TOMS RIVER - Toms River North senior Craig Larsen was not quite ready to pitch today, but his arm came into play as much as his bat did during Tuesday's showdown against a Toms River East team that entered a perfect 5-0.

Coach Andy Pagano's decision to hold off Larsen for another game also opened the door for junior Jon Giordano to steal the show on the mound and even at the plate against one of the Shore's last three remaining unbeaten teams.

Giordano pitched a seven-hit complete game and hit a solo home run to highlight a 3-1 Toms River North win Tuesday over the previously-unbeaten Raiders - the No. 6 team in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - which also erased a brief two-game skid for the No. 8 Mariners.

Toms River North junior Jon Giordano. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Toms River North junior Jon Giordano. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We heard a lot of the talk," Giordano said of Toms River East. "They were 5-0, they are off to a great start and all the credit to them for coming out strong. We wanted to be the first team to beat them and get back to winning."

Larsen added a 3-for-3 effort at the plate that included a triple, a run scored and a two-out RBI single in the fourth. Not only was Larsen perfect at the plate; he also threw out a runner at home plate from shallow left field in the second inning and made a tough play in the hole that first baseman Jared Bellissimo scooped out of the dirt for the second out of the sixth.

With one out and Jay Longo on first, Toms River East sophomore Matt Santos lined a shot down the left-field line that just barely landed foul. Longo got the wave around third from Raiders coach Keith Smicklo and Larsen took the relay from left fielder Brendan Mullins and fired a strike to catch Justin Schaff to get Longo by a full step.

"I just let my instincts take over," Larsen said. "I wasn't thinking whether or not it was fair or foul. You just have to get in position to make a play and then go execute.

"I think that was really the kind of play we needed. Coming off these two losses, we needed something to fire us up and get us going, and I think that's what it did."

Giordano retired the next batter to strand a runner at third and in the first at-bat of the bottom of the second, the junior worked the count full. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Giordano unloaded on an offering from Toms River East starter Brad Brush and launched it over the left-center field fence for his second homer of the season and a 2-0 Mariners lead.

"I was looking to have a good at bat," Giordano said. "Give (Brush) credit - he's a good pitcher. He got me out twice after that. It was a good at bat, I laid off some pitches, he gave me a fastball up and I just put the bat on it and it went."

Toms River East pulled within a run by scoring its lone run of the game in the top of the fourth inning. Freshman third baseman Aidan Meola got the rally started with two outs by lining a double down the left-field line and taking third on an error in the outfield. He scored on bloop single to right by Shaun Sullivan.

Toms River North had an immediate answer behind the bottom of the order and Larsen at the top. Nick DeMaio reached on an error on the infield moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and his pinch-runner, Sean Aguiar, advanced to third on a single to shallow right by third baseman Nick DeRose.

That brought up Larsen with runners on the corners and the senior shortstop lined a 1-2 pitch to center field for an RBI single.

The extra cushion lit a spark under Giordano, who retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced, including three via the strikeout.

"I was leaving the ball up a little bit early and I made some adjustments to my approach and started getting the ball down where I wanted it," Giordano said. "Once I started locating down in the zone I was able to be more effective with the high fastball when I wanted to get a strikeout."

"I don't really worry about our pitching and I definitely wasn't worried about the pitching today," Larsen said. "Gio is one of our top guys and he keeps getting better, so we felt really good about him going today."

As a sophomore last year, Giordano emerged as a reliable spot-starter and reliever for the Mariners and in addition to moving up the pitching depth chart, he has moved into a prime spot in the lineup, hitting No. 5 in Toms River North's order between seniors Justin Schaff and Brendan Mullins.

"Hitting was definitely my focus in the offseason," Giordano said. "With some big hitters graduating from last year, I knew I was going to have a chance to get some at-bats and I wanted to prove I could help out the team at the plate and also on the mound."


Box Score

No. 8 Toms River North 3, No. 6 Toms River East 1

TR East (5-1, 5-1)0001000172
TR North (5-4, 4-2)110100X370


Brad Brush (L, 1-1)67313392
Jon Giordano (W, 2-1)77113595

Top Hitters

TR EastStats
Aidan Meola1-3, 2B, R
Shaun Sullivan1-3, RBI
Matt Santos1-3, 2B
Danny Clemente1-3, 2B, BB
Ahmir Cournier1-3, BB
TR NorthStats
Craig Larsen3-3, 3B, BB, R, RBI
Jon Giordano1-3, HR, R, RBI
Jared Bellissimo1-3, RBI
Nick DeMaio1-2, 2B, BB


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