Baseball – Central Rallies to Beat Southern on a Walk-Off Hit-By-Pitch in the 9th
BAYVILLE - The Central Regional baseball team hopes to make some noise as a No. 6 seed in the Ocean County Tournament behind a senior-laden roster and in order to get the ball rolling, the Golden Eagles had to beat the team that made a surprise run last year with a senior-heavy roster.
After falling in a three-run hole against the 2017 Ocean County Tournament runner-up and NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV champion Saturday, Central rallied to send the game to extra innings and beat Southern Regional, 4-3, on a hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth.
The sixth-seeded Golden Eagles advanced past the No. 11 Rams to Sunday's quarterfinal round. Central will travel to play No. 3 Jackson Memorial, with whom Central split a regular-season series within Shore Conference Class A South play.
After spotting Southern a 3-0 lead after the top of the fourth inning, Central began its climb back. Senior Ryan Galati, who started the game on the mound and lasted four innings, led off the fourth with a single, scurried to third on an errant pick-off attempt by Southern senior right-hander Andrew Luongo, and scored on a wild pitch to get his team on the board.
In the fifth, red-hot senior catcher Tom Ruscitti came through again with an RBI double to the gap in right-center, cutting the Southern lead to 3-2. In Central's last seven games, Ruscitti is hitting .542 with six doubles, five home runs and 19 RBI.
Senior right fielder Tyler Aires stepped up in the sixth inning and crushed a 2-0 pitch from Luongo over the left-field fence to tie the game at 3-3.
While Ruscitti entered Saturday on a six-game tear, Aires was on the other end of the hitting spectrum over those same six games. During that same stretch, Aires was 2-for-18 with no extra-base hits, but the 2017 All-Shore outfielder broke out in a big way on Saturday and when his team needed it most. Aires finished 2-for-3 with a walk and also made a running catch in the right-center gap with a running on second base.
Central had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh, when Galati ripped a single into left with the tying run on second base in the form of freshman infielder Mike Masino. Southern left fielder Tyler Colon, however, fired the ball to the plate to cut down Masino in plenty of time and send the game to the eighth inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Central started its winning rally when Ruscitti walked with two out. Galati followed with his third hit and senior Colin Stacy beat out an infield single to load the bases. Senior third baseman Vance Pelino stepped in and was hit by Austin Pharo's first pitch to force in the winning run.
Stacy allowed only one hit over 4 2/3 scoreless innings and after allowing a one-out hit to Southern catcher Marcos Matias in the top of the fifth, the senior right-hander retired 13 straight Rams batters before walking back-to-back hitters in the ninth to end his day.
Senior right-hander A.J. Smith took over on the mound and recorded the final out of the inning on one pitch, which was scalded by Pharo back to Smith on the mound. The senior gloved the line drive and after it popped out of his glove and dropped to the ground, he picked the ball up and flipped it over to first for the final out - the only one he would need to record in order to pick up his seventh win of the season.
Matias opened up the scoring with a two-run single in the top of the third inning and Pharo lined a single through the middle in the top of the fourth to extend the Southern lead to 3-0.
Matias is one of only two returning starters from last year's Southern team that reached the OCT final and won South Jersey Group IV after a long stretch of failing to even reach the NJSIAA Tournament. Pharo also played in certain lineups as well and Luongo logged some innings over the course of the season.
Central defeated Jackson Memorial in Jackson in last year's OCT opening round and will attempt to do the same against a Jaguars team that is also trying to hold off both the Golden Eagles and Toms River North in their pursuit of a Class A South championship.
Central 4, Southern 3 (9 Innings)
|Austin Pharo (L)||2.1||4||1||1||2||0||43|
|A.J. Smith (W, 7-1)||0.1||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Marcos Matias||2-4, 2 RBI|
|Austin Pharo||2-4, R, RBI, SB|
|Mike Liantonio||1-4, 2B|
|Cole Markley||1-3, R|
|Tyler Aires||2-3, HR, R, RBI|
|Ryan Galati||3-5, R|
|Tom Ruscitti||1-4, 2B, RBI|
|Vance Pelino||1-4, RBI|