Baseball – Potok, Early Offense Lead Jackson Into Last Dance Final Four
LAKEWOOD - With the potential for his team to play three games this week - the last week of the Last Dance World Series, presented by RWJBarnabas Health - Jackson Memorial rising senior Matt Potok figured out a way he might be able to pitch for his Jackson Jags team on Tuesday and again in a potential tournament championship game on Friday.
Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta denied the proposal but he did give his returning ace a chance to empty his proverbial tank in Tuesday's South Jersey semifinal showdown with the SJ Falcons of St. Joseph Metuchen at FirstEnergy Park.
Given a chance to finish a second complete game in as many starts, Potok hardly broke a sweat, outdueling a pair of ACC commits in a four-hitter as the Jags upended the Falcons, 6-1, to reach Wednesday's Last Dance World Series South Jersey championship.
"It's been awesome getting a chance to pitch for my seniors," Potok said. "There are 15 of them so being able to go out there and help them take one more step in winning this tournament is great."
Potok allowed one unearned run, struck out nine, walked none and hit one batter while navigating a previously-hot St. Joe's lineup on 85 pitches. His complete-game gem helped him best the top two pitchers of the Falcons - rising junior left-hander and University of Virginia commit Donovan Zsak and Duke-bound right-hander Adam Boucher.
"I know both of those guys from my travel team, so it was good competition," Potok said. "I knew they were going to be really good so I had to produce and let up as little offense as possible because I know how good those guys are."
Tuesday's performance came on the heels of his 70-pitch complete game from last week, when he pitched a four-hit shutout with seven punchouts against Middlesex in the South Jersey round of 16.
Over his three starts during the tournament, Potok has gone 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, seven hits allowed, 22 strikeouts and no walks in 18 innings.
"He's so efficient and so easy with everything he does," catcher Tom Cartnick said. "It's such quick game, just in terms of the flow. He's my favorite guy to catch. Whatever we want him to throw, I just put my glove there and he hits it. He's got a special talent."
Jackson staked Potok to a 1-0 lead Tuesday in the first inning on a two-out RBI double by senior first baseman Carmine Petosa. St. Joe's answered by reaching on an error to lead off the second, but Potok wiped out the threat by inducing a 6-4-3 double-play on the next pitch, followed by a three-pitch strikeout to complete an eventful five-pitch inning.
The Jags opened the game up in the second inning and chase sophomore left-hander and University of Virginia commit Donovan Zsak. With the bases loaded an none out, senior right fielder Bill Petrina grounded an RBI single deep into the hole between shortstop and third base - his second RBI in as many games.
After one pitch to senior second baseman and leadoff man Christian Pellone, Zsak turned the ball over to senior right-hander and Duke University commit Adam Boucher. Pellone skied a 0-2 offering to deep center to chase home the third Jackson run.
"I was in shock because both of those guys are going to big, big schools, so us being able to put five runs up in the first two innings was unreal," Potok said.
Boucher struck out Jackson senior centerfielder Ryan Lasko for the second out, but Cartnick continued his brilliant tournament at the plate by crushing a 3-2 pitch off the right-field wall for a two-out, two-run triple that made it a 5-0 Jackson lead.
With another big run-scoring extra-base hit on Tuesday, Cartnick is now 6-for-13 with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, six walks and 11 RBI in six Last Dance games - good for a triple-slash line of .461/.600/1.231 and a 1.831 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).
"As a team, our approach has just been unbelievable," Cartnick said. "One-through-nine in the lineup, we're not chasing anything and that goes for practice too. It's fun to watch and we're finally showing that when all the bats are working, we should hit every single game."
Potok surrendered his first hit of the game in the top of the fourth and allowed an unearned run to cross the plate in the fifth that trimmed the Jackson lead to 5-1.
Senior Matt Feld came through with a pinch-hit, two-out RBI double inside the first-base bag in the bottom of the sixth to expand the lead to 6-1.
Potok finished off the game by inducing a soft line drive to centerfield and Lasko ended it in style with a diving catch - the last of his five defensive putouts in an impressive performance with the glove.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Lasko said. "I'm just doing my job. I love making those diving plays. That's who I am. When I don't have a good offensive night, I make sure I show up on defense."
Sophomore Chris Cartnick went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a hit each off Zsak and Boucher. Cartnick has started as the team's designated hitter in each of the last three games and has picked up at least one hit in each - including a tie-breaking two-run single in the July 21 win over Middlesex and three runs scored over the past two games.
Pellone had another box-score performance that could go unnoticed but made a difference in the game. Although he was 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts, he plated a run with a sacrifice fly on a 0-2 count against a fresh Boucher, drew a walk and saw 22 pitches in his four trips to the plate. In last Wednesday's win over Washington Township, Pellone was 0-for-1 with three walks and saw 21 pitches in four trips to the plate. Pellone's patience prompted Malta to switch him and Lasko in the order, bumping Pellone up to the leadoff slot and sliding Lasko - Jackson's best returning power-hitter from 2019 - to No. 2.
"Christian has been getting on base a lot so we figured slide him up there and see what he can do," Lasko said. "If he is going to be getting on base every time, we figured let's switch it up a little bit. He works counts, I'm definitely more comfortable in the two-hole and it just works."
Jackson's Last Dance continues Wednesday night back in Lakewood, where the Jags will face the Sader Baseball Club from Bishop Eustace. Senior Nick Beetel is due to take the ball on the mound after pitching Jackson to victories over teams from Manalapan and Washington Township in his first two starts. In his last start, Beetel completed five no-hit innings vs. Washington Township.
With one more complete performance that results in a win, Jackson will be declared the South Jersey champion and would play the winner of the North Jersey championship game between teams from Bergen Catholic and Cranford on Friday in Trenton. A state-championship season in the spring would mean a team is among the final six teams standing at the end of the year and the Jags are currently one of four remaining in a Last Dance World Series that saw most of the big-name programs in N.J. participate.
"It's a good feeling, but the job's not finished," Lasko said. "We've got two more wins to get and it's going to be exciting. (Wednesday) is going to be fun."
Jackson Jags 6, SJ Falcons 1
|SJ Falcons (5-1)||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||4||0|
|Jackson Jags (6-0)||1||4||0||0||0||1||X||6||6||2|
|Donovan Zsak (L)||1||3||5||5||2||2||44|
|Matt Potok (W, 3-0)||7||4||1||0||0||9||85|
|SJ Falcons||Game Stats|
|Adam Boucher||1-3, 2B|
|John Zarnowski||1-3, R|
|Jackson Jags||Game Stats|
|Tom Cartnick||1-2, 3B, BB, 2 RBI|
|Carmine Petosa||1-3, 2B, RBI|
|Matt Feld||1-1, 2B, RBI|
|Chris Cartnick||2-3, 2 R, SB|