TOMS RIVER - At the end of a hard-fought Shore Conference Tournament win in which his No. 1 seeded Indians survived a tough challenge from a No. 17 seed at home, Toms River South coach Ken Frank was as proud of the team in the other dugout as he was of his own for pulling out the win.

In No. 17 Jackson Liberty - coached by his former player and assistant, Jim Rankin - Frank sees all the attributes that he has tried to instill in his teams over his 40-year career as a head coach.

While the Lions did another nearly-spot-on impersonation of Frank's team, it was Toms River South that got its usual result in the end.

Matt Fitzpatrick lifted a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth and Ben Montenegro put the game-away with a two-out, two-run double down the right-field line as the Indians pulled out a back-and-forth, 11-8 affair against a Lions team that defeated them eight days earlier.

Ben Montenegro acknowledges the Toms River South dugout after hitting a two-run double in the sixth. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"Nothing but credit to them," Frank said of Jackson Liberty. "I was choked up talking to (Rankin) at the end of the game. That's the part of me nobody knows. I'm so proud that I coached him. His team plays with such enthusiasm and that's what we preach here and he's doing it over there. They've got a young team and they're going to be really good over the next two years, so that's how impressed I am with Jimmy Rankin."

While Jackson Liberty scratched and clawed its way back to tie the game after falling behind, 8-3, it was still Toms River South that survived and advanced to a quarterfinal date with No. 24 Pinelands on Wednesday. Saturday's win also avenged a 3-1 loss to Jackson Liberty on May 12.

"Whenever you play Jackson Liberty, you always have to grind it out," Ftizpatrick said. "They play hard, they play tough. They've got Rankin over there - a South grad. They're prepared well  and they put up two (runs) early so we came back in the dugout fired up. We just had to keep our composure, be ready to drive the ball and put some runs on the board."

After Toms River South broke a 3-3 tie with five runs in the fourth, Jackson Liberty chipped away with two runs in the fifth before coming up with three in the top of the sixth. David Melfi highlighted the sixth with a game-tying two-run single to centerfield after Shane Hickey drew a base-loaded walk.

"The pitch before (the single) he hit a long drive down the line foul," Shiffer said. "I tried to throw some offspeed stuff because he was on my fastball and tried to come back in on 2-2 and he found a hole. It was a little unlucky for us, but he did a good job battling. We just had to respond."

The Indians indeed responded in the bottom of the sixth with the winning rally, which began on a leadoff single by senior centerfielder Dylan Danelson. Senior Matt Shiffer worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch and senior Justin Fall dropped down a sacrifice bunt to Jackson Liberty pitcher Rich Dordas. The Lions opted to walk starting pitcher and No. 3 hitter T.J. Scuderi to load the bases with one out for Fitzpatrick and the senior first baseman came through with a fly ball to center field deep enough to chase home Danelson.

"With T.J. in front of me and a base open, I knew they were going to put him on," Fitzpatrick said. "With three hits already, I was feeling confident. I just tried to simplify it, get a ball in the air and get the runner home."

Montenegro then followed by ripping a line drive into right field that scored Shiffer from second and Scuderi from first and gave Toms River South a three-run cushion at 11-8.

After giving up the walk to Hickey and the two-run single to Melfi in the sixth, Shiffer returned to the mound and fired a one-two-three seventh inning to close out his third relief win of the season, making him 3-0 overall.

Danelson, Shiffer and Montenegro's heroics over the course of the sixth and seventh marked redemption for each senior player. Danelson had a chance to cutoff a ball in the first inning that turned out to be a two-run triple and might have had a chance to throw out the trail runner on Melfi's tying single were it not for a bobble on his approach.

Montenegro, meanwhile, bobbled a ground ball that loaded the bases in the sixth, which came after he made a dazzling back-handed stop for an out to end the fifth inning.

Shiffer took over on the mound with runners on first and second and could not protect a three-run lead.

"We expect a lot of our players, and that includes the way you carry yourself after a mistake," Frank said. "We're kind of the last of the Mohicans when it comes to teams that really push kids. They come back to the program and they respect that they get challenged while they're here."

Toms River South broke a 3-3 tie in the fourth inning, led by a Fitzpatrick two-run single. Starting pitcher T.J. Scuderi, sophomore Colin Mackle and senior Dylan Danelson all singled in a run as well.

Fitzpatrick finished the game 3-for-3 with a double and four RBI to lead the Toms River South offense in his second game hitting in the cleanup spot.

"We're always mixing things up with our lineup depending on how guys are going," Frank said. "It's usually a gut feeling. Fitz has been swinging the bat for us, so we were looking to get him a chance to drive in some more runs."

"I tried to keep my same approach that's been working for me and just apply it to a different part of the lineup," Fitzpatrick said. "I know I'm going to have more RBI opportunities and I'm probably going to see more offspeed stuff, but I'm just trying to keep things as simple as possible."

Saturday marked the return to the mound for Scuderi, who had not pitched in a game since May 6 against Toms River East. According to Frank, Scuderi has soreness in his pitching elbow that he was told was nothing serious.

"It was nothing dangerous," Frank said. "It was just enough to be annoying. We were working with the trainer and his physical therapist. We're just looking out for the kid. He's more important that what we're doing here.

"He felt good on the mound, he felt good after the game and the trainer said he was all right. If we have him back, we don't have to throw the young kids so much."

Since losing to Toms River North Tuesday in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals, Toms River South has defeated Class B South champion Lacey in a regular-season game and now Jackson Liberty. The Class A South champions head into this week preparing to face a pair of upset-minded teams in Long Branch Monday in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III first round and Pinelands in the SCT quarterfinals.

"Whenever you lose in the county tournament, it affects you, but all the games matter," Fitzpatrick said. "To bounce back was important. The Lacey win was important and now we're playing for two more championships."


Box Score

(1) Toms River South 11, (17) Jackson Liberty 8

Jackson Lib. (15-9)2100230882
TR South (19-3)300503X11122



Kevin Ritz3.28752172
Rich Dordas (L, 0-2)2.14434147
T.J. Scuderi45431470
Matt Hartshorn12321025
Matt Shiffer (W, 3-0)21101237

Top Hitters

Jackson Lib.Game Stats
David Melfi2-3, 3 RBI
Daniel Sofield2-4, R
Scott Wierciszewski1-3, 3B, 2 RBI
Kyle Tavaska1-3, R, RBI
Shane Hickey1-1, 3 BB, 2 R, 2 RBI
TR SouthGame Stats
Matt Fitzpatrick3-3, 2B, BB, R, 4 RBI
Matt Shiffer1-3, BB, 2 R, SB
T.J. Scuderi1-2, 2 BB, 2 R, RBI
Ben Montenegro1-4, 2B, 2 RBI
Tom Campo1-1, 3 BB, R
Colin Mackle2-2, RBI
Dylan Danelson1-2, 2 R, RBI