Baseball – Pickus Deals, Wierciszewski Delivers Late for Undefeated Jackson Liberty in Win vs. Lacey
LACEY TWP. - Jackson Liberty senior right-hander Matt Pickus was so dominant on Wednesday that his team's three-run lead in the seventh inning against Lacey might as well have been 10. That made Jackson Liberty's at-bats during the the top of the final inning relatively meaningless, except for one noteworthy member of the Lions lineup.
For junior right-fielder Scott Wierciszewski, the pressure was on to keep one of the most impressive runs to open the season alive in his final at-bat and he came through in the biggest way possible.
With Pickus on his way to a two-hit, 12 strikeout masterpiece in his second start of the season, Wierciszewski stole the show in the top of the seventh by clubbing a three-run home run to left field. Wierciszewski's second blast of the season sealed a 6-0 win for the still-undefeated Lions - ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - and increased the junior's season RBI total to an eye-popping 19 in four games.
After a 2-for-4 game Wednesday that also included a second-inning single, Wierciszewski is 10-for-16 at the plate (.625) with a double to go with the two homers and 19 RBI. He opened the season with an eight-RBI game vs. Manchester, which included his first home run.
"I've gotten in the weight room, got bigger and stronger and I grew a little bit since last year," Wierciszewski said. "I've tried to keep the same approach at the plate - keeping my shoulder in, keeping my front foot in because I've had a tendency in the past to go out and get the ball out in front. I'm just letting the ball get deep and trusting my hands."
For perspective, only 34 players in the Shore Conference drove in more than 19 runs during the entire 2017 season. Wierciszewski was not one of those players last year, when he hit .218 with five doubles, a triple and a home run to go with 14 RBI.
"Scott is by far the strongest guy on the team," Rankin said. "His issue last year was that he was very jumpy at the plate, and a lot of that probably had to do with inexperience.
"He was only a sophomore last year and one of the things we have emphasized to him rolling into this year was 'You're the biggest, strongest kid on the team. Just see the ball deep and let your hands do the work.' If you watch that home run on film, he just puts the bat on the ball and it goes."
While Wierciszewski continued his remarkable four-game run, Wednesday's game on its own was all about Pickus. The senior-right-hander and Shore Sports Network All-Shore pitcher bounced back from an off outing by his standards in the opener vs. Manchester with arguably the best start of his already-accomplished high school career, which includes a five-inning no-hitter as a sophomore.
On top of the two singles he allowed to Lacey junior catcher and University of Maryland commit Jorden Jurkiewicz and pinch-hitter Garrett Reilly in the sixth inning, Pickus did not issue a walk and needed just 91 pitches to navigate through his seven innings and career-high 12 strikeouts.
"Matt threw today the way Matt's capable of throwing," Rankin said. "He's working ahead, he's throwing all of his pitches for strikes and that's the Matt Pickus we know."
Pickus showed command of his fastball and mixed in a breaking ball that he varied in speeds - throwing a slower curveball over for strikes while snapping a slurve that had more velocity and dove down and out of the zone toward the left-handed batter's box. Eight of Pickus's 12 strikeouts came on the breaking ball he struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh with three breaking balls to put away his final trio of victims away.
"My philosophy with my breaking ball is I just try to throw it as hard as I can," Pickus said. "It's my best offspeed pitch. I can throw it for a strike, I can get it in the dirt for a swing-and-miss. My philosophy is just let it go."
Wednesday marked the first game in which a Jackson Liberty pitcher was especially sharp and it was the first time one had to be. The Lions exploded for 48 runs in their first three games, which required the pitchers to do very little to contribute to the three wins. Lacey right-hander Evan Wallis, however, kept the Jackson Liberty lineup in check for his six innings of work.
"A close game definitely keeps you focused and locked in," said Pickus, who gave up three first-inning runs in his first start before settling down. "I love pitching in pitcher's duels like this.
"Two days in a row, we showed up to play and the umpires said, 'You're not playing today (due to rain and poor field conditions).' It takes a toll on the arm. Today I had some rest and I wasn't throwing the day before, so I came out and right when I started warming up, I knew I would be good today."
Although Pickus did not get the same exorbitant run support as he did in his team's 17-4 win over Manchester, he did pitch with a lead for the entire start. Jackson Liberty plated a run in the top of the first inning on an RBI single by catcher David Melfi to right-center field that plated first baseman Rich Dordas.
Melfi was an All-Shore catcher as a sophomore last year behind a 15-double campaign and according to Rankin, Melfi has not been 100-percent pleased about his start to the season. That reveals Melfi's standards more than his performance, given that he is now hitting .600 with three doubles and nine runs scored after a 1-for-2 game on Wednesday.
"Melf has been frustrated with his start, but he has been patient at the plate and has gotten on base to give some other guys a chance to drive him in," Rankin said. "Maybe our two best hitters - Shane Hickey and Melfi - are off to, maybe not slow starts, but uncharacteristic starts. I'm not worried about them at all, because they are going to hit and we have shown in these first few games that we have a lot of length to our lineup."
Jackson Liberty does most of its damage through its junior class, but senior designated hitter Billy Hart joined Pickus as seniors to make an impact against Lacey. Hart made it 2-0 in the fourth inning with an opposite-field double down the line in right to chase home junior second baseman Daniel Sofield from first.
The Lions added a run in the fifth when junior center fielder Connor Keenan scored on a wild pitch. Keenan finished the game 2-for-4.
Jackson Liberty will continue its pursuit of the Class B South championship Thursday when it heads to Point Pleasant Boro - which is coming off a 9-0 win over Pinelands on Wednesday. After that game, the Lions can turn their attention to crosstown rival Jackson Memorial, which will pay Liberty a visit on Saturday in the Strike Out Autism Challenge at 11 a.m.
The Jaguars lost their first game of the season Wednesday to Southern Regional to fall to 5-1, but that won't take any intensity away from a game that always means a little more than most games, regardless of the records of either team. It just so happens that this season, both No. 4 Liberty and No. 5 Memorial are ranked in top five of the Shore Sports Network Top 10 heading into the game.
"These guys want to play that game - there is no doubt about it," Rankin said of the Jackson Memorial game. "I think we have done a good job taking things one game at a time and that's been the message all week. Winning B South is our main goal and we have to go to Point Boro (on Thursday) to play a good team in our division. When that game is over, it will be time to think about Memorial and I'm sure our guys will be pumped to play when the time comes."
No. 4 Jackson Liberty 6, Lacey 0
|Jackson Lib (4-0, 4-0)||1||0||0||1||1||0||3||6||8||3|
|Lacey (3-2, 2-2)||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|Matt Pickus (W, 2-0)||7||2||0||0||0||12||91|
|Evan Wallis (L, 1-1)||6||6||3||3||4||3||91|
|Scott Wierciszewski||2-4, HR, 3 RBI|
|David Melfi||1-2, 2 BB, RBI|
|Billy Hart||1-3, 2B, BB, RBI|
|Connor Keenan||2-4, R|
|Daniel Sofield||1-3, BB, R|