Baseball – Bellissimo’s Brilliant Outing Nails Down 2nd Straight SCT Title for TR North
LAKEWOOD - Jared Bellissimo almost never shows his emotions on the mound, but the senior left-hander and Toms River North ace knows how to save his best stuff - and his most animated reactions - for the most important moments of the game.
Bellissimo pumped his fist and let out a yell after striking out back-to-back batters with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the sixth - the defining moment of the senior's four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and Toms River North's 4-0 win over Central Regional to clinch a second straight Shore Conference Tournament title Monday night at FirstEnergy Park.
"It felt amazing, I wouldn't want it to end any other way," Bellissimo said. "My arm felt great today and the team played well behind me."
PHOTO GALLERY: TR North vs. Central by Ray Richardson
With Monday's championship win, Toms River North - the No. 8 seed in the tournament - becomes only the fourth program to ever win consecutive SCT titles, joining Christian Brothers Academy (twice), Toms River South and Lakewood. Bellissimo and Co. are also the first Toms River North team to win three separate championships - a Shore Conference Class A South co-championship, a third straight Ocean County Tournament title and the Shore Conference Tournament title in this case.
"We're going out on top," Bellissimo said. "It's never been done before in Toms River North history - to win three championships in the same year - and we did that tonight. Our coaches have been talking about it all week."
"This group is irreplaceable," Toms River North coach Andy Pagano said of his senior class. "The depth on the mound, the competitiveness, the camaraderie - Hopefully our young guys can learn from all of that because (the seniors) are going to be tough to replace. They are going to go on to have good college careers and be successful adults, but they will always be Mariners and when they come back, this is something they will remember."
Bellissimo was in command on the mound throughout his seven-inning gem, striking out at least one batter in each inning and two each in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth innings. he was once again reliant on his fastball, but broke off a few well-time, well-place breaking balls and changeups.
"When Jared's on the mound, I feel like I can catch with my eyes closed," said senior catcher Justin Schaff, who called his own games for Toms River North pitchers throughout the season. "I've been catching him for so long and when he gets locked in, you can just put the glove in the spot and it's not going to move much."
The sixth inning strikeouts were the most crucial, as Central mounted its only real threat of the game. Bellissimo issued the first of his two walks to Golden Eagles leadoff hitter Ryan Galati on four pitches with one out and senior shortstop Colin Stacy slapped a double down the left-field line to set up runners on second and third base for Central's best hitter.
Senior Tom Ruscitti went 2-for-2 with two singles in his first two plate appearances and with a Shore-Conference-leading 10 home runs, was a threat to go deep and cut the Central deficit to one run. Bellissimo pitched him carefully and walked Ruscitti to bring up the tying run.
"We wanted to be smart with him," Bellissimo said. "We didn't want to leave anything over the plate and we worked everything away with him to try to make him hit the ball the other way."
Bellissimo, however, reached back and struck out seniors Vance Pelino and Tyler Aires to end the threat and preserve the shutout.
"I wanted the ball and I didn't want (Pagano) to take me out," Bellissimo said. "I wanted to go straight after them with my fastball because I felt like I'm better than all of them and I can blow it by them."
Prior to Ruscitti's at-bat, Pagano paid Bellissimo a visit on the mound and, much to his delight, was quickly dismissed by his starter.
"He is at his best when times are toughest," Pagano said. "He rises to the occasion. When I went out there, he told me not even to come out and that he had it. That's why my visit was pretty quick."
"(Pagano) told me he had all the confidence in the world in me and he wasn't taking me out and that it was one me," Bellissimo said.
Bellissimo also provided a key swing on offense to put the game out of reach. In the bottom of the fifth, he launched a first-pitch offering from senior A.J. Smith to dead-center field for a two-run double that landed just shy of the warning track.
"My swing felt pretty good tonight and I was just missing on my first two at-bats," Bellissimo said. "I knew I was getting a first-pitch curveball because that's what he threw me in my first two at-bats. I wanted to get a hold of it, I knew it was coming and I wanted to put a good swing on it."
The Bellissimo double scored senior Craig Larsen and Alex Klalo, with Larsen starting the rally with a long double of his own. The senior shortstop drilled a majestic fly ball to left-center field that short-hopped the fence and moved to third base on a bunt single by Klalo.
Toms River North took an early lead when Larsen was hit by a pitch and scored on a two-out RBI single by Schaff.
"In any big game like this, it's good to get up on the board early," Schaff said. "We don't want to see Larsen wear a pitch, but we'll take it. Everyone did their job to get him over and I just saw a curveball up and put a good swing on it to get him in."
The Mariners added another run in the bottom of the second when junior Sam Angelo doubled over the head of Aires in right field and scored on an RBI single to center by sophomore left fielder Robert Jeans.
Senior A.J. Smith pitched all six innings for Central and finished the season with an 8-5 record in 69 2/3 innings. He allowed 10 hits, one intentional walk and struck out five five days after pitching a nine-inning, four-hit shutout against Wall in the semifinals.
"A couple of us went to the game against Wall and watched him do really well against them," Schaff said. "We knew what he had, we had an idea of what he was going to come at us with and we were just ready for anything. If it was there we were driving it."
Toms River North 4, Central 0
|TR North (22-8)||1||1||0||0||2||0||X||4||10||0|
|A.J. Smith (L, 8-5)||6||10||5||5||1||5||102|
|Toms River North||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||PC|
|Jared Bellissimo (W, 8-1)||7||4||0||0||2||11||106|
|Tom Ruscitti||2-2, BB|
|Colin Stacy||1-3, 2B|
|Shane Black||1-3, 2B|
|Toms River North||Stats|
|Jared Bellissimo||1-3, 2B, 2 RBI|
|Craig Larsen||1-2, 2B, 2 R|
|Justin Schaff||1-3, RBI|
|Sam Angelo||1-3, 2B, R|
|Robert Jeans||2-3, RBI|