Baseball – Sectional Final Previews: CJ III and I
Central Jersey Group III Championship
No. 6 Nottingham (18-10) at No. 4 Ocean (22-8)
Nottingham Road to the Final
Opening Round: Defeated No. 11 Jackson Liberty, 2-0. Nick Houghton pitched a five-hit shutout with five strikeouts and also drove in one of the Northstars’ two runs with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Bryce Fremgen drove in the other run with a sacrifice fly as well, as Nottingham overcame a five-hitter by Jackson Liberty sophomore Matt Pickus
Quarterfinals: Defeated No. 14 Moorestown. Ronnie Voacolo pitched a two-hit shutout with no walks and five strikeouts for Nottingham’s second of three straight state tournament shutouts. Sean McGeehan led the offense with a 3-for-3 day at the plate, while Tommy McParland drove in two runs and both Brien Cardona and Bryce Fremgen doubled and drove in a run.
Semifinals: Defeated No. 7 Wall, 3-0. Nick Houghton took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and settled for a one-hit shutout with one walk and seven strikeouts to make it three straight Northstar shutouts. Nottingham scored all three of its runs in the first two innings, with Joe Garey doubling home a run in the first and Sean McGeehan and Tommy McParland adding back-to-back RBI singles in the second. The shutout was the second of the tournament for Houghton, who allowed six hits in 14 innings with 12 strikeouts in his two state tournament wins.
Ocean Road to the Final
Opening Round: Defeated No. 13 Neptune, 3-2. Ocean rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to erase a 2-0 deficit, with Brian Olesen delivering the game-winning RBI single. Brian Kochenash also drove in a run in the final inning as part of a 1-for-2 game. The rally made a winner out of Jake Talarico, who allowed one earned run on five hits and struck out seven to improve to 7-0.
Quarterfinals: Defeated No. 12 Allentown, 5-4 in 11 innings. After surrendering an early 4-0 lead, Ocean broke through in the bottom of the 11th on a walkoff RBI single by Brian Kochenash. The hit was the third of the game for the senior shortstop and his 49th of the season, which set a single-season school record. Brian Olesen drove in the first four Ocean runs and finished 2-for-3. Alec Keezer played the pitching hero by pitching six scoreless innings after giving up a run in the fifth, when he took over for starter Phil Demarco.
Semifinals: Defeated No. 8 Brick, 6-0. Jake Talarico improved to 7-0 by tossing six shutout innings and Alec Keezer finished off the win by taking over in the seventh and closing it out. Brian Kochenash hit two triples to surpass the 50-hit plateau for the season and the second triple drove in the sixth Ocean run in the sixth inning. Kenny Pickett also added an RBI double and the Spartans benefitted from four unearned runs to jump out to a 4-0 lead.
Nottingham - Ronnie Voacolo, Jr., RHP
2016 Stats: 8-1, 48 IP, 44 H, 14 BB, 58 SO, 1.75 ERA
Ocean – Alec Keezer, Jr., RHP
2016 Stats: 5-1, 41 IP, 39 SO, 1.87 ERA
Nottingham Top Hitters
Sean McGeehan - .523 Avg., 10 2B, 5 3B, 33 Runs, 16 RBI, 7 SB
Joe Garey - .318 Avg, 3 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 20 RBI
Tommy McParland - .338 Avg., 1 2B, 1 3B, 24 Runs, 14 RBI
Sam Raymond - .329 Avg., 3 2B, 3 3B, 17 Runs, 12 RBI
David Scott - .400 Avg., 2 2B, 14 Runs, 6 RBI
Ocean Top Hitters
Brian Kochenash - .526 Avg., 8 2B, 5 3B, 26 Runs, 28 RBI, 17 SB
Brian Olesen - .337 Avg., 8 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 16 Runs, 27 RBI
Jake Talarico - .349 Avg., 17 Runs, 13 RBI
Max Winters - .347 Avg., 9 Runs, 9 RBI
Kenny Pickett - .326, 24 Runs, 12 RBI, 12 SB
Jack D’Auria – 30 Runs, 25 RBI, 9 SB
Like its opponent on Friday, Ocean did not have to leave its home turf during the sectional playoffs despite not earning a seed in the top three. Not only did the top seeds in the Central Jersey Group III bracket lose early, but the teams that upset those top seeds all lost as well. No. 1 Steinert lost to No. 8 Brick, then Ocean took down Brick on Tuesday, 6-0. No. 7 Wall stunned No. 2 Middletown South in the final inning, then was nearly no-hit in a loss at Nottingham on Tuesday. Nottingham also beat No. 14 Moorestown, which knocked off No. 3 Hopewell Valley in the opening round.
Ocean is seeking its sixth overall sectional championship and first since the Spartans won their second consecutive Central Jersey Group III title in 2007. This tournament run by the Spartans has been characterized by dramatic finishes in the early rounds, with Ocean walking off with wins over No. 13 Neptune in the bottom of the seventh and No. 12 Allentown in the 11th. In Tuesday’s 6-0 win over Brick, the Spartans played a more complete game, jumping on the Green Dragons early and burying them late with a couple of insurance runs.
Nottingham, meanwhile, is in its first sectional final since 2004 and that is thanks to a pair of underclass pitchers who have been lights-out during the tournament. Sophomore Nick Houghton pitched consecutive shutouts against Shore Conference teams, first in the first round against Jackson Liberty and again in the sectional semifinals against Wall. Houghton lost a perfect game in the fifth inning on a wild pitch on strike three, walked his first batter in the sixth, and lost his no-hitter in the seventh on a leadoff single by Crimson Knights shortstop Joe Castellucia. Junior Ronnie Voacolo, meanwhile, is coming off a two-hit shutout of Moorestown in a 6-0 Northstars win during the quarterfinal round.
Central Jersey Group I Championship
No. 2 Keyport (13-10) at No. 1 South River (18-7-1)
Keyport Road to the Final
Quarterfinals: Defeated No. 10 Dunellen, 6-0. Kenny Harrigan struck out 11 while allowing two hits in six shutout innings and also went 2-for-3 with an RBI and three stolen bases to lead the Red Raiders, who earned a bye through the first round. Shane Chandler cracked a three-run home run during Keyport’s five-run third inning, which opened up a 6-0 lead for the home team. Chandler also pitched the final inning and struck out two.
Semifinals: Defeated No. 3 South Amboy, 5-4. Shane Chandler drove in three runs for the second straight game, including a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth that broke a 2-2 tie. Kyle Mitchell added an RBI double in the fifth that turned out to be the winning hit as the Governors scored twice in the sixth to cut the Keyport lead to 5-4. Christian Smith struck out seven and allowed two unearned runs in five innings to earn the win and also went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI at the plate. Kenny Harrigan pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the save.
South River Road to the Final
Quarterfinals: Defeated No. 9 Bound Brook, 6-0. Tyler Higgins pitched a five-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and one walk and also doubled and drove in two to lead the Rams, who earned a first-round bye. Matt Leviton was 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, James Hart was 2-for-3 with a double, and Dalton Dougherty added a triple in South River’s 11-hit attack.
Semifinals: Defeated No. 4 Middlesex, 1-0. Dalton Dougherty pitched a three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and three walks to carry the Rams into their first sectional final in five years. Michael DeSantis scored the lone run of the game in the third inning, when he reached on an error, stole third and scored when the throw skipped into left field. DeSantis, Kyle French and R.J. Fischer all finished 1-for-2 as South River managed only four hits against Middlesex starter Kyle Nepton.
Keyport – Kenny Harrigan, Sr., RHP
2016 Stats: 4-2, 35.1 IP, 20 H, 31 BB, 51 SO, 2.57 ERA
South River – Tyler Higgins, Sr., RHP
2016 Stats: 7-1, 58.1 IP, 55 H, 26 BB, 64 SO, 1.56 ERA
Keyport Top Hitters
Shane Chandler - .442 Avg., 6 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 14 Runs, 14 RBI, 16 SB
Kyle Mitchell - .302 Avg., 8 2B, 15 Runs, 13 RBI, 10 SB
Evan Smutz - .386 Avg., 1 2B, 2 3B, 14 Runs, 18 RBI, 16 SB
Jackson Aumack - .286 Avg., 23 Runs, 11 RBI, 20 SB
Kenny Harrigan - .290 Avg., 2 2B, 1 3B, 12 Runs, 15 RBI, 14 SB
Steven Chandler - .317 Avg., 2 2B, 15 Runs, 8 RBI, 21 SB
Christian Smith - .278 Avg., 2 2B, 1 3B, 17 Runs, 10 RBI, 13 SB
South River Top Hitters
Khaliyl Everton - .438 Avg., 13 2B, 2 3B, 39 Runs, 21 RBI, 9 SB
Matt Leviton - .390 Avg., 6 2B, 1 3B, 31 Runs, 14 RBI, 8 SB
Tyler Higgins - .269 Avg., 6 2B, 4 HR, 21 Runs, 31 RBI
Brandon Szerszen - .363 Avg., 3 2B, 1 3B, 30 Runs, 18 RBI
Dalton Dougherty - .320 Avg., 11 2B, 3 3B, 15 Runs, 26 RBI
The only two public school teams to secure first-round byes in their sectional tournament, South River and Keyport both took full advantage of their standing by advancing to the sectional final. By contrast, Haddon Heights – the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group I – had to play on the opening day of the tournament and lost to No. 16 Gloucester while attempting to save Duke University recruit and left-handed MLB Draft Prospect Adam Laskey for the quarterfinal round.
Keyport has leaned on senior Kenny Harrigan and junior Christian Smith for its big playoff innings and both have delivered. Harrigan has thrown seven scoreless innings, including a three-out save on Tuesday while protecting a one-run lead, and is rested and ready to start on Friday. He will attempt to pitch Keyport to its eighth sectional championship and first since 2001, when the Red Raiders reached the Group I final.
South River, meanwhile, vanquished rival Middlesex in the sectional semifinal and has not allowed a run in 14 tournament innings to date. The Rams won their first Greater Middlesex Conference division title in 30 years this season and are in the sectional final for the first time since 2011. Tyler Higgins is the team’s leader in innings, wins, ERA and strikeouts and will take the ball looking to pitch the Rams to their first ever sectional championship.