Baseball – Point Boro Punches 1st OCT Final Ticket
PT. PLEASANT BORO - Junior Nick Guzzi cruised through five innings in dominant fashion Saturday in his Point Pleasant Boro baseball team's Ocean County Tournament semifinal game, but when it came time for the sixth inning, the St. John's commit did not return to the mound.
Most pitchers would have to be physically restrained from going back to the mound while pitching a one-hitter and in a lot of circumstances, Guzzi might have been among that group.
On Saturday, however, he willingly passed the ball off to senior teammate Sam Collins. because he saw the big picture: the pitches he sacrificed Saturday he will throw on Tuesday when the Panthers go for their first ever Ocean County Tournament title.
With Guzzi mowing down Toms River East batters for five innings and sophomore newcomer Frank Dominici leading an offensive breakout, Point Boro - the No. 4 seed in the OCT - beat No. 9 Toms River East, 8-4, to advance to the county tournament final for the first time in program history.
"We got some runs, my pitch count was pretty low, so it was the smart decision to take me out of the game so both Sam and I can be ready to pitch in the final," Guzzi said. "We came out today to make school history and we want to finish it."
Guzzi struck out eight and walked none over five one-hit innings and threw 63 pitches in the process. By staying below 71 pitches, Guzzi is now eligible to pitch in the OCT final against Jackson Liberty, scheduled for Tuesday night at Toms River North.
NJSIAA pitch-count restrictions limit pitchers to 150 pitches in a span of five calendar days, meaning Guzzi will be permitted to throw 87 pitches on Tuesday night.
"Whenever you get into the tournament, the first priority to win today," Point Boro coach Dave Drew said. "That being said, we were fortunate enough to be in a position - with an eight-run lead and Sam ready to come in - where we could pull Nick from the game to have him ready for Tuesday. It was something we were hoping to be able to do and and fortunately, the bats woke up today, Guzzi shut them down and we were able to do it."
While keeping Guzzi available for Tuesday was a goal of Drew's, it would not have been an easy move without the offensive support the Panthers provided their ace over the first five innings.
Collins got things started with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the second inning. Point Boro tacked on three runs in the bottom of the third, with junior catcher Ryan Jasaitis making it 2-0 with his RBI single to left.
"It was important to jump on top early," Collins said. "They (Toms River East) were coming off a big win, obviously with a lot of confidence so we didn't want them to carry that momentum deep into the game.
Dominici followed Collins's RBI single with the first of his two run-scoring doubles, this one a line-drive down the left-field line to plate two runs. The sophomore third baseman later ripped an RBI double to the gap in left-center field to make it 6-0 in the bottom of the fifth.
Dominici played his freshman season at Donovan Catholic before transferring to Point Boro for this school year. He was required to sit the first 30 days of the season and Saturday was his first big moment as a member of the Panthers.
Point Boro added two more runs in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by junior second baseman Nick Zbikowski and a sacrifice fly by junior Sam Young to give Collins an 8-0 lead when he took over in the sixth.
Collins entered the game with three walks on the season and issued three in two innings on Saturday. Toms River East plated four runs in the top of the seventh - all with two out - to make Drew and Co. sweat, but Collins worked out of trouble to close out the game.
Toms River East scored on a bases-loaded walk by Robert Pero, a two-run single by Mark Murtha and an error.
Point Boro entered the day unsure of where their OCT semifinal game would be played and the expectation was that the Panthers would be travelling to Jackson Memorial for a 2 p.m. start.
"A few of our guys were at the game and the rest of us were here at the school and they were face-timing each other, getting the updates," Drew said. "It was a crazy morning. There was definitely a reaction when we found out we were playing at home."
Toms River East, however, saved Point Boro a trip by stunning top-seeded Jackson Memorial, 1-0, in the morning to earn a trip to Point Pleasant for the semifinal round. Junior Reece Miller came up one out shy of a no-hitter and settled on a two-hit shutout to knock out the tournament favorite.
The unexpected home game and opponent did not change Point Boro's approach to the game, according to its coach and starting pitcher.
"Toms River East is a good team - they beat us last year (in the OCT)," Guzzi said. "Whether it was Jackson Memorial or them, it didn't change my job or anyone else's job."
"I told the guys between games, 'We may not be playing the number five team in the state but we are about to play the team that just beat the number five team in the state," Drew said. "They just proved themselves against the best and we can't show up thinking we have anything locked up.' Credit to Toms River East for playing two tough games today and giving us a fight for seven innings."
Both Guzzi and Collins faced Jackson Liberty during the season with mixed results. Guzzi took a 4-2 lead to the seventh before his pitch count forced him out of the game, at which point Jackson Liberty finished off a seventh-inning rally to steal a 5-4 win on the road.
"We felt like we gave them that first game and we also had and we really had a chance to win both," Guzzi said. "Obviously, Jackson Liberty is a great team and they are always going to be tough to beat but we showed we can play with them."
Collins, meanwhile, gave up five runs in 3 2/3, but only two were earned. Jackson Liberty took Collins deep twice in the outing, taking advantage of its cozy home-field dimensions that won't be a factor at Toms River North.
Guzzi and Collins were Point Boro's one-two punch during its postseason push a year ago, which got the Panthers to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and the South Jersey Group II championship game. On Tuesday, chances are each will get a chance to pitch Point Boro toward school history.
"It's a wonderful feeling knowing you have everyone available, so we're excited," Drew said.
"Having both of us on the mound mixes people up," Collins said. "You can't get too used to either one of us and we're both good pitchers. I think we can get the job done. We lost two close games to (Jackson Liberty) and we want our revenge."
Point Boro 8, Toms River East 4
|TR East (7-12)||0||0||0||0||0||0||4||4||4||0|
|Pt Boro (15-5)||0||1||3||1||3||0||X||8||11||1|
|Toms River East||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||PC|
|Brandon Coyle (L, 1-6)||2.1||5||4||4||3||0||56|
|Nick Guzzi (W, 6-0)||5||1||0||0||0||8||63|
|Toms River East||Stats|
|Mark Murtha||1-3, 2 RBI|
|Robert Pero||0-1, 2 BB, RBI|
|Joe Ussery||1-3, R|
|Tyler Toth||1-3, R|
|Frank Dominici||2-2, 2 2B, R, 3 RBI|
|Sam Collins||2-3, R, RBI|
|Nick Guzzi||2-2, RBI|
|Paul Franceschini||1-2, R, RBI|
|Ryan Jasaitis||2-3, RBI|
|Christian Aurin||1-2, 2 R|