POINT PLEASANT BORO - Nick Guzzi said he did not feel 100-percent healthy heading into his start Monday night against Toms River South in the Ocean County Tournament, but watching Point Pleasant Boro's junior ace work, it was hard to tell.

Without his A-game, Guzzi still shut down the Indians in a six-hit shutout and picked up his team's only hit at the plate to carry the fourth-seeded Panthers past the No. 5 Indians, 2-0.

"I have been feeling under the weather since yesterday and I didn't have my best performance by my standards," Guzzi said. "There was no way I wasn't going to pitch though. I wanted to be out there for my team. Toms River South is a great hitting team and it was definitely a challenge facing them, so I wanted to be out there."

"I know Nick wasn't feeling too well but he certainly wanted that ball," Point Boro coach Dave Drew said. "He threw 103 pitches to get it done tonight and I know he wants to get that number down, but he was efficient outside of one or two innings."

Point Boro junior Nick Guzzi. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Point Boro junior Nick Guzzi. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Guzzi's five strikeouts Monday were a season-low but he did not issue a walk and leaned on a defense that did not make an error behind him. His battery mate - junior catcher Ryan Jasaitis - made two key plays for his pitcher in the final two innings to help his classmate to the finish line.

"I give the guys in the field all the credit for this game today," Guzzi said. "They locked up on defense all night."

With Point Boro lead, 2-0, in the top of the sixth, Guzzi surrendered consecutive two-out singles to senior Sam Conover and junior Max Rivas to bring cleanup hitter Matt Hartshorn to the plate as the go-ahead run.

Guzzi gained a 2-2 advantage and on ball three, Jasaitis fired behind Rivas at first. Rivas got into a rundown and first baseman Paul Franceschini threw the ball to third to get Conover attempting to advance, ending the sixth-inning threat with Hartshorn still holding the bat.

In the seventh, Hartshorn returned to the plate and hit a tapper in front of the plate. Rather than give it a chance to roll foul, Jasaitis pounced on it, spun and hurled a strike to first base for the first out of the final inning.

Guzzi then struck out the final two batters of the game to finish off his second shutout of the season.

"Late in the game, I was just concentrating on getting the ball down in the zone," Guzzi said. "I was leaving the ball up early on and they were hitting it hard, even on some of the outs I was getting. (Against Hartshorn) I just tried to pitch him down and eventually, I got that ground ball."

Toms River South senior Gabe Driscoll nearly overshadowed Guzzi on the mound but a rocky third inning spoiled an otherwise-flawless performance by the 6-foot-5 right-hander. Driscoll issued his only walk of the game leading off the third and after getting a strikeout for the first out, Christian Aurin stole second base when the throw down beat him but was dropped.

The defensive struggles continued when each of Point Boro's next two hitters - junior Cole Young and senior Sam Collins - reached on errors, with Collins picking up an RBI on his fielder's choice.

Guzzi finally came through with Point Boro's lone hit of the game, flipping an RBI single into right field to chase home Young with the second Panthers run.

"The key was we put the ball in play during that one inning and it worked in our favor," Drew said. "We have had some trouble in the last week putting the ball in play with runners on base so it was good to see those guys make something happen."

Outside of that third inning, Driscoll did not allow a single baserunner to reach and finished with eight strikeouts and one walk in his one-hit loss.

Driscoll also smashed a double in the top of the second inning to set Toms River South up with runners on second and third and one out, but Guzzi responded by notching a strikeout and inducing an inning-ending pop-up to Franceschini at first base.

With four days between Monday's win and the semifinal round on Saturday, Guzzi will be eligible to return on regular rest to try and pitch Point Boro into next week's championship game. The opponent Saturday figures to be top-seeded Jackson Memorial in Jackson, but the Jaguars will first have to beat No. 9 Toms River East in a game that is scheduled for 10 a.m. that Saturday morning.

Guzzi has risen to the occasion facing tough competition in each of his past two starts against Jackson Liberty (16-1) and Toms River South (10-6) and is eager to face the next challenge - even it is the highest-scoring team in the Shore Conference.

"We let Jackson Liberty off the hook (last Monday) and we never really recovered until Saturday against Barnegat," Drew said. "We knew we had Nick coming back for this game. It was a big-game atmosphere and he is a big-game pitcher."

"I live for games like that," Guzzi said. "So do my teammates and so to my coaches, so we'll be ready when it comes."

Box Score

Point Boro 2, Toms River South 0

TR South (10-6)0000000062
Pt Boro (13-4)002000X210


Gabe Driscoll (L, 3-3)61201878
Nick Guzzi (W, 5-1)760005103

Top Hitters

Toms River SouthStats
Max Rivas2-3
Gabe Driscoll1-3, 2B
Point BoroStats
Nick Guzzi1-3, RBI
Christian Aurin0-1, BB, R, SB



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