Baseball – SSN Coach of the Year: Ken Frank, Toms River South
To win more games than any coach in the state of New Jersey takes a long time and Toms River South coach Ken Frank has been the Indians skipper for a long time.
It also takes some special seasons, and Frank has had plenty of those as well. With more than 55 division, county, conference and NJSIAA championships, Frank’s career is about much more than longevity, but it’s also about more than championships as well. After all, not everyone has the high school field named after them before they retire from coaching, but Frank indeed coaches on a home field that bears his name.
In Frank’s 39 seasons, Toms River South has become synonymous with the word “tradition” and Frank’s players are buying into that tradition as much in 2016 as they did in 1996, 1986 or in 1978 when he first took over the program after eight years as an assistant.
The 2016 campaign seemed likely to have its high points – a Toms River South season always does – but a Class A South championship was far from a certainty with a relative preponderance of inexperience by Toms River South standards. Despite the new blood, Frank guided the Indians to a 22-win season, a No. 5 ranking in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and their first outright Class A South championship since 2010, which earns him the 2016 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year Award.
Toms River South opened the season ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and was picked by SSN to finish third in Class A South behind Jackson Memorial and Toms River North. After an opening-day loss to Jackson Memorial, the Indians unofficially began their march to the outright title when senior right-hander Trevor Wagner no-hit Toms River North on April 6.
Wagner’s no-hitter was the highlight of a Toms River South season dominated by pitching. The Indians sported four pitchers – Wagner, junior Justin Fall, senior Nick Scrudato and sophomore T.J. Scuderi – with at least 34 innings and those four hurlers combined to go 21-8 with 1.74 earned-run average.
The Indians pitching has become a constant in recent years despite this season being the first since 2012 in which the team had a legitimate first-team All-Shore pitcher and since 2010 in which the Indians had two. Frank’s top assistant of 23 years, Mitch Powitz, has been a huge influence on the pitching staff and with a full season from Wagner, the breakout of Fall and the emergence of Scrudato and Scruderi, Powitz turned in one of his finest jobs as well.
According to an old cliché, it is supposed to be hard to beat a quality team three times in a season, but Toms River South did one better when it came to its rivalry against Brick Township this season. The Indians swept the regular-season series against the Green Dragons, edged them, 1-0, with a run in the bottom of the seventh of an Ocean County Tournament semifinal game, and beat them again in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16. Brick finished the season as the No. 9 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, going 13-5 over its last 18 games – three of those losses coming against Toms River South.
Although Toms River South dropped two of three games to rival Toms River North, the Indians held one of the state’s premier offenses in check in all three meetings – two of which came during stretches when the Mariners were pummeling teams with high-scoring outputs. Toms River North edged Toms River South 3-2 in a regular-season meeting at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood and outlasted the Indians, 2-0, in the Ocean County Tournament final. Mariners offensive standout Joey Rose – who hit .437, cracked 11 home runs and was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the MLB Draft – went 0-for-7 with three walks and a hit-by-pitch in three games against the Toms River South staff.
Despite the A South losses to the Mariners and Jackson Memorial two other division losses to Brick Memorial and Southern Regional, Toms River South had a chance to clinch a share of the Class A South title by winning at Brick Memorial on May 12 and delivered a 3-2 win over the Mustangs to win a share of the division title for the first time since 2012. When Brick Memorial beat Toms River North on May 16, the Indians clinched the outright title for the first time in six years.
Despite coming up short of a title in its three postseason tournaments, Toms River South advanced further than its seed dictated. The Indians reached the finals of the Ocean County Tournament as a No. 3 seed, and the semifinals of both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA South Jersey Group III Tournaments as No. 6 seed in each.
Following Toms River South’s 22-9 campaign that included the program’s 21st division championship under its longtime head coach, Frank is now 847-275-3 for his career as he eyes his 40th season running the Indians program.