Baseball – Brick Memorial Outslugs Toms River North in Wild A South Showdown
TOMS RIVER - Twice in its Shore Conference Class A South road game against Toms River North, the Brick Memorial baseball team had a lead that could be considered safe against most teams on most days.
On this particular day, the Mustangs twice coughed up leads of four runs or more in only one inning. In a game of relentless offense, however, the Mustangs themselves stayed relentless and ended the game with a big play on defense.
After blowing leads of six and four runs and surrendering the lead to the Mariners in the bottom of the sixth, the Mustangs regained the lead with three runs in the top of the seventh and turned a game-ending double play in the bottom of the seventh to hold on for a wild, 13-12 win over the Mariners.
"We feel like one-through-nine, we have one of the best, if not the best lineup in the Shore," said senior right fielder James Donlon, who was 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI on Thursday. "We haven't been scoring runs the way we'd like to lately but we knew it was only a matter of time before we started hitting and coming into today, we knew we had to score some runs. We didn't think it would be this high scoring, but with the lineup they (Toms River North) have, we figured both teams would hit the ball today."
Senior designated hitter Nick Reyes led both the early onslaught and the comeback, as he finished the game 2-for-3 with five RBI and a pair of runs scored. Reyes clobbered a three-run home run to stake Brick Memorial to a 5-0 lead in the third inning and later delivered the go-ahead, two-out, two-run single in the top of the seventh that put the Mustangs on top, 13-11.
"We just want to be relentless," Reyes said of Brick Memorial's offense. "We struggled for a couple days, so we just wanted to get a couple guys on, maybe work some walks and force the defense into some errors while we all found our swings."
The line-drive home run to left-field in the third was the first of Reyes's varsity career.
"Reyes is a kid who worked really hard during the offseason and won the DH job in the preseason," Brick Memorial coach Evan Rizzitello said. "He started the regular season a little slow and we have been trying some different options at that spot so far. He's a senior who has earned his shot, but we have 18 seniors who have all put the time in, so it's tough to find the at-bats sometimes. The good thing is they all can play and they all want to win."
Brick Memorial entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 11-10 after Toms River North posted five runs in the bottom of the sixth to erase a 10-6 deficit of its own. The Mustangs promptly loaded the bases, with senior center fielder Tim Santiago drawing a six-pitch walk, senior first baseman Brian Markoski dropping a single into center field and senior left fielder Dylan Evans working another six-pitch walk against Mariners senior Joey Rose.
Rose got the first out of the inning by striking out senior shortstop and Mustangs No. 3 hitter Matt Cuppari. Donlon, however, jumped on Rose's first pitch on the following at bat and lofted it to right field, deep enough to chase home Santiago with the tying run as both of the other baserunners advanced on the throw from Toms River North right fielder Jeff Ciervo.
Rose then walked senior second baseman Dave Clark to reload the bases and Reyes jumped on the first pitch from Rose, lining it to center field to chase home both Markoski and Evans with the go-ahead runs.
"We have a lineup that hunts fastballs and attacks," Donlon said. "We look for pitches to hit and we look to hit them hard and we also try to be patient and make pitchers work in the process."
Toms River North came right back in the bottom of the inning against Brick Memorial sophomore right-hander Nick Stephan, beginning with senior Brandon Fischer's third leadoff double of the game.
Fischer came on to replace starting center fielder Dave Cordoma in the second inning after Cordoma injured himself in the bottom of the first while in the field. Fischer played left field and eventually moved to second base when sophomore Craig Larsen moved to the mound.
Mike Nyisztor followed Fischer's double with a sharp single through the right side and Fischer darted home after Donlon bobbled the ball in the outfield, cutting the Brick Memorial lead to 13-12. Stephan followed by striking out junior Austin Feigin on a pitch in the dirt, which allowed Nyisztor to advance to second with the potential tying run.
The wild pitch made a difficult decision for Rizzitello easier, as the Brick Memorial skipper opted to intentionally walk Rose with first base open, despite the fact that Rose represented the winning run. The Oklahoma State commit had three hits - including two doubles - in his four prior trips to the plate and homered twice on Tuesday against Lacey.
"If there wasn't the open base, we were going to pitch to him," Rizzitello said. "Once that base opened up, with the way he was hitting the ball, we didn't want to let their best player beat us."
Stephan made his coach's decision pay off by getting ahead of Ciervo and inducing a ground ball to Clark at second base. Clark fielded it cleanly and flipped the ball to Cuppari to initiate the game-ending, 4-6-3 double play with the tying run left stranded in scoring position.
Brick Memorial entered play Thursday having scored only six runs over its previous six games, but got on the board with a run in each of the first two innings. Donlon lined a double to the right-center gap to score Cuppari from first base in the top of the first and Markoski smashed an opposite-field double to left-center with one out in the top of the second that scored courtesy-runner Elie Lavarin.
The Mustangs appeared to blow the game open with four runs in the third inning, highlighted by the Reyes home run that chased Mariners starter Brendan Mullins. Evans later added an RBI single with two out to push the Brick Memorial lead to 6-0.
"I wasn't looking to hit a home run," Reyes said. "I was looking to put the ball in play hard, get the runs across and put us up by a couple more runs. I didn't think it was going to get out. I did see it go out, but I wasn't thinking about it my next at bat."
Although Brick Memorial gave senior starter D.J. Wilson a six-run cushion, Wilson was tasked with shutting down a Mariners lineup that exploded for 23 runs Tuesday against Lacey and beat University of North Carolina recruit Robbie Peto and Monroe on Sunday, 8-5.
In its last five games, Toms River North was averaging 11.2 runs per game and the Mariners eventually surpassed that pace on Thursday once they got going in the third inning. Fischer hit a fly ball into the sun in center field that Santiago could not find and let drop for a leadoff double. Feigin chased him home with an RBI single to left to open the Toms River North scoring and Rose followed with a line-drive double down the left-field line to place runners on second and third.
Ciervo lifted a sacrifice fly to deep left-center field t push Toms River North's second run across and the Mariners then went to work with two out. Junior first baseman Jared Bellissimo ripped an RBI single to left field to score Rose and Larsen kept the inning alive with a single to shallow center.
Designated hitter Pat Marinaccio hammered a double to the left-field corner to score Bellissimo and junior catcher Ian Mindas tied the game with a line-drive single to center field that plated both Larsen and Marinaccio and capped a six-run inning Toms River North inning that completely wiped out Brick Memorial's early advantage.
The Mustangs, however, responded with four more runs in the top of the fourth. Donlon led off the inning with a single through the right side and Clark and Reyes drew walks to load the bases with no one out. Toms River North then turned to Larsen on the mound and the sophomore right-hander retired the first two batters he faced to move within an out of escaping trouble.
Santiago came through with a ringing double off the left-field fence that scored two runs and Markoski followed with a high pop fly that dropped between the third baseman Rose, the shortstop Nyisztor and left-fielder Alex Klalo for a two-run double. Markoski finished the game 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBI.
Larsen set down the side in order on seven pitches in each of the next two innings to keep Toms River North within striking distance and the Mariners finally struck again in the sixth. Fischer again started the rally with a leadoff double down the left-field line and moved to third when Nyisztor tried to bunt his way on base.
Feigin drew a one-out walk and Rose smacked a double inside the bag at third and down the line to score Fischer and set the Mariners up with runners on second and third. Ciervo then beat out a ground ball to third that junior Ray Lutick did not field cleanly and while the Brick Memorial infield and Rizzitello began to contest the close call at first, Feigin darted home with the eighth Toms River North run while Rose took third.
Bellissimo then delivered his fourth hit of the game, a double inside the third-base bag to score Rose and put runners on second and third with one out and Toms River North now trailing just 10-9. Larsen then chopped a grounder that got over Stephan - who relieved Wilson after the walk to Feigin - and landed between the pitcher, Cuppari and Lutick. The infield single scored Ciervo with the tying run and moved Bellissimo to third with the go-ahead run.
Marinaccio picked up his second RBI of the game with the go-ahead sacrifice fly to right, with Bellissimo sliding around the tag of senior catcher Justin Bates after a strong throw by Donlon. Stephan retired Mindas on a pop-up to second base to keep the deficit at one.
Brick Memorial's win on Thursday gives the Mustangs sole possession of first place in Class A South. The Mustangs dropped a 10-3 game at home against Jackson Memorial on Friday to fall out of the top spot, but since then, Jackson Memorial has lost three straight - including consecutive divisional games against Toms River East and Toms River South.
"We have a team full of seasoned, varsity baseball players and as a collective group, they all have good approaches at the plate and when they get a pitch they like, they do damage," Rizzitello said. "We have a deep lineup with four Division I guys at the top and we felt coming into the year was going to make us pretty dangerous, because even on a day like today against a good lineup that puts a lot of runs on the board, we can still win the game."