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OCEAN TWP. - The Ocean Baseball Team is in the midst of a treacherous-but-exciting three-day stretch and head coach Cip Apicelli is trying to piece the required innings together as best he and his staff can.

There is one thing Ocean does that helps make up for the three games in three days: the Spartans hit.

Saturday against St. John Vianney in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament, Ocean - the No. 16 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament - hit the ball from top-to-bottom in its lineup and start to finish in the game, beating the No. 17 Lancers, 10-4, to earn a round-of-16 game at top-seeded Jackson Memorial on Sunday morning.

"I wasn't really sure what to expect from this group coming into the year but I knew we had talent," said senior centerfielder Nick Callano - one of two returning starters, along with shortstop Kevin Novobilsky, from the 2019 team. "We have seniors on this team and I have been playing with most of these guys for a long time now. They just didn't play a lot as varsity players before this year, so it was just a matter of getting used to that and I think we have really found our rhythm since the first week or two."

Ocean senior Nick Callano. (Photo by Matt Manley)

On the evening prior to Saturday morning's Shore Conference Tournament showdown with St. John Vianney, Ocean's eight-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of Rumson-Fair Haven, but it was not for a lack of offense. The Spartans dropped an 9-8 decision Friday in the final at-bat of the game, slept on it, then scored 10 more runs on Saturday morning.

The reward will be a game Sunday with the Shore's No. 1 team, which has not yet lost to a Shore Conference opponent in 2021.

"It's not easy," Apicelli said. "I'm thankful we're playing, especially after a cancelled (2020) season, so I don't want to sound that way, but it's really tough when you stick a tournament in the middle of big division games. For us, we have earned big division games when there are other teams that made the Shore Conference Tournament who already have multiple division losses and can just focus on winning this. We don't really have that luxury, but we also recognize it's a good problem to have to be playing a lot of meaningful games."

The hitting star in the win over St. John Vianney was junior second baseman Jack Zabarsky, who went 3-for-3 out of the No. 6 spot in the order with an RBI single in a three-run third inning and a three-run double in the sixth to complete a four-RBI game. After clearing the bases to make the score 9-2, he stole third and scored his third run of the game on an errant throw to the base, capping Ocean's scoring for the day.

Before he drove in a run Saturday, Zabarsky started the two-out rally that created Ocean's first three runs of the game. Trailing St. John Vianney, 1-0, in the bottom of the second inning, the junior stroked a single to center with two out, followed by another single by sophomore and winning pitcher Shane Garrett. Junior first baseman Cord Birzin made it three singles in a row with a first-pitch, RBI single to center to tie up the score at 1-1.

Following a walk by No. 9 hitter Zach Robinson, Callano ripped a single through the left side to plate two more and give Ocean a 3-1 lead it would not give back - Callano's second hit in the first two innings.

"It's hard to be sure what to expect when there was no season last year, but I was pretty confident this team would hit," Apicelli said. "This is one of the better hitting teams that we have had in my 12 years here."

Senior Dillon Downs gave Ocean a 4-1 lead in the third when he scalded a one-out, RBI double that one-hopped the right-field fence. Prior to an 0-for-4 day at Rumson on Friday, Downs had driven in at least one run in each of his first five starts of the season and Saturday's RBI double was his 12th RBI in seven games since joining the starting lineup - a stretch that also includes four home runs.

"Since there was no season last year, there are a lot of guys that didn't get the jayvee reps to figure things out and we didn't see them get to make those adjustments," Apicelli said. "We only got to see them in the scrimmage season, which was only six games and in Dillon's case, he got beat out for the job.

"To his credit, he kept coming to practice and every day, he was hitting bombs over the fence and it got to a point where we were like, 'We have to find a game to get him in.' We finally had that opportunity a few games ago and he just took it and ran with it. He hit a homer that put us up, he hit two the next day, then one more and it just kept going from there."

Zabarsky followed Downs with his first run-scoring hit to make it 5-1 and both Garrett and Birzin drew walks to load the bases. Robinson followed with another RBI single to score Zabarsky, giving Ocean a 6-1 lead and chasing Lancers senior starter Thomas Wright.

Sophomore Aiden Cody came on to induce an inning-ending double-play ground ball by the speedy Callano, then struck out the side around a hit batter in the fourth inning the get the game under control for St. John Vianney.

By the time Cody stabilized the game for the Lancers, however, Garrett had already started to do the same for Ocean. The sophomore right-hander threw the final four innings to earn the win and did not give up a run until the score was already 10-2 in the top of the seventh. He struck out five, walked two and threw 72 pitches.

Senior Riley Morrow threw the first three innings, giving up two earned runs on three hits and throwing 63 pitches.

Garrett retired the Lancers in order in both the fourth and fifth innings and after junior Kyle Pollack and senior Dominic McCaffery led off the sixth with a walk and a hit, he struck out the next two batters and induced an inning-ending flyball out to keep the score 6-2.

The Spartans tacked on four runs in the sixth thanks to Zabarsky's two-out, three-run double - as well as a pair of St. John Vianney errors - to put the game out of reach.

"I think when you see different guys step up - especially in a situation like Dillon's, where he was on the bench - it shows all of the guys on the team that it really can be anybody's time to step up on any given day," Apicelli said. "Those are the kind of teams that are dangerous."

St. John Vianney senior John Furch doubled and scored in the first inning to get the Lancers on the board, then hit a solo home run off Garrett in the top of the seventh to lead the SJV offense.

To make it a winning three-game stretch, Ocean will have to conquer top-seeded Jackson Memorial on Sunday in the SCT round of 16. The Jaguars have senior ace Matt Potok ready to pitch after the Coastal Carolina commit earned his third win of the season Monday in a win over Brick Memorial.

Facing Potok will put Ocean's red-hot offense to the test. The Spartans will enter Sunday averaging 7.6 runs per game, including 8.2 in their last 10.

"We're looking at it like we're going to show up ready for a battle," Callano said. "We know Jackson is going to be really good, but we're a confident team. We like a challenge and in order to be the best, you have to beat the best teams, so that's what we're going to try to do."

Box Score

Ocean 10, St. John Vianney 4

1234567RHE
SJV (5-4)1010002463
Ocean (10-4)033004x1090

Pitching

St. John VianneyIPHRERBBSOPC
Thomas Wright (L)2.28663365
Aiden Cody1.10000319
Evan Pollack10001318
J.P. Glick11403127
OceanIPHRERBBSOPC
Riley Morrow33223263
Shane Garrett (W)43222572

Top Hitters

St. John VianneyGame Stats
John Furch2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI
OceanGame Stats
Jack Zabarsky3-3, 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI
Nick Callano2-3, 2 RBI
Dillon Downs1-3, 2B, 2 R, RBI
Cord Birzin1-3, R, RBI
Zach Robinson1-1, RBI
Shane Garrett1-2, R