First off, I just want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the baseball moms out there who drive everyone all over the countryside, come to every game and somehow find a way to get out those grass stain/blood/chalk from the foul line/dirt combinations in the uniforms on a regular basis. I think Mrs. Stump was given an honorary chemistry degree for her work with the No. 18 Red Bank Catholic uniform back in the early ’90s.
Secondly, my condolences to the whole Matawan family and the family of former star Jawann Brown, a 2005 Matawan graduate and former player for the Huskies who lost his fight against leukemia and passed away on Saturday. I remember Jawann as one of the more underrated players in the Shore during his tenure and as a good kid who played hard even though Matawan didn’t get a ton of attention.
Huskies coach John Kaye, who coached Brown, had this to say in an e-mail: “Jawann was not only a great player but an outstanding young man from a tremendous family. Jawann’s love for the game and pride in wearing the uniorm will be tough to duplicate. He loved to compete and found a way to smile, win or lose. Many of you surely remember his prowess as a power hitter. If you get a chance, please share a moment with your teams and let them know how fortunate they truly are to be given the opportunity to don a baseball uniform and represent your respective programs. We at Matawan have suffered a great loss. The void in our hearts will be difficult to fill. A moment of your prayers I’m sure will mean a lot.”
Brown wouldn’t want us to stop talking baseball because that was what he loved, so that is what I will do here as I have a bunch of stuff from a very busy weekend after waiting forever to play because of rainouts.
I’ll start with some Ocean County Tournament stuff, as I was at Brick’s 5-3 win over Toms River East on Saturday at Al Kunzman Memorial Field that put the 17th-seeded Green Dragons into the OCT semifinals for the first time since 2002. Brick’s pitchers, Sean Salsano and Dan Boyle, did a great job of pitching out of some jams and left fielder Matt Dornacker made the play of the game when he took a potential walk-off home run away from East’s Steve Pappalardo. I think the more that Brick was allowed to hang around later in the game, the more the momentum started to swing in its favor, and once Dornacker made that play, it seemed like that was the fuel to finish the job.
You have to give head coach Jason Groschel a lot of credit because this team was 1-11 heading into last Saturday before winning four of five. At 1-11, most teams will just shut it down and mail in the rest of the season, but Groschel kept them motivated and had them wearing their “bottom-feeder” status, as they put it, like a badge as they attempted to surprise everyone. A big reason is that Groschel plays everyone, pinch-hitting and pinch-running frequently to get everyone involved, so everyone feels like they have a stake in the team. The team is a mixture of seniors, juniors and about six sophomores who play regularly, and to the players’ credit, they stuck with it in order to show that they were a better team than their record.
One other thing from that game – while Dornacker’s play was great, Toms River East center fielder Kyle Snyder made the best catch I have seen this season in the first inning on a smash by sophomore Victor Wilenta. He was running full speed and made a Willie Mays-at-the-Polo-Grounds-style over-the-shoulder catch while also running up that quirky hill that is deep in the outfield at Al Kunzman Field. Just a great catch, which saved a run, and a great video highlight for our members to check out.
As for the rest of the OCT, its Toms River North-Jackson Memorial Part III as the two will meet again in the semifinals after Jackson beat the Mariners twice in Class A South this season. The Mariners predictably rolled past Lacey and Monsignor Donovan, while Jackson had a one-run win over Manchester and then beat Point Beach 17-0. The 8-7 win over the Hawks was a little deceiving as the Jaguars were up 8-3 in that game. The ball was flying out of Jackson’s home field, as the Jaguars hit a combined six homers in the two games, all of them coming in the first inning.
Jackson coach Frank Malta hadn’t looked it up when I talked to him, probably because he doesn’t want to jinx anything, but the Jaguars have to be averaging a run or two per game in the first inning alone. They scored 13 in the first inning against Point Beach, three the other day against Toms River North and five in a 14-0 win over Toms River South before that. They are like the old Mike Tyson character in “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” who goes for the uppercut repeatedly in the first round, and if he lands it, you’re not getting up. Now that the Jaguars’ offense has woken up to match its pitching and defense, they have been scary.
At least when the Jaguars play Toms River North this time, assistant coach Marc Fink can be in uniform and in the dugout. Fink was in plainclothes going stir-crazy while leaning on the fence for the big game with all the Jackson fans on Friday because he was not allowed to coach yet. Fink went to a wedding in Cancun, Mexico, a week earlier, and because of the whole swine flu issue in Mexico, when he came home he was informed that he had to sit out from coaching for four days because of a Board policy until it was determined that he was not infected with the flu in any way. I shook his hand and talked to him for a while, and I have not been coughing or anything for a few days, so it looks like things are all good. Fink’s buddy and fellow assistant coach, J.M. Gold, a former Toms River North star, took Fink’s place in throwing batting practice in his absence, even throwing lefty to simulate Toms River South’s Andrew McGee before the Jaguars battered McGee and the Indians in that 14-0 win two Saturdays ago.
Toms River South rolled past Lakewood and Southern to earn a meeting with Brick in the semis as it looks to defend its OCT title from last year. They are a heavy favorite now to be back in the final, and the semifinals are on the Indians’ home field. However, Brick showed that underestimating the Dragons is a bad idea. This would be vintage Toms River South – people kick a little dirt on them because they were third in A South, but then they show everyone by coming back and winning an OCT title before going for more in the Shore Conference and state tournaments.
It was a rough day for the reputation of Class B South, that’s for sure. Central, its flagship team and division champion, went down to a Brick team that was 3-12 entering the day, and Jackson Liberty, Barnegat, Lakewood, Point Boro and Manchester all lost in their first game, and Pinelands lost the play-in game earlier in the week to Brick. The lone bright spot was Monsignor Donovan’s 11-0 win over Brick Memorial in which Russ Gilliam pitched a five-inning one-hitter. The makes you wonder how Central fits in the overall top 10 picture in the Shore because its best win is probably a 2-1 victory over Pope John XXIII, but it doesn’t have that Shore Conference victory to really hang its hat on.
As for the other news from around the Shore, the Monmouth County Tournament has two of its semifinalists, as St. Rose, the defending MCT champ, and 13th-seeded Monmouth have both punched their ticket. There also could be a potential Kevin MacLachlan vs. Pat Light match-up in the quarterfinal between St. John Vianney and Christian Brothers Academy if the pitching rotation lines up right, which is never a given. That was a nice bounceback win for Monmouth, which upended Ocean 7-6 in extra innings one day after losing 9-1 to the Spartans in a Class B North game. Senior shortstop Andrew Pollina has really raised his game in the past few weeks for the Falcons, and he had a big triple in the win.
Henry Hudson and Middletown North made valiant charges to qualify for the state tournament by taking advantage of the one-day extension of the cutoff date by the NJSIAA, as Henry Hudson won three games in two days by beating Ranney on Friday and then Asbury Park in a double-header on Saturday. I know that’s not exactly running the gauntlet, but Asbury Park nearly stunned them in an 8-7 win by the Admirals in the first game of the double-header, which goes to show that things might look easy on paper, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Junior Jerry Vasto has been the mainstay for Henry Hudson all season and he had a big hitting day while also striking out nine in the second game of the double-header.
Also, fun fact of the day: The father of D.J. Miragliotta, who singled and scored the winning run in the last inning in the 8-7 win over Asbury, is Dan Miragliotta, who is a referee in the wildly popular mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship as well as a few other organizations. Dan is also 6-4 and 296 pounds, so I’m considering hiring him to come shut up the unruly parents at any big games I’m covering. “Hey, ump you’re the worst even though the game hasn’t even started! Hey, why isn’t my kid playing even though he struck out 10 times in a row and he yells back at the coach all the time?! Hey, this pitcher sucks! Get him out of the game!” Um, Mr. Miragliotta? Yeah, that guy, the big mouth in the third row of the stands. Sleeper hold, eyes rolling back in the head, and a relaxing afternoon of baseball. Sounds good to me.
As for Middletown North, the Lions knocked off Point Boro on Friday night and then went on the road and dropped South Plainfield, 12-8 in nine innings, to get to 9-9 and into the state playoffs. Ace Brandon McCloskey started it with a shutout against Point Boro on Friday, and then Joe Ciccone led the way with five hits, Connor Delepine had four and Pat Condon homered on Saturday. Never underestimate seniors with their backs against the wall when it comes to getting into the state playoffs. Also, talk about a varsity debut, freshman Russell Halbach picked up the win with 3 1/3 innings of relief and his first varsity hit with a key RBI single in the ninth inning. Nothing like being tossed right into the most pressure-packed stretch of the entire season and then delivering. Head coach Jon Scala said Halbach is going to be a good one, so he gave him a shot and it worked out.
Finally, some quick-hit stuff to wrap it up.
- Just another reminder that the Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting is Monday at 7:30 p.m. at St. John Vianney, so look for those seeds and the SCT bracket later on Monday night. I’m considering doing a live chat on Monday night anyway to talk about everything that’s been going on, so I will post something in the morning letting everyone know.
- Manalapan’s Ryan Harvey, a Seton Hall recruit, continues to impress, striking out 10 in a win over CBA. The Braves are extremely tough to beat with him on the mound, and the win over the Colts was a big hurdle in their quest to claim the Class A North public title. If Manalapan wins its last three divisional games next week – Marlboro, Colts Neck and Middletown North – it wins the public title. The Braves are also in the MCT quarterfinals, where they will face another Class A North foe, Freehold Township, for the right to play St. Rose in the semifinals on May 19 at FirstEnergy Park.
- The Howie Brey phenomenon continues at Middletown South, as the freshman lefty has now allowed only one run in a combined 14 innings in two starts, against CBA and Marlboro, as he beat the Mustangs 3-1 on Saturday.
- The most underrated ace in the Shore by far is Manasquan senior righty Karl Fiske. He has been a beast this season, and Manasquan is a Top 10 team in the Shore when he is on the mound. He went toe-to-toe with Villanova-bound St. John Vianney ace Kevin MacLachlan and beat him, 1-0, on Saturday for a big Class A Central win that had Red Bank Catholic smiling, because it puts the Caseys’ fate in their own hands as far as claiming the division title. Fiske pitched a four-hitter against a good hitting lineup, and no one has beaten him this year. He entered the game leading the Shore with a 0.56 ERA and then pitched a complete-game shutout. I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about this kid. He is having a tremendous season, and if the season ended today, he would have to be a first-teamer. His presence single-handedly affects the Class A Central race because opposing coaches always want to know, “Did Fiske pitch today for Manasquan?” because they want no part of him and they know the Warriors are a different team when he pitches. I’ll even give you a second underrated pitcher, although it’s hard to be underrated when you are on the No. 1 team in the Shore – Jackson Memorial senior righty Pete Kelich. He has been mowing people down and has pumped his fastball up to the mid-80s.
- If Red Bank beats Long Branch on Tuesday, the Bucs will share the Class B North title with Ocean.
- My Sleeper Player of the Year, Marlboro junior Matt Weckerle, had three more hits in a win over Raritan and homered in a loss to Middletown South on Saturday.
- Carpenter Cup nominations are due in from all the coaches on Tuesday night, so I will try to post those after I’m done with the OCT semifinal games at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Toms River South.
- Another player who has been a little under the radar but who has drawn praise from opposing coaches for his work behind the plate and his hitting ability is Colts Neck catcher Mike O’Reilly. He had a big two-run homer to beat Ocean on Saturday and also had a double and an RBI in the loss to St. Rose in the MCT. He was one of the few experienced returners this season for the Cougars and has done a good job of keeping this program winning despite some major graduation losses.
OK, that’s all for now, as it’s time to go say thanks to Mrs. Stump for putting up with a son who is essentially AWOL for nine months of the year every year. Enjoy the beautiful day out.