LACEY TWP. - The Southern Regional baseball team is only two years removed from making it to the Ocean County Tournament final and winning a South Jersey Group IV championship, but senior shortstop Cole Markley is the only player on the current Rams team.

For the first time since that dream season in 2017, Markley is starting to see the signs of another Cinderella at Southern.

After knocking off third-seeded Toms River North on Saturday, the 14th-seeded Rams kept their 2019 Ocean County Tournament run alive Thursday by waking up their bats for 14 hits in a 10-8, quarterfinal win over No. 6 Lacey.

"There's definitely a good vibe with this group," Markley said. "We don't lie down. We keep fighting, we pull for each other. We're starting to come up with timely hits, which you have to have come tournament time. You get those big hits, plus some good pitching like Mike has given us, you have a chance to go far."

Southern senior A.J. Mandell celebrates his two-run double in the second inning. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Southern senior A.J. Mandell celebrates his two-run double in the second inning. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Southern will look to advance to the OCT final for the second time in three years when it hits the road Saturday to play the winner of Friday's quarterfinal between No. 7 Brick Memorial and No. 2 Jackson Liberty. If it is Jackson Liberty, Southern will be facing a Lions team on a 17-game winning streak and going for its 20th win of the season.

"For us to go on the road and beat a number-three seed, it gave us the confidence that we needed today," Southern coach Keith Cocuzza said. "We are as good as any of the teams playing in this tournament, but we have been on the wrong side of some close games. Once you win one tournament game, that's a real confidence booster."

Just as he did against Toms River North, senior right-hander Mike Schiatarella earned the win on the mound Thursday, although this time, he did so with more help from the lineup. After limiting Toms River North to one run in seven innings, Schiatarella trudged through five innings on Thursday, during which he allowed six runs - three earned.

"My stuff wasn't as good today as it's been the last couple times I have pitched," Schiatarella said. "I just had to battle. Our bats stepped up today, fortunately, so I just had to try to throw strikes and keep us in it."

Schiatarella was also a noteworthy participant in Southern's offensive outburst. He smacked an RBI double to the right-field fence during the Rams' five-run second inning that staked Schiatarella to a 6-2 lead.

Lacey cut that deficit to 6-4 by the end of the second inning and 6-5 by the end of the third. Southern, however, answered with one last wave of offense, scoring four runs in the top of the fourth. The big swing was a base-clearing double by Markley, with the last of those three runs scoring on an error in the outfield. Junior designated hitter Derek Serino drove in the first run of the rally with an RBI single.

Schiatarella finally pitched a scoreless frame in the bottom of the fourth, during which he struck out the side. His day ended after giving up one more unearned run in the fifth.

"When Mike's on the mound, we know we have a chance to win, no matter who we're playing," Markley said. "He's going to battle, even on a day like today when he didn't have his best stuff, he is going to keep us in it."

Southern senior Mike Schiatarella. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Southern senior Mike Schiatarella. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Senior Jake Roth closed out the Southern win and although he gave up two runs in the seventh, Lacey never brought the tying run to the plate. Sophomore Matt Kaliske doubled in a run and scored on a sacrifice fly by senior Colin Trembley to cap the scoring.

Southern opened the scoring on an RBI double by senior Frankie Pellegrino in the top of the first inning to score sophomore Kevin Cooney, who led off the game with an infield single.

Lacey came back with two in the bottom of the inning, the first on an RBI single by senior Jorden Jurkiewicz and the second on a doubled to the fence in right-center field by senior Garrett Reilly.

The Rams seized control of the game for good with the five-run fifth. Senior A.J. Mandell had the big swing in the inning with his two-run double off the fence in right field, which made the score 4-2. Schiatarella followed with an RBI double and the last of the five runs scored on a base-loaded walk by sophomore Jack Plesniarski, who also score the first run of the inning on a wild pitch.

"I thought we showed a lot of patience today," Cocuzza said. "There were a lot of borderline pitches that went for balls and to credit our kids, they took advantage and made their pitchers work."

Lacey got two unearned runs back off Schiatarella in the bottom of the second, with Donnie Kirk picking up a RBI double and senior Miles Feaster plating another on a sacrifice fly.

Sophomore Brandon DeAngelo pulled Lacey within a run in the third with an RBI single to score Jurkiewicz, who singled and stole the first of his three bases to set up the inning.

Southern's push into the semifinals comes despite missing its top hitter from last year, junior Aiden Hosszu, as well as sophomore starting catcher Mike Gallaro. Hozzsu is recovering from a knee injury that has sidelined him for most of the year, while Gallaro is still getting over a concussion, according to Cocuzza.

With Gallaro out, Lacey took advantage by stealing nine bases on Thursday.

"That's a lot of big hits not in the lineup right now, so it's been a struggle for us trying to find some offense," Cocuzza said. "We have a lot of sophomores playing for us so we're asking them to do a lot for us and it's been an adjustment trying to adapt with guys injured and guys stepping up in bigger roles."

Seniors were the driving force of Southern's 18-win 2017 season and, despite three sophomores in the starting lineup Thursday, they will likely be integral to another one. Pellegrino and Markley figure to be the options on the mound Saturday at either Jackson Liberty or Brick Memorial.

"As long as we stick together and nobody gives up, we're going to have a chance," Markley said. "We just have to play with heart. We'll take the same approach we have for every other game and try to keep it going."


Box Score

(14) Southern 10, (6) Lacey 8

Southern (6-10)150400010143
Lacey (12-9)2210102884


Mike Schiatarella (W, 3-3)56633691
Jake Roth22221141
Jacob Bowles (L, 3-2)1.26662253
Nick Zarycki22436273
Sam Sramaty3.16001249

Top Hitters

Jack Plesniarski3-4, 2 R, RBI
Cole Markley2-5, 2B, R, 2 RBI
Kevin Cooney2-4, 3 R
A.J. Mandell1-3, 2B, R, 2 RBI
Frankie Pellegrino2-5, 2B, RBI
Mike Schiatarella1-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI
 Derek Serino2-4, R, RBI
Jorden Jurkiewicz2-4, 3 R, RBI, 3 SB
Miles Feaster1-2, R, RBI, 2 SB
Brandon DeAngelo2-4, R, RBI
Garrett Reilly1-3, 2B, RBI
Matt Kaliske1-3, 2B, R, RBI
Donnie Kirk1-2, 2B, R, RBI
Colin Trembley0-3, 2 RBI, 2 SB




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