value with his stellar play at shortstop and his bat, which produced a single in three trips and led to him scoring two runs. Malta said he entered the season believing an all-underclass infield was a distinct possibility and did not envision Dimino being the spoiler to that configuration. Dimino is a Monmouth University commit as a pitcher and has served as a lock-down closer for the Jaguars this year, but the two-way element has been a pleasant surprise for Malta.

"I don't know if going into this thing he was the guy I though was going to be (at shortstop)," Malta said of Dimino. "Something about senior confidence - he worked all summer long, all winter and he has really done the job. The whole stigma of being a (pitcher only) doesn't apply with him, because that's what we saw him likely being, but he has been very good on the infield for us."

Mullins, meanwhile, was a hard-luck loser - his second loss at the hands of Jackson Memorial this season. He allowed just one earned run on seven hits and one walk over six innings while striking out two.

Tuesday's game was the fourth this season between the two Shore Conference Class A rivals and with the win, Jackson Memorial clinched a season-series win. It is possible the teams could meet one last time in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.

After Thursday's NJSIAA Tournament action, Jackson Memorial is not the highest seed left in the South Jersey Group IV section, which means the Jaguars would be home for the sectional final if they can first beat Vineland on Tuesday. Before taking on Vineland, Jackson Memorial will play Ranney Friday in a Shore Conference Tournament opener that has been delayed by nine days and if they can win that game in which they are heavily favored, the Jaguars would host Toms River South in the round of 16 - likely on Saturday.


Box Score

(3) Jackson Memorial 3, (6) Toms River North 0

TR North (18-8)0000000041
Jackson Mem (21-5)020100X370


Brendan Mullins (L, 3-3)67311285
Jackson MemorialIPHRERBBSOPC
Nick Beetel (W, 5-0)74003391

Top Hitters

Toms River NorthStats
Craig Larsen1-2, BB, HBP
Jackson MemorialStats
Ryan Lasko2-2, 2B, RBI
Mike Dimino1-3, 2 R



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