Baseball – Crotchfelt and Jackson Memorial Surge Into Shore Conference Tournament Final
RED BANK -- One inning into Tuesday's second Shore Conference Tournament semifinal, Jackson Memorial senior Zach Crotchfelt looked like he was about ready to carry his seventh-seeded Jackson Memorial squad past No. 22 Donovan Catholic at Count Basie Park.
As has been the case throughout the season, the Jaguars gave Crotchfelt all the support he needed and kept their hopes of a championship sweep alive.
Crotchfelt drove in the first run of the game, took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and struck out 13 in six innings of work to help lead Jackson Memorial to a 7-3 win over Donovan Catholic and back to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game for the first time in 10 years.
"In years past, we have been looked at as a team that should win this tournament and that tournament, and we never really capitalized," Crotchfelt said. "As a leader, something that I have tried to reinforce with these guys is don't take any game lightly. Win what you've got in front of you and play every game like it's our last. If we win this tournament, it's that feeling I have been missing for these past few years, when we haven't really hit our mark like we should have."
The senior left-hander and Auburn University commit started the game with a five-pitch walk and got a shallow flyout for the first out before locking in. Crotchfelt struck out the next two batters, setting off a dominant stretch of four innings for the Jaguars.
In the bottom of the first, Crotchfelt ripped an RBI single with two out to make it 1-0 and his battery-mate, junior Aidan O'Donnell, followed with a ground-rule double that plated another.
The first-inning offense appeared as though it would be enough with Crotchfelt as locked-in as he was. After the walk and a fly out to open the top of the first, the senior struck out 11 of the next 14 batters he faced and took a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
Prior to the fifth, Jackson Memorial added five more runs, with junior Charlie Meglio smacking an RBI single in the second to make it 3-0 and junior Matt Koblos ripping an RBI double down the leftfield line for a 5-0 lead in the third. O'Donnell tacked on a run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth and senior Tommy Kendrick worked a bases-loaded walk later in the inning to stretch the lead to 7-0.
"It's so much more relaxing when everyone is contributing like they are now," Crotchfelt said. "When you don't have that support behind you, you kind of feel like you are out there on your own a little bit. Everything is clicking for us right now, so when I let up a couple runs, that's baseball and I can have that confidence in everybody that if I give up a couple runs, we're going to come right back."
Donovan Catholic went from dormant to active at the plate in the top of the fifth thanks to the bottom of its order. Sophomore catcher and No. 8 hitter Hunter Johnson broke up Crotchfelt's no-hit bid with a ground-rule double to left and on the next pitch, junior Matt Mason rocked an RBI triple to dead centerfield. Senior Andrew Bonick plated Mason with an RBI groundout and what looked like a game that might end in five innings via 10-run rule was once again in play for the Griffins.
"I think one of the things I'll need to work on going forward is doing things in the dugout to stay warm during long innings," Crotchfelt said. "Our offense is rolling right now, so we're going to have those long innings and I have to be ready to go the next inning."
Junior Jason Basillicata covered three innings in relief to minimize the damage by Jackson Memorial. Basillicata navigated around four hit batters and threw 82 pitches in the three innings, but gave up only one earned run.
Junior Gavin Degnan led off the Donovan Catholic sixth with a single and scored when he stole third and the throw skipped into leftfield. Jackson Memorial made the most of the mistake, with O'Donnell taking the throw from left field as Degnan scored and throwing out the trail runner trying to advance to third base.
With Crotchfelt at 107 pitches through six innings of work, senior Sage Goeke pitched a perfect seventh inning with two strikeouts to close out the win.
Since an extra-inning home loss to Central Regional on April 27, Jackson Memorial has won 11 out of 12 games, with the lone loss coming in extra innings to Freehold Township. That Freehold Township loss was one of only two games during this 12-game stretch that had no bearing on any of the championships Jackson Memorial has been actively chasing: the Class A South division title, the Ocean County Tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament.
Jackson Memorial is the last Shore Conference team with a chance to run the table on championships in 2022. The Jaguars clinched the outright Class A South title with a 9-5 win over Brick Memorial on Monday, with play for the Shore Conference Tournament title against Red Bank Catholic Sunday at ShoreTown Park in Lakewood, and will first play Toms River South in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals for the right to meet Central in the championship game.
"It's different than regular-season ball," Crotchfelt said. "Of course, you try to have the same approach throughout the season, but these teams we're playing right now, they are here for a reason. You have to bring your A-game every single day. I wake up in the morning and my mind jumps to the big game we've got coming up and it's just fun."
With three do-or-die games coming up in the next week, Jackson Memorial will have to tap into its pitching beyond Crotchfelt, which has stepped up during the current winning streak. Crotchfelt, meanwhile, is eager to take the ball for Sunday's SCT final against Red Bank Catholic. Crotchfelt has made three prior starts pitching with the minimum four days of rest between 90-plus-pitch outings and would be making a fourth on Sunday.
In those three starts on four days of rest, Crotchfelt is 3-0 with 0.34 ERA, seven hits, five walks and 44 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings.
"I want that ball more than anything, man," Crotchfelt said. "I think we got really lucky with it lining up where I can come back and again, I'm going to harp on everything I have done these past few days, get my body right and be good for Sunday."
"I've been taking care of my body and just trying to focus extra hard on stuff in the bullpen that I need to work on and keep improving on my strengths as well. I feel great. I've never felt better, actually."
Jackson Memorial 7, Donovan Catholic 3
|Jackson Mem (18-7)||2||1||2||2||0||0||x||7||7||1|
|Shaun O’Keefe (L, 6-1)||2||4||5||2||2||3||53|
|Zach Crotchfelt (W, 8-1)||6||3||3||2||3||13||107|
|Donovan Catholic||Game Stats|
|Matt Mason||1-3, 3B, R, RBI|
|Hunter Johnson||1-3, 2B, R|
|Gavin Degnan||1-3, R, SB|
|Andrew Bonick||0-2, BB, RBI|
|Jackson Memorial||Game Stats|
|Zach Crotchfelt||2-4, 2B, RBI|
|Aidan O’Donnell||1-2, 2B, BB, 2 RBI|
|Charlie Meglio||2-4, 2B, R, RBI|
|Matt Koblos||1-4, 2B, 2 RBI|
|Tommy Kendrick||0-2, 2 BB, HBP, R, RBI|