TOMS RIVER - Toms River North senior Mike Nyisztor led the Shore Conference in hits as a junior in 2016 and is hitting .452 as a senior this year, so it is not hard to figure out why, with a base open in the top of the fifth inning and the Ocean County Tournament semifinal game hanging in the balance, Toms River South chose to intentionally walk the Mariners shortstop.

Toms River North junior clean-up hitter Jared Bellissimo understands why a team would pass on Nyisztor to face him, but he still took it personally and, more importantly, made the Indians pay.

Bellissimo lined a tie-breaking two-run single to right-centerfield with two out in the top of the fifth, capping a four-run rally and lifting the Mariners over the rival Indians, 5-2, and into the OCT championship game for the second straight season. The defending OCT champions will take on Southern Regional Thursday night at Toms River South.

Toms River North senior Craig Larsen. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Toms River North senior Craig Larsen. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We didn't want to get swept by them," said Bellissimo, whose team lost to Toms River South twice during the regular season. "They beat us twice, the last time was on a heartbreaker and we didn't want them doing that to us again. You never want to lose to your crosstown rival, so we couldn't let them beat us again."

Toms River North loaded the bases with none out in the fifth against previously-unbeaten Toms River South left-hander Justin Fall (5-1) on a hit-by-pitch, a walk and a well-placed bunt along the third-base line by sophomore Dylan Feigin. Fall got starting pitcher Craig Larsen to foul out and center fielder Alex Klalo popped up a bases-loaded bunt, but it carried over Fall's head to score a run, although Fall managed to record the out at first base.

Toms River South then elected to intentionally walk Mike Nyisztor and pitch to Bellissimo with the bases loaded, but during the at-bat, right fielder Nick Sibilia scored on a passed ball to tie the game. With runners on second and third, Bellissimo lined a shot to the right-center alley on the ninth pitch of the at-bat to plate Feigin and Nyisztor before Bellissimo was thrown out attempting to stretch the hit into a double by Toms River South right fielder T.J. Scuderi.

Bellissimo added his third RBI on a fielder's choice ground out in the seventh.

"I just took it personal," Bellissimo said. "I just think I'm a better hitter than Fall in that spot there."

"I'd put my money on both of those guys," Toms River North coach Andy Pagano said of Nyisztor and Bellissimo. "I think Jared has been very clutch in RBI situations. Next to (2016 SSN Hitter of the Year) Joey Rose, Jared's been our most productive hitter in that situation over the last two years. So if they want to pitch around Mike, that's fine. Jared will be there to drive in those runs."

Toms River South jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third on a two-out, two-run home run by senior third baseman Ben Montenegro that landed on top of the school roof in right-centerfield.

After that hit, however, Larsen limited Toms River South to two hits the rest of the way and retired the final seven batters to finish off his fifth win of the season. Larsen struck out five and walked two.

"I definitely think I changed speeds really well," Larsen said. "I was throwing every pitch for a strike and keeping them off-balance."

Toms River South defeated Toms River North in both regular-season meetings between the teams, with Justin Fall earning the win on the mound each time. Toms River South rolled to an 11-2 win in the first game and edged the Mariners, 3-2, at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.

"We saw (Fall) three times and we had our approaches against him," Larsen said. "I knew our offense was going to come through at some point, so it was just a matter of keeping us close."

After Brendan Mullins and Jared Bellissimo started the first two games, Larsen got his chance to take on the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference and proved to be the most effective of the starters.

"Craig wants the ball and I think this year, he has stepped up big time," Pagano said. "He's just one of those players that in a big spot, I want him on the mound. He has earned it."

Bellissimo and Mullins will both be available for Thursday's championship game, according to Pagano, who said he is leaning toward starting sophomore Jon Giordano Wednesday against Point Pleasant Beach in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Thursday's game will be another chance at redemption for Toms River North, which lost both regular-season meetings to Southern.

"When I saw the bracket come out, this was exactly how I was hoping it would go," Pagano said. "We don't like losing to a team twice, but it's tournament time now."


(4) Toms River North 5, (1) Toms River South 2

TR North (14-6)0000401570
TR South (17-3)0020000240



Craig Larsen (W, 5-1)742225107
Justin Fall (L, 5-1)54443594
Matt Shiffer23110127

Top Hitters

TR NorthGame Stats
Jared Bellissimo1-4, 3 RBI
Alex Klalo2-3, RBI
Mike Nyisztor2-3, 2B, BB, R
Dylan Feigin1-2, HBP, 2 R
TR SouthGame Stats
Ben Montenegro1-3, HR, 2 RBI
Matt Fitzpatrick2-3, 2B


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