Baseball – Jackson Memorial Backs Princiotta, Advances to SCT Quarterfinals
JACKSON TWP. - Few pitchers in the Shore Conference have been more reliable for their team than senior Joe Princiotta has been for Jackson Memorial.
If only his team had been more reliable for him last Saturday, May 11, in a stunning Ocean County Tournament loss to Toms River East, he might still be working on an unbeaten record.
One week later in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, Princiotta returned to the mound, pounded the strike zone in his usual unwavering fashion and this time, got help from the Jaguars lineup and the defense in a 7-1 win over 12th-seeded Toms River North.
"I don't hold any grudges," Princiotta said about last weekend's loss. "I just moved on and got ready for today. I still have to do my job to keep us winning. We want to see if we can go on a run and win states and Shore Conference, so everybody has to be locked in."
Princiotta's start previous to Saturday's game was a one-hitter exactly one week earlier. Despite turning in, perhaps, his best start of the season, Princiotta suffered his first loss of the season in a 1-0 loss to Toms River East in which his offense did not get a hit until two outs into the seventh inning and the lone run he surrendered scored on an error.
"Without him (Princiotta), I don't know where we are this year," Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta said. "He has been kind of our Saturday starter who has really held our staff today. We want to go play in these Autism Awareness games and get matched up against good team and he allows us to go compete against great competition and still have pitching lined up for the division games during the week.
"I think that's what was a little disappointing last week because (Princiotta) is a guy who has done everything we have asked and then some and we didn't make enough plays behind him to help him out. Really, all of our pitchers have been outstanding and we owe it to them to be on our game because they have been getting it done all year."
Princiotta again gave up one run Saturday against Toms River North but by the time the Mariners broke onto the scoreboard against the fifth-seeded Jaguars, Jackson Memorial already had a two-run lead.
The Jaguars are the second-highest scoring team in the Shore Conference and have a incredible .382/.467/.610 slash-line (average/on-base/slugging) for the season. By comparison, Jackson Liberty - the highest-scoring team at the Shore - has a .353/.450/.545 line.
Yet on Saturday, Jackson Memorial did not jump-start its seven-run afternoon with that power but rather with the kind of small-ball that tends become magnified in tournament games. In the bottom of the first, senior second baseman Christian Pellone led off the inning with a single to left field on a 3-2 pitch from Mariners starter Matt Ostroman, then advanced twice on wild pitches.
Junior Tom Cartnick was at the plate for the second wild pitch and took advantage of the opportunity by lifting a sacrifice fly to right field for a 1-0 Jackson Memorial lead.
"I wouldn't say I was relieved to see us get a run because we have a great lineup," Princiotta said. "I was definitely glad we scored first and set the tone so I could just focus on what I had to do."
After Princiotta worked around a pair of singles by Nick Mortellito and Mike Colella in the second, Jackson Memorial again employed small-ball to pick up a run. Junior catcher Andrew Sefick reached on an infield single to lead it off, then sophomore Ty Beck executed a hit-and-run by lining a single to right-center field - setting the Jaguars up with runners on the corners and one out.
Freshman left fielder Zach Crotchfelt then dropped a successful safety squeeze bunt to score courtesy runner Matt Feld from third and extend Jackson Memorial's lead to 2-0.
"At the beginning of the season, we were mostly a mash-and-go type team that just hit everything hard," Beck said. "As the season has progressed and we have seen different pitching, we have understood we need to be able to get guys over, get to the next guy and that's really helped us."
With Toms River North trailing 2-1 in the fourth, Sefick again started a rally with a one-out walk. Once again, he gave way to Feld, who took second on a passed ball and scored on a one-out, RBI single to left field by junior third baseman Jake Wendell, making the score 3-1.
"I have been looking forward to trying a more aggressive style where we force the action a little bit more," Malta said. "That's a fun style to play, I think - it keeps everybody engaged and into the game. It's great to have the kind of lineup we have where we can hit some balls over the fence but you have to be able to put the game in motion and put pressure on the defense and the pitcher that you can't do if you're just waiting on guys to hit the ball over the fence or to a gap. It's great when it's working but some days, you have to find another way."
In the bottom of the fifth, Jackson Memorial tapped into the power that has defined its offensive tear throughout the 2019 and closed out the game. Junior center fielder Ryan Lasko launched a solo home run over the scoreboard in left field to put Jackson Memorial up 4-1 - Lasko's fifth home run of the season.
In the bottom of the sixth, Beck again delivered with a single to center, this time scoring Feld from second base for a 5-1 Jackson Memorial lead. Senior Troy Bathmann came on for Crotchfelt in left field and in his lone at-bat of the game, he ripped a two-run home run over the left-field fence to extend the Jaguars lead to 7-1.
Princiotta returned to the mound for the seventh and closed out a complete-game for his sixth win of the season. Although he gave up nine hits, Princiotta needed only 77 pitches to finish the game thanks to a walk-free outing in which he threw 56 of those 77 pitches for strikes.
Jackson Memorial's defense has betrayed it in two of the team's three losses this season - the Toms River East loss, as well a loss to 3-17 Central Regional. On Saturday, though, the Jaguars committed only one error and Beck's work at shortstop was anything but shaky.
Starting in place of injured senior starter Ahmir Cournier, Beck not only went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI, but he also made four standout plays in the field to aid his starting pitcher.
The first was a charging play to get the batter, Jacob Dawson, for an out with the bases loaded in the third. Toms River North's lone run scored on the play, but Beck's only play was to first and by making sure of the second out of the inning, he set up Princiotta to escape without further damage and the lead intact one batter later.
On the first batter of the fourth inning, Beck quickly moved to his right to backhand a hot-shot by Mortellito and make a long throw for the first out of what turned out to be a one-two-three inning when Sefick picked off Zach Goodale at first base after a missed bunt attempt by Sean Aguiar.
With a runner on first base and one out in the fifth, Robert Jeans hit a hard ground ball to Beck's right, but the sophomore made a sliding stop and fired to second to cut off the lead runner for the second out.
In the sixth, Beck capped his defensive day by starting a six-four-three double play after Dawson led off the inning with a single.
Beck is a returning varsity letter-winner who lost a position battle during each of the past two preseasons. He entered his freshman year with a shot to start at shortstop before then-senior and eventual All-Shore utility man Mike Dimino swooped in to win the job.
Beck appeared lined up to inherit the shortstop job as a sophomore, but Cournier transferred to Jackson Memorial from Toms River East and was one of Jackson Memorial's most dangerous bats before suffering a right wrist injury during the past week.
"Ahmir might be the only guy who could have showed up and taken the job from Ty," Malta said. "He has been ready since last year as far as the coaching staff was concerned but Ahmir came in and has just been so good - not just hitting and catching the ball, but fitting in chemistry-wise - it was one of those situations where Ty was the odd-man out. But to his credit, he has stayed ready and if you look at it, he was getting starts at third base two or three games into the season and has been playing pretty regularly since."
Despite missing out on an opening-day spot in the starting lineup again, Beck, as Malta said, stayed ready and has filled in as a starting third baseman, shortstop and as a weapon off the bench. All told, his sophomore season has come together nicely in his 14 starts and 18 appearances. He is batting .286 for the season and since the loss to Central on April 25, Beck is hitting .588 (10-for-17) with a double and seven RBI.
"I have definitely had opportunities that coach Malta has given to me," Beck said. "Maybe I didn't do my best to take the opportunity, but I didn't become frustrated. I just worked harder and wanted to keep going so I could get the opportunity again."
"I'm always ready. I work hard, I think, and I do everything I can just so I'm ready and prepared. Ahmir gets hurt, so I'm ready to go at short. If Jake gets hurt, I'm ready to go at third. I'm always ready to hop in and do my thing."
More than his noteworthy stats over the past three weeks, Beck provided a reminder Saturday of the power of executing the game-plan - something Jackson Memorial did during its run to an NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV title last year with a team that came back largely intact for 2019.
"We don't like to call back on past games or seasons too much but it's nice to know that this group has been there before and they know what it takes," Malta said. "They still have to go out and do it. Nothing is guaranteed to us just because we won some big games last year and I think that's one thing they are starting to understand. We'll see: hopefully we have another fun run in us this year."
Jackson Memorial 7, Toms River North 1
|TR North (14-10)||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||1||9||1|
|Jackson Mem (20-3)||1||1||0||1||1||3||X||7||8||1|
|Toms River North||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||PC|
|Matt Ostroman (L, 2-1)||5||6||5||4||2||0||66|
|Joe Princiotta (W, 6-1)||7||9||1||1||0||3||77|
|Toms River North||Stats|
|Dylan Feigin||2-4, R|
|Jacob Dawson||1-3, RBI|
|Ty Beck||2-3, R, RBI|
|Ryan Lasko||1-4, HR, R, RBI|
|Troy Bathmann||1-1, HR, R, 2 RBI|
|Tom Cartnick||1-2, RBI|
|Jake Wendell||1-2, RBI|