On the surface, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Toms River South ripped through the month of April to craft a sizzling start.
We’re talking about one of the most revered programs in New Jersey, one rich in tradition and piloted by the state’s all-time wins leader – not mention a master motivator – in Ken Frank.
Yet, as much as talent has played an immeasurable role in the Indians’ success during Frank’s 35 years at the helm, you can’t overlook the minute intangibles he makes a point to magnify that are playing such a huge part in the performance being turned in on a daily basis by this spring’s rather unassuming cast.
By South’s lofty standards, the 2012 roster doesn’t include a single name that jumps off the page as a player established at an All-State-caliber level. Yet, it compensates for that absence with a grit that runs throughout the lineup. Hustle isn’t an option but a requisite and, because there’s no indisputable standout, a culture of dependency promotes the idea that everyone is accountable to contribute in some sort of fashion.
“Every one of them overachieves,” Frank said of his players. “Their a very close team. They knew the odds were against them early on and they came out, believed in themselves and worked very hard.”
From Rob Cashin delivering a long-ball spark, to Russell Messler laying out to make a diving grab to senior right-hander Kyle Driscoll rising to a defining occasion, Toms River South, No. 13 in The MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, seemed to get a little something from all involved en route to a 5-3 triumph over No. 3 Jackson on Monday in Jackson.
“We have no superstars,” said Cashin, whose solo home run to lead off the fourth sparked a four-run rally that erased a 3-0 deficit. “We’re a scrappy group of players that do a job.”
Good luck trying to find a clean uniform within this Toms River South bunch. The soiled jerseys and pants are considered badges of honor and are emblematic of the style the Indians have played in building a 12-2 mark.
“I’m glad a lot of people didn’t have high expectations for us,” said Driscoll, the Rutgers-bound recruit, who only got stronger as the game progressed in firing a six-hitter with seven strikeouts and a walk. “I knew we had a great team. The kids under the starters last year, they’re great kids. No one got to see who we have now.”
Driscoll was superb in helping Toms River South end a three-game losing skid against its Shore Conference, A South rival. He displayed confidence in his curveball to accentuate a riding fastball in a stellar 96-pitch effort.
After yielding a sacrifice fly to Matt Thaiss in the first and two unearned runs in the second, Driscoll retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced. Jackson (13-2), which had a 10-game win streak snapped, got consecutive singles from Mike Folk and Spencer Young, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles, with two outs in the sixth and South clinging to a 4-3 lead. Young stole second to put runners at second and third only to have Driscoll respond with an inning-ending strikeout.
“There was no way the runners were scoring,” Driscoll said. “Either I was getting a ground ball or a strikeout. I feel like I threw my hardest in that spot. It was the biggest out of the game for me.”
“He could have easily folded,” Frank said of Driscoll. “Jackson’s lineup is so potent, one through nine. He had some good intestinal fortitude. He really got stronger at the end.”
Cashin ignited the offense, which was limited to two hits over the first three innings by senior right-hander Brandon Holup (3-2). The senior second baseman turned on an 0-2 pitch and deposited it just over the left-field fence to pare Jackson’s lead to 3-1.
“We needed something to get us going and start a rally up,” Cashin said. “It was straight up in the air and carried out and that got us going.”
R.J. Devish, who was 3-for-4, followed with a single and went to third on a base hit by Shane McCullough (2-for-3). James Burke ripped an RBI single and Sam Leone legged out a bunt single that induced a throwing error, enabling McCullough to score from second and Burke to race home all the way from first for a 4-3 South lead.
Messler reached on a error with one out in the seventh and Devish knocked him in with a double to pad the advantage.
Nick Petrizzo singled to open the bottom of the first and scored on Thaiss’ fly ball. Following Messler’s diving stab of a sinking liner by Folk in the second, Young doubled, took third on a wild pitch and scored when Brian Delesky’s bunt unraveled into a two-base throwing error. Nick Dabrio drove in Delesky on a ground out to give Jackson a 3-0 lead.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner