TOMS RIVER - The Toms River North baseball team got a blast from the not-so-distant past when retired longtime coach Ted Schelmay spoke to the players on Sunday at practice.

According to senior shortstop Craig Larsen, Schelmay's message landed and if his word was not enough, just look at the performance of Larsen, starting pitcher Jared Bellissimo and the rest of Toms River North's seniors Tuesday night against Jackson Memorial in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals.

Larsen hammered the game-winning RBI double with two out in the bottom of the sixth and Bellissimo struck out the side around a two-out single in the top of the seventh to close out a 3-2 win over the third-seeded Jaguars and carry No. 2 Toms River North into its third straight Ocean County Tournament championship game.

Playing against a Jackson Memorial team that started only two seniors, Schelmay's message was especially meaningful on Monday night.

"Coach Schelmay spoke to the team (Sunday) and his message was seniors step up when it's playoff time," Larsen said. "We have guys on this team who have been in these games and won these games and we saw seniors come up big for us when we were younger. Now it's our turn."

Toms River North senior Jared Bellissimo. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Toms River North senior Jared Bellissimo. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Jackson Memorial was nearly out of the sixth inning when pinch-hitter Sam Angelo took ball four on a full count and gave way to pinch-runner Sean Aguiar. Larsen chased a 2-1 slider from Jaguars senior right-hander Mike Dimino, but when Dimino tried to double up with a 2-2 slider, Larsen made him pay by driving the ball out to the left-center field fence to chase home Aguiar.

"He got me to chase a slider the pitch before so I thought there was a good chance he would throw it again," Larsen said. "He tried to get it down and when it stay up, I was ready for it and I got the barrel to it."

Larsen's RBI double marked a continuation of his torrid offensive season in which the University or Pennsylvania commit is hitting .514 with 10 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 35 RBI and a slugging percentage of an even 1.000.

"Last year, I had a tendency of driving the ball into the ground a little bit too much, so I really worked during the offseason on squaring it up and getting more air under it," Larsen said. "The biggest thing is just try to get the barrel to the ball. I feel like I have enough batspeed to do damage as long as I can hit it on the barrel."

Bellissimo has twice led leads slip away at home against Jackson Memorial this season including in the fourth inning, when he gave up two runs right after Toms River North took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Armed with a one-run lead in the seventh, Bellissimo reached back and struck out three of the four batters he faced in the inning to cap a six-hit, nine-strikeout complete game.

"Once we got the lead, I was finishing the game," said Bellissimo, who threw 104 pitches. "I wasn't about to come out. Those guys came back on us the last two times we played them and I wanted a chance to finish them off."

Jackson Memorial second baseman Christian Pellone did manage to keep the game going with a single to left with two out, but Bellissimo racked up his third punchout of the inning to end the game.

Bellissimo's has made a bid to be the OCT Most Valuable Player is Toms River North can finish off its third straight county title by beating Toms River East Tuesday night at Toms River High School South. Bellissimo threw a five-inning one-hitter with seven strikeouts and no walks vs. Pinelands on May 6 and in 12 OCT innings, he has allowed one earned run on seven hits with one walk and 16 strikeouts.

"I've felt like pretty much everything has been working," Bellissimo said. "My breaking ball has been pretty good, my changeup has been pretty good. They weren't great today, but I felt like I had enough life on my fastball to get guys out. I just had to locate it."

Jackson Memorial defeated Toms River North twice during the regular season on the way to finishing in a first-place tie with the Mariners atop the Shore Conference Class A South standings. In both meetings, Jackson opened up the game late, scoring five runs in the bottom of the sixth of a 9-5 win in Jackson and then scoring six in the top of the seventh of a 10-4 win in Toms River.

Bellissimo took a 5-0 lead to the mound in the fourth inning at Jackson but did not make it out of the fifth inning, after which Jackson Memorial trailed only 5-4 before beating the bullpen.

"We went through the same thing last year," Bellissimo said, referring to Toms River North's run to the OCT title. "We lost to Toms River South and Southern twice during the season and beat both of them in the OCT to win it, so we weren't really phased by losing to Jackson twice."

Bellissimo also drove in the first run of the game with an RBI ground out that plated Larsen in the bottom of the third. Senior Brendan Mullins - the likely starter for the championship game on Tuesday - singled in the second run of the inning, which senior center fielder Alex Klalo scored.

On top of contributions from seniors Larsen, Bellissimo and Mullins, Klalo and senior catcher Justin Schaff also came up big for Toms River North. Schaff reached base all three times and finished 2-for-3 while Klalo was 1-for-3 with a run scored plus two acrobatic catches going back in center field.

Jackson Memorial answered the two Mariners runs with a two-run single by sophomore first baseman Carmine Petosa in the fourth. The game-tying hit came after a confusing play in which Toms River North second baseman lost a pop-up in the night sky and upon it dropping, threw to second for an apparent force out. The home plate umpire said he called for an infield fly rule, which made the batter, Troy Bathmann, out on the play, but also allowed Tom Pellone to return to second because, with the force-out now gone - no tag was ever applied to him.

Petosa then hit with runners on second and third and delivered the tying hit with one out.

Both teams ran into two outs on the bases, three of which came on pick-offs by the two left-handed starters. Jaguars sophomore Nick Beetel picked off pinch-runner Aaron Craig to end the third while Bellissimo picked off runners in the second and sixth.

Beetel pitched 4 2/3 innings before passing the ball to senior Nick Sefick, who picked up a three-pitch strikeout to strand runners on first and second.

Monday might not be the last the two A South rivals see of one another and there is a reasonable chance for them to play each other two more times. The current power-point standings have the two lined up to meet in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals if both teams can win a first-round home game. The two A South foes could also potentially meet in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.

"They have a very good young team," Larsen said. "They are going to be tough the next couple of years. I'm glad we could get a win over them, especially with all the seniors we have. We feel like this is our time to win big."


Box Score

Toms River North 3, Jackson Memorial 2

Jackson Mem (19-5)0002000262
TR North (15-6)002001X361


Jackson MemorialIPHRERBBSOPC
Nick Beetel4.25222293
Nick Sefick0.1000013
Mike Dimino11111120
Jared Bellissimo (W, 5-1)762119104

Top Hitters

Jackson MemorialStats
Carmine Petosa1-2, 2 RBI
Alex Iadisernia1-3, R
Tom Pellone1-3, R
Christian Pellone1-2, SB
Toms River NorthStats
Craig Larsen1-2, 2B, R, RBI
Brendan Mullins1-2, RBI
Justin Schaff2-3
Alex Klalo1-4, R



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