JACKSON TWP. - As sophomores last season, Ryan Lasko and Christian Pellone hit at opposite ends of Jackson Memorial's batting order.

They still do only now, it is Pellone at the top and Lasko at No. 8, a near-mirror-image of last year, when Lasko hit at the top and Pellone No. 9 for most of the Jaguars' 25-win season.

Whether at the top or at the bottom, Lasko, Pellone and everybody else in Jackson Memorial's lineup can break the game open and during two impressive wins to open the 2019 season, the two juniors served as bookends to a retooled and relentless Jackson Memorial hitting attack.

Pellone hit the first of four Jackson Memorial home runs and Lasko picked up where he left off in Monday's opening-night game with two more doubles and three RBI as the No. 1 ranked Jaguars overpowered No. 8 Toms River South, 15-3, to sweep the season-opening series between the Shore Conference Class A South rivals.

From left: Jackson Memorial senior Ahmir Cournier, coach Frank Malta, junior Christian Pellone and junior Carmine Petosa. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"It doesn't matter where anybody is hitting (in the order)," Lasko said. "The job is still the same: go up there and get a hit. Do your job."

Lasko served as the leadoff hitter for most of the season before trading spots with Pellone for Jackson Memorial's final eight games. The center fielder had an up-and-down sophomore season at the plate that ended with a .245/.308/.319 line that included seven doubles.

If the first two games of the season are any indication, Lasko is primed for a breakthrough season, as are most of Jackson Memorial's hitters. Facing a perennial Class A South contender led by the state's all-time winningest head coach, Ken Frank, Lasko went 5-for-7 with three doubles, four RBI and his first career home run. On Wednesday, he was 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBI and is lone out made was a scorching line drive that Indians third baseman Mike Lazzaro gloved with a leaping grab.

"I think it's just maturity," Lasko said. "For a lot of us who are juniors, everybody is just maturing a little bit. We're growing into our bodies and we're really just starting to find ourselves as hitters and players and pitchers."

Lasko was far from the only Jaguars hitter to tee off on Toms River South in the season's first two games. Senior Alex Iadisernia went 3-for-3 on Wednesday with a solo home run and is now 5-for-5 with a double, a home run and three RBI through two games.

Junior Carmine Petosa clubbed two home runs and drove in five on Wednesday and is now 4-for-7 with six RBI.

"We had a good approach and we stuck with it," said Petosa who is already committed to play at Wake Forest. "We stayed to the big part of the field - left field for the lefties, right field for the righties. We just focused on making hard contact, finding big meatballs and crushing them."

Jackson Memorial senior Alex Iadisernia. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Senior Ahmir Cournier transferred to Jackson Memorial from Toms River East and slid into the open starting shortstop job. All Cournier has done is go 5-for-7 with two doubles, including 2-for-3 with a two-run double on Wednesday.

Then there is Pellone, who scuffled with an 0-for-5 performance at the plate in the opener only to bounce back in a big way on Wednesday. Pellone hit the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence to tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the first to jump-start a 2-for-3 game with a double, homer and two runs scored.

"The first game, he didn't do as well as he wanted but he has been saying he wanted to hit that first pitch and he finally got it," Iadisernia said. "It's awesome to answer back right away, especially against that team."

Pellone, Petosa and Lasko are three of six juniors in the Jackson Memorial starting lineup. Catchers Tom Cartnick and Nick Sefick - who share catcher and designated hitter duties - and third baseman Jake Wendell are the others.

With two thirds of their lineup maturing from sophomores to juniors over the offseason, it's no wonder the Jaguars have come back in 2018 with an even more menacing offense than they had a year ago.

"A lot of our thought over the winter and in the spring was about getting a better approach at the plate," Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta said. "The work they put in in the weight room, we thought that was going to help - bigger, stronger, more maturity going into sophomore year. We thought that was going to be big and, so far, that seems to be the case.

Jackson Memorial junior Carmine Petosa. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We're hitting a lot of balls hard. Even a lot of our outs, we are hitting the ball hard. That's been the case throughout March and it's been what we have mapped out. Brandon Vega, our assistant coach who works with out hitters, has done an excellent job giving these guys a plan and they have bought into what he is doing."

Toms River South struck first on Wednesday with a solo home run by junior shortstop Jordan Erbe. Pellone's first-pitch home run to leadoff the first, followed by two hard-hit singles by Cournier and Iadisernia sent the message that it would take a lot more than a single home run to best Jackson Memorial.

In the case of Toms River South, two home runs weren't enough to keep the game close. Senior Gabe Driscoll added a solo home run in the top of the fourth inning that cut Jackson Memorial's lead to 7-2, but the lead was already sizable enough and about to grow even larger.

Iadisernia led off the third with a solo blast to make it 8-2 and Petosa and Lasko added RBI in the four-run inning.

"We have better plans at the plate," said Iadisernia, who has been an All-Shore outfielder each of the past two seasons and is committed to play at Elon University. "We're not swinging for the fences; we are staying simple. Our lineup is putting a lot of pressure on guys. Nobody can really pitch around us. Having Ryan in the eight-hole is crazy. He is one of our best hitters."

Jackson Memorial added four more in the bottom of the fifth to end the game via the 10-run rile. Iadisernia doubled and scored on an RBI single by Sefick - who was the DH on Wednesday but started at catcher on Monday night and throughout last season - to make it 12-3. Petosa then ended the game with an opposite-field bomb to left-center field.

Petosa ignited a three-run second inning with a solo shot to right-center field that gave Jackson Memorial a 2-1 lead. Pellone and Cournier later turned in back-to-back doubles, with Cournier's plating two runs and pushing Jackson's lead to 4-1.

The Jaguars pushed the lead to 7-1 in the third with a two-run double by Lasko and a sacrifice fly by senior left fielder Troy Bathmann.

Jackson Memorial's 23 runs in two games is likely to overshadow its pitching and defense, which were instrumental in the Jaguars' run to a South Jersey Group IV championship last season.

Sophomore Matt Potok pitched a complete game in Monday's 8-1 win over Toms River South and left-handers Nick Beetel and Joe Princiotta were solid enough on Wednesday. Beetel, who was an All-Shore pitcher as a sophomore in 2018, was not at his sharpest on Wednesday but his target will be to pitch the way he did in May of last season. He allowed a pair of home runs on Wednesday and struck out three while walking three in 3 1/3 innings of work.

Jackson Memorial junior Nick Beetel. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Potok will see an increased role this season after pitching 15 innings as a freshman. He got the ball on opening night in Toms River and held the Indians to an earned run on seven hits and one walk while striking out six - including three straight to end the game.

In 12 innings so far this season, Jackson Memorial has yet to commit an error and the defense has had plenty of work to do with its pitchers striking out 10 batters in 12 innings. On Wednesday, the infield accounted responsible for eight of the 11 outs on balls in play while Potok was more reliant on balls in the air.

"We preach to our pitchers to get ahead with and pound the zone and it's a lot easier to get them to do that when they have confidence in the guys behind them," Malta said. "Defense is a big focus of ours and we have seen it a few times so far where we get a first-pitch swing and a guy makes the play on the infield to get us a quick out. It makes you more efficient because you're not throwing as many pitches and it encourages you to go after hitters."

The two-game series with Toms River South was an early test for the Jaguars, who still have games scheduled against defending Shore Conference and Ocean County Tournament champion Toms River North and rival Jackson Liberty this week.

The two resounding wins over a state-renowned program were an ideal start to the season but after coming up one win short of reaching the Group IV final with a team loaded with sophomores last year, the Jaguars are keeping their eyes focused forward.

"I like it because we are seeing good arms right away and getting into that competitive mindset," Iadisernia said. "We want to be at that level all year. Every team on our schedule can play so we're going to go out and try to beat whoever we are playing that day."

"I think last year just made us hungrier," Lasko said. "We saw how close we got when a lot of us were sophomores and now that we're juniors, I think we realize what we're capable of. We're not satisfied. We feel like we are ready to take that next step."

 

Box Score

No. 1 Jackson Memorial 15, No. 8 Toms River South 3 (5 Innings)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
TR South (0-2, 0-2) 1 0 0 1 1 X X 3 5 4
Jackson Mem (2-0, 2-0) 1 3 3 4 4 X X 15 14 0

Pitching

Toms River South IP H R ER BB SO PC
Joe Ferreri (L, 0-1) 2 6 4 2 1 0 29
Keifer Samul 1 4 5 4 1 0 26
Erik Narvaez 1 4 6 4 2 0 26
Jackson Memorial IP H R ER BB SO PC
Nick Beetel (W, 1-0) 3.1 3 2 2 3 3 69
Joe Princiotta 1.2 2 1 1 0 1 34

Top Hitters

Toms River South Stats
Jordan Erbe 1-2, HR, R, RBI
Gabe Driscoll 1-3, HR, R, RBI
Matt Hartshorn 2-2, RBI
Jackson Memorial Stats
Carmine Petosa 2-3, 2 HR, 3 R, 5 RBI
Alex Iadisernia 3-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI
Christian Pellone 2-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI
Ahmir Cournier 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI
Ryan Lasko 2-3, 2 2B, R, 3 RBI
Andrew Sefick 1-3, 3 R, RBI

 

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