Baseball – Young Jags Lead Jackson Memorial Past Brick Memorial and to 5-0 Start
BRICK TWP. - It's often said of young, inexperienced teams like the one the Jackson Memorial baseball program has this season that they take their cues from the few members of the team that have experience.
According to Jaguars coach Frank Malta, however, his new starters have energized returning seniors Kyle Johnson and Chris Hawryluk and ignited one of the Shore's best starts to the season.
Friday at Brick Memorial, it was junior Tim Halasnik that led the way, going 3-for-4 with his first official home run, three RBI and three perfect innings of relief - all of which sparked a 10-3 win for the Jaguars over the Mustangs.
Both teams entered play Friday unbeaten in Shore Conference Class A South play, with Jackson Memorial unbeaten overall and ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, while Brick Memorial had only one loss (to No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy) and was ranked No. 9.
"I think early on, Kyle and Chris were thinking they had to do more than they had to do," Malta said. "I think the fun part has been watching some of these young guys prove to them that they can hold their own and they're going to be a part of this."
"In the preseason, me and Chris weren't really sure about this new group of kids because they looked really uncomfortable," Johnson said. "They've really proven themselves and they look really comfortable doing what they have to do."
The two teams traded leads in the middle innings, with Johnson belting a go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the fifth to give the Jaguars a 4-3 lead after Brick Memorial scored three in the bottom of the fourth to go up 3-1. Hawryluk gave way to sophomore left-hander Shawn Kelich on the mound to begin the fifth inning and Kelich surrendered a single and a walk to left-handed hitters Brian Markoski and Dylan Evans, respectively. Halasnik came out of the bullpen and retired the next three hitters to preserve the lead.
"Coming in, I knew it was going to be a very big spot," Halasnik said. "This is a game that puts us on top of A South, we're still undefeated on the season. I just felt great going out there. The adrenaline was flowing, I was throwing good, had a good breaking ball. I couldn't ask for more."
In the following half inning, the junior right-hander - who started the game as the designated hitter - connected on a 3-2 fastball and hit a long fly ball that carried over the left field fence for a two-run home run that gave Jackson Memorial a 6-3 lead.
"I'm coming off a couple of games where I struggled - dipping my shoulder a little bit," Halasnik said. "Before the game, coach (Malta) was saying he (Brick Memorial starter D.J. Wilson) is going to come with the fastball early. I got to a full count and Malta said to move up and in on the box. I fouled one off and then hit the long fly ball.
"All I wanted to do was find a gap. He came with a fastball middle-in and I was just licking my chops, ready to put one out."
The home run was Halasnik's first of his varsity career, although he also hit a game-tying home run in a game against Toms River North that was suspended due to darkness with the score tied at nine. That game is due to be completed, at which point Halasnik will add to his home run total.
"Offensively, he's been hitting the ball really well," Malta said. "He's looked good at the plate, hitting some balls really hard."
"It's big great getting a chance to start in my first year on varsity," Halasnik said. "I knew with Hawryluk back, he was going to be the number one guy in the rotation so I'd have to go behind him. Just to get a chance as a DH feels great."
After getting out of a jam in the bottom of the fifth and blasting a tack-on home run, Halasnik pitched two more perfect innings, retiring all nine batters in order.
"I'm not surprised at all that Tim has been able to hit," Johnson said. "I always knew he could hit. Seeing him come in to pitch in that spot and do what he did - that really showed us something."
The Jaguars added four more runs in the seventh inning, highlighted by a two-run single by junior Dave DeJesus and an RBI single by sophomore Alex Iadisernia - his third hit and second RBI of the game.
Hawryluk also retired the first nine batters he faced Friday before running into trouble in the fourth. Brick Memorial sent nine men to the plate that inning, plating a run each on a sacrifice fly by Evans, an RBI single by Tim Santiago and a run-scoring walk by Dave Clark.
Halasnik opened the scoring in the second inning with a double down the left-field line and Iadisernia singled home a run in the fourth to cut the Brick Memorial lead to 3-2 in advance of Johnson's go-ahead home run to left.
Johnson, Hawryluk and center fielder Kyle Lona are the only returning starters on a Jackson Memorial team that won the NJSIAA Group IV title two years ago and the Ocean County Tournament in 2015. The Jaguars Friday notched a win over a Brick Memorial team with nine senior starters and a pitcher in D.J. Wilson that gave the Jaguars trouble last year.
"We hadn't given up a run in 19 innings (until the fourth inning)," Malta said. "We gave up the runs and lost the lead and had to claw our way back against a guy who has thrown the ball really well against us. I was really happy with the way we came right back."