Baseball: Jackson Memorial Tops Monroe to Win the CJ Group IV Title
JACKSON - With its season at a crossroads after two tournament losses in a five-day stretch in mid-May, Jackson Memorial was desperately searching for an elusive missing ingredient.
"Confidence,'' said junior designated hitter Rich Rountree.
The Jaguars finally found it in a win over rival Toms River East on May 15 that gave them a share of the Class A South title. The victory also served as the first glowing ember of what is now a full-blown bonfire as the fifth-seeded Jaguars tucked another title under their belt on Friday with a 6-2 win over sixth-seeded Monroe for their first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship since 2010. Jackson (18-7), which won its fifth sectional title in its 50-year program history, will now play South Jersey champion Eastern at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Overbrook High School in the Group IV semifinals.
A squad that was seemingly left for dead two weeks ago now has a chance to be the only public school team in the Shore Conference to take home three titles this season.
"We were in a tailspin,'' Jackson head coach Frank Malta said. "When all that started to happen, we had to regroup. We got to that point where we had to go back to East to replay that game where we tied, and we just talked about breathing a little bit, winning that game and getting on a roll."
"I think that is what started this roll,'' said junior pitcher Brandon Janofsky. "If we lose that game, I don't think we are where we are today. I think when we won that game it put excitement into us. We felt confident, and we have ridden it from there."
The same pitcher who led them to that momentum-changing 4-1 win over Toms River East earlier this month was the same one who got the job done at Larry D'Zio Field on Friday - Janofsky. The right-hander threw a complete-game six-hitter, striking out seven, walking one and hitting a batter on 107 pitches to improve to 6-0. After allowing five hits in the first two innings, he only allowed a harmless two-out double in the sixth with Jackson up by four runs.
"I had too much adrenaline at the beginning,'' Janofsky said. "I think I was just trying to overpower the hitters at that point and was leaving balls over the plate. They're a good team, and they took advantage of their opportunities. I wasn't trying to do anything special. I was just trying to let them get themselves out."
Janofsky also helped himself with the bat, going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and slugging a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth that snapped a 2-2 tie and energized the Jaguars. The game was waiting for one team to seize hold of it, and Janofsky delivered a bomb into the trees in left field on an 0-2 fastball from starter Mario Danza (7-3) for his second home run in the last two state tournament games.
"They were shifting me over to the left side, so honestly I was just trying to shoot 4-hole, and I just got under it and put it over the trees,'' he said.
Janofsky's longball ignited his teammates, as Jackson rallied for three more runs in the inning, all with two outs. Left fielder Mike Petrizzo squibbed a two-out infield hit off reliever Eric Heater, and then centerfielder Joe DeMaio and catcher Nick Babin drew a pair of full-count walks to load the bases. That brought up Rountree, who took a pitch before slamming a fastball off the wall in left center field for a three-run double and a 6-2 lead.
"I moved up on the plate,'' Rountree said. "I knew he was going to throw me something outside. The first pitch I took for the timing, and I knew he was going to throw me the same pitch. On the next pitch, I just got a good swing on it."
An offense that was anemic for much of the regular season has come alive in the playoffs, as the Jaguars scored 16 runs in the semifinals and have scored at least six in three of their four playoff victories. Jackson was also patient on Friday, drawing seven walks.
"(Janofsky's home run) blows the roof off a little bit, and then Rich Rountree's hit was huge,'' Malta said. "It's been offensively where we struggled, and these past few games we've really picked it up offensively. We've been having better at-bats, and better at-bats in key spots."
Janofsky's outing on the mound was a microcosm of Jackson's season. He scuffled early, fought through it and then grew more confident and effective with each inning. Monroe (15-7) got to him for its only runs with a two-out rally in the top of the first inning, and he settled down from there.
In the top of the first, centerfielder Chris Hernandez hit a two-out, two-strike single, followed by a single by catcher Anthony Tagliaferro, who entered the game 6-for-12 with eight RBI in the state tournament. A passed ball put a pair of runners in scoring position, and shortstop Anthony Parente ripped a two-run single for a 2-0 advantage.
"I think Brandon was a little juiced to begin with,'' Malta said. "He wasn't as sharp as he'd been. I think he was more just throwing and rearing back than hitting spots."
"He just wasn't hitting spots in the beginning,'' Babin said. "He just needed time to settle down, and once he started spotting his fastball, he was fine."
Jackson got a run right back in the bottom of the first inning when Janofsky drew a leadoff walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a two-out RBI single by DeMaio to cut it to 2-1.
Janofsky then escaped trouble in the second inning by inducing a deep flyout to center field to strand a pair of runners. After needing 43 pitches to get through the first two innings, he only needed six in a 1-2-3 third inning and settled into a groove from there. With his best pitch not as effective as usual, he switched gears and worried more about locating his fastball.
"Usually I live and die by my curveball, but today I had to live and die by my fastball,'' he said.
The Jaguars tied the game in the bottom of the fourth inning when Babin drew the second of his three walks in the game to start the frame, then courtesy runner T.J. Babin went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Rountree. Rightfielder Kyle Lona followed by ripping an RBI single to center field on a full count to make it 2-2.
Janofsky took it from there, belting his go-ahead home run and striking out six in the final four innings. Monroe threatened in the seventh inning thanks to an error and a walk, but Janofsky snuffed out any comeback by inducing a game-ending flyout to right field by Tagliaferro to set off the dogpile.
Now the Jaguars will try to reach their first Group IV final since 2010 and make a run at their first Group title since 1972. The loss to Barnegat ace Jason Groome in the Ocean County Tournament and a first-round upset at the hands of Monmouth Regional in the Shore Conference Tournament seem like a distant memory.
"Especially for the senior class, this is our last ride,'' Babin said. "This is all we have left. Some of us, like myself, this is the last year I'm playing baseball, so you want to go out as a state champion."
"We went up against a buzzsaw in Groome, stumbled against Monmouth, then got what we wanted in A South, and that was the first piece,'' Malta said. "Now we want to keep putting banners up there."
Jackson Memorial 6, Monroe 2
Monroe (15-7) 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 2 6 1
Jackson (18-7) 1 0 0 1 4 0 x - 6 6 2
WP: Janofsky (6-0); LP: Danza (7-3). Doubles: (J) Rountree, Johnson; (M) Gregor. Home runs: (J) Janofsky.