Baseball: Brandon Janofsky Fires a Four-Hit Shutout to Lead Jackson Memorial to the OCT Final
JACKSON - Senior ace Brandon Janofsky has an unblemished record and an ERA equivalent to Bluto Blutarsky's grade-point average, yet the scary thing for opponents is that Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta thinks he can be even better before this season is over.
It's hard to improve on the performance the Stony Brook recruit delivered on Saturday, as he tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts on 89 pitches to power a 2-0 win over third-seeded Toms River South (13-6) in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals at Larry D'Zio Field. In 19 innings over three starts this season since he returned to the mound after suffering some shoulder tightness, Janofsky has not allowed a run and has allowed only eight hits while striking out 27. His starts have hearkened back to his performance last year when he dominated down the stretch to help lead the Jaguars to their first NJSIAA Group title since 1972.
"I don't think he is yet,'' Malta said when asked if Janofsky is at the level he reached last year. "Don't get me wrong, he's still throwing very well, but where he was at the end of those last few games (last year), he was very good. I think (he can improve), and I think he does, too."
The second-seeded Jaguars will now play eighth-seeded Barnegat in the OCT final on Thursday at Toms River East. They needed Janofsky's performance on Saturday because Toms River South senior standout Ray Ligouri was throwing up zeroes of his own in a hard-luck loss. He allowed two runs on eight hits, striking out six and walking two. Neither pitcher allowed an extra-base hit.
"I think coming into this game, both of us knew that whoever gave up the first run that might be it because we were both going to throw up zeroes,'' Janofsky said.
"I thought (Ligouri) was excellent,'' Malta said. "He was great."
Both pitchers also stayed sharp despite a 40-minute rain delay between the top of the third inning and the bottom of the third.
"My arm felt better than it's felt in a while,'' Janofsky said. "I just threw my pen a little bit after the delay, and I was good to go."
Following the rain delay, the Jaguars (15-5), who beat the Indians for the second time in three games this season, got the only run they would need. Junior shortstop Kyle Johnson ripped a lead-off single, stole second and then went to third on a groundout by senior centerfielder Joe DeMaio. Janofsky then launched a sacrifice fly to deep right field to bring Johnson home for a 1-0 lead.
Jackson added an insurance run in the fourth inning when senior leftfielder Rich Rountree smacked a leadoff single up the middle, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by John Carello, and then went to third on a bloop single to right field by designated hitter Nick Rocco. Senior third baseman Matt Castronuova then punched an 0-2 pitch into right field for an RBI single and a 2-0 advantage. Ligouri limited the damage by rolling a 4-3 double play to end the inning.
"That's what we've been talking about - making those adjustments on the outer half (and) working to hit to all parts of the field,'' Malta said about the Jaguars' approach.
Toms River South's best opportunity to score on Janofsky came in the first inning when shortstop Austin Gonella led off with a single and then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Anthony Carfora. However, Janofsky took the wind out of the Indians when he whipped a throw to Johnson and picked off Gonella at second base to kill the threat. The pick-off was not a planned call, just a play orchestrated by the chemistry between Janofsky and Johnson.
"Last week against Brick in the (OCT) quarters, we did the same thing against Brick with Carmen Sclafani,'' Janofsky said. "Kyle just goes daylight, and he's very good with it."
"They work so well together,'' Malta said. "They're very close, and they have their own thing going a lot."
In the second inning, the Indians, who did not have a runner reach third base the entire game, had a pair of runners on after a single by catcher Ryan Shiffer and a walk by third baseman Ben Montenegro, but Janofsky struck out centerfielder Mike Conover looking to end the inning.
"(Pitching) coach (J.M.) Gold said they were going to try to shoot four hole, which they did a very good job of today,'' Janofsky said. "I was just trying to work hard in, hard away, and then soft away. I was locating well, I had a little bit on my fastball, and my curveball was very tight today, so that helped me a lot."
The Indians only had one runner reach base after the fourth inning when Carfora hit a one-out single to left field in the sixth, but Janofsky rolled a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
After a slow start doomed the Jaguars in Class A South, where Toms River North claimed the crown, they have their sights set on their first OCT title since 2012 and then making runs in the Shore Conference and state tournaments.
"That's usually something we look forward to, and it sucked not winning it this year, so now we just want to move forward and hopefully win everything else,'' Janofsky said.
Jackson Memorial 2, Toms River South 0
TR South (13-6) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 4 0
Jackson Mem. (15-5) 0 0 1 1 0 0 x - 2 8 0
WP: Janofsky (3-0). LP: Ligouri (2-2).