HAZLET - The Raritan baseball team is in the midst of a stretch of six games in eight days that could become eight games in 11 days depending on how things go for Raritan in Saturday's Monmouth County Tournament semifinals.

With each passing win, the Rockets feel the grind less and less as they begin to embrace the thrill of making more history.

Raritan continued its march through this unforgiving stretch Friday by beating St. John Vianney, 9-2, to avenge a loss to the Lancers earlier in the season and clinch no worse than a share of the Shore Conference Class A Central division championship.

"This is what high school players dream of," Raritan coach Jeff Struble said. "You want to be playing in big games every day and when you are winning, you're not worried about how many in a row you have to play or how deep into your pitching staff you go into. You just go out and try to win every day and come back and do it again tomorrow."

Since dropping back-to-back games to St. John Vianney and Matawan on April 17 and 18, Raritan has won eight straight, culminating in Friday's win to clinch a share of a second straight Class A Central division championship.

Raritan senior Zack Johnston. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Raritan senior Zack Johnston. (Photo by Matt Manley)

With Friday's crucial game in the A Central race preceding Saturday's Monmouth County Tournament semifinal against St. Rose, Struble had a decision to make about how he wanted his pitching to line up this week. Struble opted to pitch senior ace Zack Johnston on his regular turn and trot him out Friday against the Lancers. Johnston threw 103 pitches over six innings, during which he allowed one earned run on six hits and one walk while striking out 11.

"He started the year a little slow but he has corrected some things and given us some really big starts," Struble said of Johnston. "He has great arm action, so when he is feeling good and he's on, he has been tough."

Johnston's 11 strikeouts raises his Shore-leading season total to 61 while improving his record to 5-1. He took a no-decision in Raritan's loss to Vianney on April 17, with the Lancers driving up his pitch count and getting him out of the game after five innings.

Johnston made it through one more inning this time and his lineup provided him with more offense, to which Johnston himself contributed. Raritan broke open a scoreless game with four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and after Vianney answered with a run in the top of the fifth, the Rockets scored four more in fifth as well to blow open the game.

"One-through-nine, we're all really good hitters," junior third baseman Jake Tennant said. "When we're all going good at the same time, we can be a dangerous lineup."

Dan VanMeerbeke delivered RBI singles in each rally and added an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth to chase home Raritan's ninth run. The senior second baseman - who is the scheduled starter in Saturday's MCT game, according to Struble - finished 3-for-4 with a double and three RBI and had an RBI single to deep center field that would have been a double had the runner on first not held up to make sure the ball landed.

"We just had to keep listening to our coaches and stick with our gameplan," VanMeerbeke said.

Before Raritan's bats came alive in the fourth, St. John Vianney Logan Marter mowed through the first three innings. Tennant beat him for a double to lead off the second and senior catcher Alex Lamattina followed with a walk, but Marter struck out the next three batters to escape trouble. In the third, his middle-infield defense picked him up after a leadoff walk, with shortstop Michael DiPede turning a double-play on his own and second baseman Chris Caragliano making a diving stop to his left before throwing out Ryan Kasmer to end the third.

"Marter is a tough kid - I love the way he throws, I love the way he gets after it on the mound," Struble said. "He was locating and he was getting in on us and I just kept reminding guys of the things that we work on in the cage. Keep it simple, get the barrel through the zone, attack balls at the waist, get ahead in counts."

Junior center fielder Tyler Bruno started Raritan's first rally with a line-drive double to left and Tennant again came through with an RBI single to left. Tennant just barely checked his swing on a two-strike pitch from Marter and on the next offering, flipped a base hit into left field to score the game's first run.

Raritan junior Jake Tennant. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Raritan junior Jake Tennant. (Photo by Matt Manley)

VanMeerbeke's long single scored the second Raritan run and a passed ball made it 3-0. D.J. Dekis then also checked his swing on a two-strike pitch before ripping an RBI single through the right side to make it 4-0.

Marter took out his frustration at the plate by leading off the top of the fifth with a majestic double off the top of the high fence in left-center field. He then scored on catcher Luciano Fabrizzi's doubled down the right-field line to get Vianney on the board, but Johnston struck out the next two Lancers batters and induced an inning-ending pop-out.

VanMeerbeke and Johnston delivered back-to-back RBI singles in the fifth and Dan Fiore punched a two-run double inside the right-field line to stretch Raritan's lead to 8-1. Johnston then responded with a one-two-three sixth inning to cap his day on the mound.

Hunter Neville came on to finish the game on the mound, allowing one unearned run in the process.

Raritan can clinch the outright A Central title for the second straight year by defeating Matawan on Tuesday or with a St. John Vianney loss to either Red Bank or Holmdel next week.

"We really wanted to win the division because that was the first step," Tennant said. "The big thing is we have confidence in all of our pitchers, so we are going to go into every game confident that the guy on the mound is going to give us a chance to win. Just like Zack did today, we have a bunch of guys who can get the job done and we're going to need everybody over the next few days."


No. 10 Raritan 9, St. John Vianney 2

SJV (8-5, 7-3)0000101270
Raritan (13-3, 9-2)000441X9111


Logan Marter (L, 2-1)46444690
Ryan Chin0.12332015
Ryan Sekman1.23221028
Zack Johnston (W, 5-1)6611111103
Hunter Neville11101016

Top Hitters

St. John VianneyStats
Logan Marter2-2, 2B, 2 R, BB, HBP
Luciano Fabrizzi2-3, 2B, RBI
Dan VanMeerbeke3-4, 2B, R, 3 RBI
Jake Tennant2-4, 2B, R, RBI
Dan Fiore1-3, 2B, RBI
Tyler Bruno2-3, 2B, 3 R, SB
Zack Johnston1-4, RBI
D.J. Dekis1-2, RBI



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