TOMS RIVER - It is possible that experience played a role in Toms River North's third straight Ocean County Tournament championship on Tuesday but the same players who came through as seniors in this year's tournament have been coming through since their sophomore season.

Experienced or not, these Mariners seniors were made for these championship games.

Brendan Mullins and Jared Bellissimo once again helped carry Toms River North to an Ocean County Tournament title, this time in a 7-1 win over Toms River East on Tuesday at Ken Frank Baseball Stadium on the campus of Toms River South.

Mullins allowed one unearned run on five hits and one walk over six innings and 93 pitches while making his second career start in an OCT championship game. He allowed one run over seven innings as a sophomore in a 2-1 win over Toms River South in 2016 and took the ball Tuesday against another crosstown rival with a chance to deliver his team some more hardware - the sixth county title in program history.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

"We had a chance to three-peat, which not many teams get to do," Mullins said. "We capitalized. The seniors have been through it two times before this."

Mullins cruised through the first five innings on 62 pitches before laboring through a 31-pitch third but escaping with just one unearned run allowed.

"I had pretty much everything working," Mullins said. "I was able to work the corners with my two-seam fastball. A lot of changeups - they were working really nice today."

Mullins has had a bounceback season after his ERA increased by more than a full run between his sophomore and junior season. This year, he is 3-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 37 2/3 innings.

"It's his work ethic," Mariners coach Andy Pagano said. "For a kid whose future is pitching, he wants to do everything. The other day in practice, he didn't stop practicing running the bases. For about eight hitters in a row, he was just running from first to second, first to third. It's good to have one of your leaders do that because if you are a younger guy, how can you not be working on the same thing?"

"He was trying a little too hard last year," said Toms River North assistant Mike Peck, who handles the pitching staff for Pagano. "He had such a good year as a sophomore that he put a lot of pressure on himself to repeat what he did. Sometimes what you try to be perfect, it's detrimental."

Bellissimo, for his part, was recognized Tuesday as the tournament MVP for the first time, although he made a strong bid last year as well. This time around, he went 2-0 on the mound with one earned run allowed on seven hits and one walk while striking out 16 over 12 innings. At the plate, meanwhile, he was quiet up until Tuesday, when he went 3-for-3 with a run scored and a long RBI double to dead center field.

"These guys seem to step up in the big moments," Peck said. "They always have, even as sophomores. We put them out there because we had to. We didn't know what we were getting."

Bellissimo's RBI double was part of of a six-run second inning that effectively won Toms River North the game. It started with a two-run home run off the bat of junior outfielder Jon Giordano - the second home run Giordano has hit off of Toms River East Tuesday starter Brad Brush.

On Tuesday, Giordano fell behind 1-2 in his first at-bat, but got an offspeed pitch just below the belt and lofted it up into a strong wind that blew out to left field throughout the game. The ball took off and disappeared halfway up the trees just beyond the left-field fence.

"We have a lot of talented kids on this team," Giordano said. "Just getting to play on this team is an honor considering all of the kids that we have. A lot of the guys on the bench here would be one of the best players on a lot of other teams around here, so it's special to be a part of it."

Senior shortstop and senior catcher Craig Larsen each added an RBI single in the inning with Bellissimo launching his RBI double between the two.

Junior second baseman Dylan Feigin added an RBI single in the third inning to cap Toms River North's scoring.

Larsen closed the game with a clean seventh inning, during which he struck out two and induced a game-ending, championship-clinching ground ball to shortstop, where Feigin moved over to replace Larsen.

Larsen was Toms River North's go-to starter last year but has only thrown 20 innings this year and has not started a game since May 1. With the postseason now in full swing, Larsen will be more of a factor on the mound, according to Pagano.

"Now that the postseason is here and we've got some more experience on the infield with some of the younger guys, you'll see more of him," Pagano said. "We were a little spotty on the infield early in the season and Craig has been that anchor. To me, at shortstop, I don't think there are many better."

Toms River East was playing in its first OCT final since 2008, but could not overcome a Toms River North team that beat them twice during two low-scoring regular-season games. After the six-run inning, senior Jared Mizrachi limited Toms River North to one run over the final four full innings.

Last year, Toms River North went on to win the Shore Conference Tournament and finish No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 following its OCT championship.

"We just play our game and make our plays," Mullins said. "If we hit the way we can hit, we know we're going to be the better team out there."


Box Score

Toms River North 7, Toms River East 1

TR East (11-9)0000010152
TR North (16-6)061000X7122


Brad Brush (L, 2-4)1.16651133
Jared Mizrachi4.26110045
Brendan Mullins (W, 3-2)65101193
Craig Larsen10000213

Top Hitters

Toms River EastStats
Brad Brush1-3, R
Jay Longo1-2, 2B
Toms River NorthStats
Jared Bellissimo3-3, 2B, R, RBI
Jon Giordano2-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI
Robert Jeans1-3, 2B, R
Dylan Feigin1-3, R, RBI
Craig Larsen1-4, R, RBI
Alex Klalo2-4
Justin Schaff1-4, RBI



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