Lerner: Shore Conference championship preview
SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP
Monday, June 4
At FirstEnergy Park, Lakewood
15-Toms River North (17-8) vs. 1-Jackson (24-3), 8 p.m.
Road to the Championship
Toms River North: Defeated 18th-seeded Point Pleasant Beach, 5-4; 2nd-seeded Red Bank Catholic, 8-4; 7th-seeded Christian Brothers, 3-2; and 14th-seeded Monmouth Regional, 8-1.
Jackson: Defeated 16th-seeded St. John Vianney, 6-0; defeated 8th-seeded Brick Memorial, 5-0; defeated 4th-seeded Middletown South, 4-0.
Shore Conference Tournament History
This marks the fourth consecutive title game for Jackson. The Jaguars outlasted Christian Brothers, 2-0, for the 2009 championship but bowed to Toms River South, 7-3 in 2010 and Red Bank Catholic, 2-1, a year ago. Jackson also won the event in 1984.
Toms River North returns to the final for the first time since winning the SCT in 2005, 5-1, over Red Bank Catholic. The Mariners have made two other appearances, falling to Toms River South in 1991 and Christian Brothers in 2002.
Who to watch
Toms River North: The Mariners are playing arguably their best baseball of the season heading into this encounter. And, they will have some revenge on their minds, having lost to Jackson three times already this spring.
Junior Karl Blum (3-3, 32 1/3 innings, 34 strikeouts) absorbed a pair of those setbacks but the right-hander is a formidable presence nonetheless atop the mound. Armed with a good, hard fastball, Blum is among a deep Class of 2013 prospects that are high on Divison 1 recruiters’ watch lists. At 6-4, 205-pounds, Blum (.400, six doubles, two homers, 20 RBI) is also a force at the plate with a smooth swing that generates plenty of power, especially to the gaps.
Third baseman Brett Fontenelli (.333, two homers, 23 RBI), second baseman Scott Buxbaum (.266, 11 runs, 10 RBI) and outfielders Nick Brebner (.408, 25 runs, seven doubles, two homers, 17 RBI) and Nolan Diaz (.380, five doubles, 22 RBI) are four seasoned seniors who can pose problems for an opposing pitcher. Junior Ronnie Marinaccio (.438, 32 hits, 17 r, 13 RBI) is a fierce competitor, be it on the bump (5-0, 2.08 ERA), at the plate or patrolling the outfield and sophomore first baseman Julian Feliz (.381, four doubles, 17 runs, 11 RBI) packs plenty of punch with the bat. Seniors Tom Viera and Chris Ryan are each coming off a two-RBI performance in an 8-1 semifinal victory over Monmouth Regioanal.
Jackson: This squad has gotten exceptional pitching throughout the course of the season, led by Brandon Holup. The senior right-hander boasts a 7-2 mark and fourth straight shutout victories. Bound for East Stroudsburg, Holup features pinpoint accuracy with his fastball and has really benefitted from his growing confidence in a quality curveball.
As a staff, Jackson has been incredibly stingy. The Jaguars have notched seven shutouts over their last 10 outings with junior Anthony Rocco (two) and senior Alex Daniele (one) also getting in on the act.
Offensively, Jackson boasts a lineup that is long and taxing. Senior Nick Petrizzo sets a strong tone at the top with a .427 average and 31 runs scored. Junior Ed Guippone is cut from a similar cloth, a reliable contact hitter who is enjoying a breakout season, much like Petrizzo, hitting at a .429 clip.
Junior second baseman Spencer Young has blossomed this season both defensively and at the plate. His move from third base to second has been seamless as his 1.000 fielding percentage will attest. With the bat, Young is hitting .343 with 14 runs, 11 RBI and nine doubles.
The heart of the order is both meaty and lethal. Senior shortstop Joe Ogren, who is heading to Bucknell, is one of the most feared hitters in the Shore Conference (.395, 23 runs, 26 RBI, seven doubles, two triples, four homers). Equally imperative to Jackson's cause, Ogren has bloomed defensively at shortstop, suffering just six errors in 108 chances for a .944 fielding percentage.
The same can be said of Matt Thaiss. The junior catcher, who has already made a verbal commitment to ACC powerhouse Virginia, has a mighty left-handed swing that’s hitting at a .342 clip with 31 RBI, six doubles, a triple and seven home runs. A left fielder for his first two years, Thaiss moved in behind the plate this spring and couldn't be more comfortable. Besides his strong arm (19 assists), Thaiss provides his pitching staff with a reliable receiver and has not committed a single error all season.
Mike Folk is another hitter Toms River North will be wary of. The senior third baseman owns a .324 average with 10 RBI and six doubles.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner