TOMS RIVER - There have been no shortage of memorable finishes at Ken Frank Baseball Stadium and those finishes range from from exciting to bizarre.

Jackson Memorial head coach Frank Malta has been witness to some of those moments and in the spirit of the rivalry and of the venue, he decided to go bold or go home Monday night with the tying run on third and two out in the top of the seventh inning.

In Jackson Memorial's case, it was more like "Go big and go home" and it turned out to be a big mess for the Jaguars and a big win for the home team.

Toms River South snuffed out Jackson Memorial's attempted straight steal of home to record the final out of the game at the plate and edge the Jaguars - ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - 2-1 for their fourth win in five games after starting the season 1-4.

Pinch-hitter Mike Koslowski fell behind in the count 0-2 and just before a 1-2 offering from pitcher Colin Mackle, courtesy runner Kyle Thaiss broke for the plate while Mackle was on the rubber, in the stretch position. Mackle alertly stepped off the rubber, threw the ball to Scott, who jumped onto the plate to receive the ball and make the tag on Thaiss to end the game.

Malta said the call to try the steal of home came from directly from him while coaching third base.

"It is something we work on and talk about using and it just seemed like the right situation to try it," Malta said. "You try to put some pressure on the pitcher and the catcher to have to make a play and give them credit. They saw what was going on and made the play."

Mackle had entered the game with two on and one out in the inning in relief of starter Nico Gonnella. Scott, meanwhile, had some difficulty blocking pitches early in the game, but stepped up to make an alert play on the final sequence of the game, hopping out of his crouch to go meet the ball and Thaiss at home plate. Mackle stepping off the rubber prior to delivering the ball meant his throw was not a pitch, which allowed Scott to catch the ball before it got to the plate.

"He's an athlete out there and he made a heads-up play," said Toms River South coach Ken Frank, whose team won on a straight steal of home against Toms River East three seasons ago. "Frank Malta is a great coach and a great baseball man and he made a gutsy call in that situation and looking at it from over here, you can see why he did it. I give our guys a lot of credit for staying ready and keeping their composure."

It was a play that Frank has seen - and tried - more than once over his 40-plus years of coaching at Toms River South

"We won a state final on a play like that. We were playing at Princeton (University) in 1990 and a kid from (Pascack) Hills breaks for the plate and it was the same kind of play: bang-bang at the plate."

Toms River South senior right-hander Nico Gonnella. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Toms River South senior right-hander Nico Gonnella. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Gonnella took a shutout into the seventh inning for Toms River South and after getting the first out of the inning on one pitch, he gave up a walk to cleanup hitter Troy Bathmann and a single to catcher Andrew Sefick. Mackle then took over and walked sophomore Carmine Petosa - who drove in six runs in a Saturday win over Millville - on 11 pitches to load the bases with one out.

Mike Dimino hit a sacrifice fly to right-center field to plate Jackson Memorial's first run and set up a dramatic, sudden, bizarre finish.

Gonnella turned in his best outing of the season, allowing just the one earned run on seven hits with five walks and five strikeouts. He exited the game having thrown 104 pitches.

"Going back out there, I knew I had to get outs quick because I didn't have a ton of pitches left to work with," Gonnella said. "Just go at them, let them hit the ball and I got the first out doing that but then I went 3-2 on the next two guys."

Gonnella's biggest out came in the top of the sixth when he faced Jackson Memorial right fielder Alex Iadisernia with the bases loaded and two out. Iadisernia barrelled to pitches foul while trying to shoot the ball into left field and Gonnella went right after him on 0-2, coaxing an inning-ending fielder's choice ground out to shortstop Maximus Rivas.

"Gonnella was great for us to see and it was great to see him have a night like that," Frank said. "Our pitchers have been nicked up all year and we've needed a lot of inexperienced guys to step up and give us innings and for him to do that today, we really needed that. (Assistant coach) Mitch (Powitz) is doing a great job with our pitchers. It was a really tough start those first few games but the guys have shown a lot of fight."

Toms River South scored its two runs in the bottom of the fifth without the benefit of a hit. Mackle and Jordan Erbe drew back-to-back walks to led off and both moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Maximus Rivas. Gabe Driscoll followed with a high chopper to second baseman Christian Pellone to chase home Mackle and a passed ball allowed Erbe to score from third.

Jackson Memorial pitchers Nick Beetel and Mike Dimino limited Toms River South to three hits, two of which were infield singles. The duo kept slugger T.J. Scuderi in check, with Scuderi reaching base twice on errors - one of which was a hard-hit ground ball and the other a dropped pop-up on the infield.

"I thought our pitchers did a really nice job today," Malta said. "I thought both guys were very effective with their breaking ball - throwing it for strikes and keeping their hitters off balance. We gave up some walks, but made some big pitches and didn't really let their guys get too comfortable with their timing."

Jackson Memorial's downfall was its hitting with runners on base, 12 of which were stranded while just the one crossed home plate - which did not include Thaiss at home to end the game.

"We got hits, we had baserunners," Malta said. "We just couldn't put any runs on the scoreboard. We've had some games like that where we build the threat, but don't get enough out of it. It was just one of those games, I guess, but tonight wasn't about one play."

Toms River South also stranded its share of baserunners as well, leaving the bases loaded in both the first and second innings after loading them with two out in each frame. Beetel struck out the side around three consecutive two-out walks in the first and again struck out the last man to bat in the second with the bases jammed.

Despite those early missed-opportunities and being limited to three hits, Toms River South found a way to win, which it was not doing over the first five games of the season. The Indians beat both Brick Memorial and Ferris in walk-off fashion to close out last week and opened this week with another dramatic finish that puts them above the .500 mark for the first time all season.

"I don't know how far we're going to go, but we've got to be happy with a win like this," Frank said. "Frank Malta does a good job with Jackson. Those kids are well-trained and they play the game the right way."


Box Score

Toms River South 2, Jackson Memorial 1

Jackson Mem (9-3, 6-2)0000001173
TR South (6-5, 4-4)000020X232


Jackson MemorialIPHRERBBSOPC
Nick Beetel (L)43115688
Mike Dimino20101132
Nico Gonnella (W, 1-2)6.171155104
Colin Mackle (S)0.20001017

Top Hitters

Jackson MemorialStats
Mike Dimino1-3, RBI
Troy Bathmann1-3, BB, R
Andrew Sefick2-4
Christian Pellone1-2, BB
Carmine Petosa1-3, BB
TR SouthStats
Colin Mackle0-2, 2 BB, R
Jordan Erbe0-1, 2 BB, R
Mike Lazzaro2-3



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