Baseball – Jersey Mike’s Week 1 Team of the Week: Southern
Last season, the Southern Regional baseball team surprised teams in the Shore Conference Class A South division and around the Shore Conference on the way to 14 wins and a second-place finish in the division.
This season, the Rams are not so much surprising so much as they are dominating.
Southern is the Week 1 Jersey Mike's Baseball Team of the Week and that might just be the beginning for Ocean County's hottest team to start the year. The Rams swept Central Regional -- a back-to-back Ocean County Tournament finalist that returned two All-Shore position players from a team that won 20 games a year ago -- during the first week of the season and after pummeling Toms River South twice this week, they own sole possession of first place in the A South standings.
"The kids like the game of baseball and they like each other," second-year Southern coach Ed Truitt said. "That's the camaraderie that's there. They got a taste of what it's like when things can go right last year and they are motivated to keep getting better. There is some stuff we can clean up going forward, but they are playing good baseball so far."
In four games to open the season, Southern is averaging 10.25 runs and on Wednesday at Toms River South, junior Brady Lesiak pitched the team's first shutout of the season in a 13-0 Rams rout. Three of Southern's wins have been by at least a seven-run margin and the lone close game the Rams won, they scored five runs in the final two innings to erase a 4-0 deficit and beat Central, 5-4.
In both wins over Central, Southern did major damage in the final two innings. The Rams scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth to turn a 3-3 game into an 11-3 win. Those two late-game rallies, plus scoring 25 runs in two wins over Toms River South have showcased a deep, dangerous lineup that has not let opposing pitching staffs breath.
Senior Niko Diamantopoulos was in the seventh spot of the lineup Wednesday at Toms River South and has been as productive as any hitter in the lineup. He hit his apex on Wednesday by going 2-for-2 with four RBI, including a three-run triple during a seven-run third that broke the game open.
Sophomore Mike Kaczynski made his first start Wednesday and went 2-for-2 with an RBI double for his first varsity hit and a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the game. For good measure, the sophomore third baseman also ended the game with a diving stop to his backhand side and throw across the diamond to record the final out in the bottom of the fifth.
"They grind out at-bats," Truitt said. "That's something I stress a lot: grind out every pitch, every inning. To put up the numbers we have in these first four games, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Junior right-hander Brady Lesiak tossed a five-inning, two-hit shutout on Wednesday at Toms River South and has pitched in three of Southern's first four games. He was the winner in the season-opener vs. Central, saved the comeback win at Central and finally started for the first time on Wednesday.
"He was a bulldogs last year and that's just the way he's wired," Truitt said of Lesiak. "That's been the way a lot of our guys are. Brady had a big game against Middletown South last year, which really showed who he was and I think who we were as a team."
Lesiak was one of Southern's top three pitchers a year ago, winning Southern's big win over Middletown South in the Shore Conference Tournament. The Rams' top two pitchers a year ago -- Mike Nascimento and Stephen Stafford -- graduated but with Lesiak, senior Steve Miller and senior Mike Nasti back, plus the emergence of talented junior Roger Dreher, Southern has the makings of an effective staff to go with its deep lineup.
Miller also hit a two-run homer Wednesday out of the No. 9 spot in the order, making Southern 5-for-7 with a double, triple, homer and eight RBI from the bottom third of the order.
Even in its South Jersey Group IV championship team in 2017, Southern did not make a run at the division championship during that regular season and its climb to second place last year was the program's most serious push for the top of Class A South in multiple decades.
"I'll leave that for other people to think about," Truitt said. "I try to focus on one pitch and one play. I know it's cliché, but that's how we have been since I took over the program. We're always 0-0 the next day and that has worked for us. It's nice to be 4-0, but we still want to get better."