Southern Regional High School in Ocean County Baseball Final First Time Since 1983

May 16, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Southern Regional’s Nick Simone fires to the plate during the Rams’ 11-0 win over Jackson Liberty in the Ocean County Tournament quarterfinals on May 11.

It’s been a long time since the Southern Regional High School baseball team has been considered among Ocean County’s better squads. But on Tuesday, the Rams did something they hadn’t done in 34 seasons: reach the final of the Ocean County Tournament.

After beating up on sixth-seeded Jackson Liberty on May 11, Southern used a three-run, sixth-inning rally to take 10th-seeded Manchester to extra innings, and then scored in the bottom of the eighth to score a 4-3 victory and reach the OCT championship game for the first time since 1983. The Rams won the title in 1977.

“We’ve known since our freshman year that we would play for a county title,” said senior Connor Ciliberto, who scored from second base with two outs after the throw to first base on Cole Markley’s grounder to shortstop pulled the first baseman off the bag. “This is why we play until the end of every game, because we know we can come back. Now we’re in the OCT championship. And it will be even better if we get Toms River South.”

The last time Southern played in the OCT semis was 1987. The Rams will play the winner of the other semifinal contest ,between top-seeded Toms River South and fourth-seeded Toms River North, which played Tuesday night.

“It’s been too many years since we’ve been in a position like this, with a shot to win the OCT,” said senior Pat Barrett, who started and pitched the first 5-1/3 innings, scattering eight hits, before yielding to senior Nick Simone. “A lot of us started playing together when we were young, and now, this season, things are really clicking for us.

“We’re just kind of sitting back and enjoying this. We’re excited to be where we are right now.”

After the Hawks scored their three runs in the top of the fifth, the Rams (13-6) put together some offense in the bottom of the sixth. Seniors Joey Robertson and Nolan Watson each whacked singles to lead off the at-bat. A passed ball allowed the runners to advance, and Robertson raced home when the throw from the catcher got by the third baseman. Ciliberto, running for Watson, scored from third when junior Marcos Matias hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring in the Rams’ second run.

With two outs, senior Garrett Lange reached first when he fanned, but the ball squirted by the catcher. Lange tied the contest when junior Joe Colonna and senior Zach Oddo swatted back-to-back singles.

Simone tossed 2-2/3 scoreless innings, allowing no hits while striking out four to earn the victory.

In last week’s quarterfinal, Simone limited Jackson Liberty to just two hits after retiring the first seven batters he faced. He struck out four and walked none through five innings.

“So far, I haven’t had the season I’ve wanted to have, so it was nice to have a lot of run support and a performance that can boost my confidence for the rest of the season,” he said. “With that kind of run support, you don’t hold back and just let the ball go. My coaches and teammates haven’t let me get down on myself.”

After the first inning, when the Rams took a 2-0 lead on a two-run home run by Watson, Simone didn’t need much more to work with. However, the Rams gave him more anyway, breaking open the game with a five-run second inning, highlighted by Watson’s bases-clearing double into the left-center gap, to make it 7-0.

“Our mindset has changed. We’re starting to believe we can win games all the time,” said Watson, who finished 3-for-3  with 5 RBIs. “We lost yesterday to Central, but because our mindset is different compared to last year, we had the ability to come right back and get back to winning.”

Now, having won 10 of their last 12 games, it will be interesting to see how far the Rams can go this week in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tournaments. Watson believes Southern has a chance to go deep.

“When we have Barrett, (Zach) Fillmore or Simone on the mound, we’re going to be in games,” Watson said. “And based on our pitching, I believe we can go pretty far. We just need to keep getting timely hits and play solid defense behind them.”

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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