Baseball – Ocean’s Title Hopes Dashed by Nottingham in Central Jersey Group III Final
OCEAN TOWNSHIP — Throughout the regular season and again in the state playoffs, Ocean made hanging tough and finding ways to rally its signature. The Spartans’ fortunes ran out, however, on Friday against Nottingham in the sectional final.
Ocean cracked a Nottingham pitching staff that had not allowed a run during the state tournament, but the Spartans were victimized by errors that led to four unearned runs as the sixth-seeded Northstars topped fourth-seeded Ocean, 8-5, to capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship for the first time in program history.
Ocean brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Ahmed Tahoon got a strikeout to start the celebration for Nottingham.
“We always battle, it started on our trip to Myrtle Beach down 6-2 in the seventh inning and finding a way to tie and get to extra extras and win,” said Ocean head coach Cippy Apicelli. “This team never goes away until you get the last out. I knew when it was 8-3 we were going to make a run at the thing. We brought the tying run to the plate, you can’t ask for a lot more.”
No. 5 hitter Bryce Fremgen went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI and leadoff hitter Sean McGreehan went 2-for-4 with an RBI and one run scored for Nottingham (19-10). Ronnie Voacolo got the win by allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits while striking out seven and walking three over five and one-third innings.
Senior third baseman Tyler Rossback went 3-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored and junior left fielder Kenny Pickett went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI to lead Ocean (22-9). Senior shortstop Jake Talarico and freshman catcher Max Winters each went 2-for-4.
Left-handed pitcher Phil DeMarco tossed four and one-third innings of relief and allowed just three unearned runs, striking out six.
“He did a great job coming in at that spot and allowing us to come back,” Apicelli said. “It was 5-0 and they could have ran us right out of here at that point. He let the game settle back in. We put up one, put up two and at 5-3 you’re feeling pretty good. He gave us a shot.”
Nottingham struck first in the top of the second when Fremgen laced a single to right field and the ball bounced past Ocean’s right fielder and all the way to the wall. Fremgen raced around the bases to score on the single and three-base error for a 1-0 advantage.
The Northstars’ lead grew to 5-0 in the top of the third inning. Mike Suosso worked a one-out walk and McGreehan singled to put runners at the corners. Suosso came in to score on a squeeze play by Tommy McParland to make it 2-0. After Ocean starring pitcher Alec Keezer struck out No. 3 hitter Nick Houghton for the second out, catcher Joe Gainey doubled to bring in two runs and push Nottingham’s advantage to 4-0. Fremgen followed with another double to bring home Gainey for the fifth run and send Ocean Apicelli to the mound. DeMarco relived Keezer and got Sam Raymond to ground to third to end the inning.
Ocean started to plug away by getting one run back in the bottom of the third. Rossback singled to leadoff the inning and moved to second on a groundout by Brian Kochenash. Rossback scored from second on a throwing error when Talarico grounded to third.
The Spartans closed the gap to 5-3 with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Winters singled to start the inning and Pickett brought him home with a triple that hit off the fence in left-center field. Anthony Tedesco walked and two batters later Rossback singled to bring home Pickett and close the deficit to two runs. Voacolo squashed the rally right there, however, by getting a pop-up and a strikeout to strand runners on first and second.
Nottingham scored three times in the top of the sixth inning to extend its lead to 8-3. Fremgen singled to start the inning and David Scott worked a one-out walk to put runners on first and second. DeMarco then got a big strikeout of Brian Cardona on three pitches for the second out. DeMarco looked like he was going to get out of trouble when he got Suosso to hit a fly ball to left field, but the ball was misplayed as the left and centerfielders converged and dropped in to allow both Fremgen and Scott to score. McGreehan then singled to plate Suosso and give Nottingham a five-run lead.
“We didn’t really handle the ball today and that got us in the end,” Apicelli said. “You can’t do it. You take care of the ball and this is a very different game. I don’t know exactly what the score would have been but I know we gave them at least three or four runs. That whole seventh inning could have played out differently.”
Ocean continued to battle, scoring twice in the bottom of the sixth to stay within striking distance. Pickett led off with a walk and Keezer singled with one out. Rossback then ripped a double into the gap in left-center field to bring home both baserunners and make it 8-5. That chased Voacolo from the game at the 100-pitch mark, but Tahoon was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
Talarico singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh, but Tahoon induced a double play to erase him and move the Northstars one out from their first sectional title. Winters doubled to keep the Spartans alive, and Pickett singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Tahoon, however, was able to get a strikeout to end the game.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Apicelli said. “I don’t think anybody saw us being here, winning 22 games. Almost two weeks ago we were dead, down 2-0 in the seventh inning (against Neptune in the opening round). We could have been home last Monday. It’s a credit to them, these seniors. They battle.”
“It hurts, but at the same time I’m really proud of this group.”
Nottingham 8, Ocean 5
Nottingham (19-10) 0 1 4 0 0 3 0 — 8 7 1
Ocean (22-9) 0 0 1 2 0 2 0 — 5 10 2
WP: Voacolo (9-1)
LP: Keezer (5-2)
Triples - N: Nick Houghton; O: Kenny Pickett. Doubles - N: Joe Gainey, Bryce Fremgen; O: Max Winters, Tyler Rossback.
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