BAYVILLE - The Central Regional baseball team opened its season on Saturday by beating a No. 1 pitcher and on Tuesday afternoon, the Golden Eagles made it an even stronger start to the season by beating a No. 1 team.

Senior Colin Stacy pitched 5 2/3 innings of solid relief and Central got contributions from all over its roster in an 8-4 win over Toms River North, the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 and the defending Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournament champions.

"We all got together before the season and told each other we weren't going to look at who the opponent was - we are just going to play our game," Stacy said. "We have a lot of seniors, we know we have a chance to be pretty good and we want to make sure we're coming to play every day, no matter who we're playing."

Central senior Colin Stacy. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Central senior Colin Stacy. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Central opened its season by beating Pinelands right-handed junior ace Joey Ventresca behind a strong outing from its own ace, A.J. Smith. Pitching behind Smith was a question for Central entering the season, but Stacy answered part of that question with his performance in relief on Tuesday.

"Coming back, we knew we had A.J. as our ace and after that, it was going to be a little bit of an unknown," third-year Central coach Mike Casale said. "The one thing about the guys who are going to get those innings is they are tough kids. They aren't afraid to take the ball and compete out there. My message to them is always to attack the strike zone and let the seniors in the field go to work."

Stacy entered the game in the second inning with the bases loaded and one out after the Mariners took a 3-1 lead on a two-run single by senior shortstop Craig Larsen and chased Central starter Tom Ruscitti - a Fairleigh Dickinson recruit who is the regular catcher when he is not pitching. Stacy induced a pop-up by No. 3 hitter Jared Bellissimo and a groundout to shortstop by cleanup hitter Justin Schaff.

"I knew I was going to be coming in in relief," Stacy said. "Tommy usually comes out firing so I was thinking the third or fourth inning (to enter the game on the mound). We needed it a little earlier, but I was ready to go."

The only run Stacy allowed was on a high fly ball by Toms River North junior starting pitcher Jon Giordano in the top of the fifth that the wind twisted away from left fielder Ryan Galati, who appeared to camp under it before missing it and allowing a run to score. Giordano's RBI double cut the Central lead to 5-4.

Galati was in left field after starting the game at second base because starting left fielder Nick Altieri collided with sophomore shortstop Mike Masino on a catch during the third inning and left the game for precautionary reasons.

Masino entered the game in the second inning to cover shortstop when Stacy moved from short to the mound. The sophomore made two key plays in the field and delivered a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the third inning that gave Central the lead for good, 4-3.

Masino's hit was one of three the Eagles picked up with two out and seven of Central's eight runs on Tuesday scored with two out.

"We have a lot of guys who played as sophomores and juniors, so experience helps in those situations," Casale said. "With the young guys, we just tell them to do their part. We have the seniors to lead us in a lot of areas; we just need guys to step up and fill roles."

His pickup and throw to first on Schaff's ground ball ended the first and Masino started a six-three double play in the top of the seventh that accounted for the first two outs of the final inning.

Altieri's injury also forced senior R.J. Shea into the game at first base and the senior worked a big two-out walk in the three-run Central third that loaded the bases to set up the three runs.

Prior to Masino coming through with his two-out, two-run single, Smith worked a six-pitch walk to force in Central's second run.

Central senior third baseman Vance Pelino. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Central senior third baseman Vance Pelino. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Senior third baseman Vance Pelino hammered an RBI double into left field to score Galati to make it 5-3 in the bottom of the fourth, part of a 2-for-2 day at the plate for Pelino.

Central added two more runs in the fifth when Giordano dropped Tyler Aires's high fly ball to left field with two out and scored both Masino and senior center fielder Shane Black.

Giordano took the loss on the mound as well, but he was also Toms River North's standout at the plate by going 2-for-4 with two RBI, including a solo home run to tie the game leading off the second.

Central grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by Aires to score Black, who opened the game with a leadoff double.

Smith added a sacrifice fly in the seventh to cap a two-RBI game and turn it over to Stacy to finish off the win with a one-two-three seventh, thanks to the double-play turned by Masino. Stacy also finished 2-for-4 at the plate with a run scored.

On the other side of the field, Toms River North dropped its second straight game to open the season. The Mariners lost a tough game, 1-0, to Washington Township in 10 innings on Saturday. Toms River North started last season 3-2 and 6-4 before kicking into gear to win both the county and conference tournaments and will have to shake off a slow start again this season.

Central, meanwhile, has already taken down two noteworthy opponents behind its senior roster. According to Casale, the Golden Eagles hope Aires will be ready to pitch sometime in the middle of this season after completing a program to strengthen his left shoulder, which Casale said was bothering him over the offseason.

Regardless of whether the Golden Eagles can add another arm to the staff, they have an All-Shore right-hander in Smith - who sported a 1.12 ERA last year - as well as Ruscitti and Stacy backing up their ace. Throw in a senior-laden roster and Central is thinking big in Class A South, especially after Tuesday's win.

"We're capable of beating anybody and we're capable of losing to anybody," Casale said. "The first two games happened to be against very good teams and I think the guys went out knowing they could win and were able to do it. We have to have that mentality every day and the guys have bought into the message so far."


Box Score

Central 8, No. 1 Toms River North 4

TR North (0-2, 0-1)0300100444
Central (2-0, 1-0)103121X891


Jon Giordano (L, 0-1)2.25443275
Chris Wood1.13111129
Mike Centeno21312135
Tom Ruscitti1.12334041
Colin Stacy (W, 1-0)5.22112187

Top Hitters

TR NorthStats
Jon Giordano2-4, 2B, HR, RBI
Craig Larsen1-3, HBP, 2 RBI
Vance Pelino2-2, 2B, BB, R, RBI
Mike Masino1-4, R, 2 RBI
Shane Black2-3, 2B, 2 R, SB
Colin Stacy2-4, R
Tyler Aires1-4, RBI
A.J. Smith0-2, BB, 2 RBI



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