Jusick, Rapella Find a Way to Win Third Straight Beach Haven Bocce League Title

By DAVID BIGGY | Aug 29, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Rita Rapella, left, and Steve Jusick show off the Mike Vitulli Cup after winning it for a third straight time by ousting Delores Sheppard and Lou Schettini in the Beach Haven Bocce League championship on Aug. 25.

If it were a boxing match, those watching the bout would have gawked with intrigue as the reigning champion was backed into the ropes, getting drilled by the challenger. Fortunately, the Beach Haven Bocce League isn’t nearly as brutal as boxing. But there they were, the two-time defending champs – Rita Rapella and Steve Jusick – on the verge of being dethroned by Lou Schettini and Delores Sheppard late in the deciding game of the best-of-three championship match.

“Going into that last round, I just kept thinking how we would get lucky enough to win,” said Jusick, who scored the final point in an 11-9 third game to give him and his bocce partner a third straight title on Aug. 25. “It was dicey. But we still had a few lucky shots in us.”

Again playing for the Mike Vitulli Cup on the grounds of Joan Barron’s Beach Haven home, Rapella and Jusick didn’t dominate the title match the way they did a year earlier. Instead, they had to sweat a bit.

After Rapella scored four points during her first turn of the contest, Jusick followed with a point to give the defending champs an early 5-0 lead. But Sheppard responded during her next three turns, scoring three, two and four points, respectively, as she and Schettini ran off 11 unanswered points to score an 11-5 win. From there, the tension thickened.

Tied 3-3 after two rounds of the second game, Jusick delivered two big rolls – using one shot to knock Schettini’s ball away from the pallina, a maneuver known as “spocking,” and his next shot to drag the pallina into a two-point position. Rapella scored two points on her next turn as well, giving the pair a 7-3 lead.

Jusick and Sheppard traded three-spots to keep the margin at four, 10-6, before Schettini and Rapella traded points in the fifth round, securing an 11-7 victory for the defending champions.

“They were very good today,” Rapella said. “Delores is very consistent and precise. She’s all foxy and tough, so I knew winning wasn’t going to be easy.”

And it wasn’t. In fact, Sheppard dropped three bombs on Rapella during the second round of the third game to give her and Schettini a 5-1 advantage, and from there the race for 11 was on. With the final ball of her third turn, Sheppard dragged the pallina – the “target ball” toward which each player rolls four larger balls, attempting to place them nearest to it to score points – for a point to make it 6-1.

“Delores kept us in it the whole match,” Schettini said. “She’s been great the whole season, actually. We only lost one match, and that’s because she’s been right on the money in every game.”

Despite the deficit, Jusick and Rapella turned things up, scoring four straight points to pull within one, 6-5, during the fourth round. Sheppard completed another drag maneuver to score a point in the fifth round to make it 7-5, but Jusick kept pace with a point on his next turn. Rapella then scored twice on her next set of balls to push her team into the lead, 8-7.

But on his next turn, Jusick made a decision he wanted to get back once the round was over. Throughout the contest to that point, Sheppard and Schettini regularly played the pallina short – near to the center line of the court – and Jusick and Rapella finally had seemed to adjust to that type of game. To start his turn for the fifth round, Jusick tossed the pallina deep down the court.

“It’s 8-7 and I figured it was time to play long,” Jusick said. “That was a bum decision in every way possible. It almost cost us the match.”

Schettini scored a pair of points to put his team back in the lead, 9-8. But Rapella came up big on her next turn, creating a two-ball block and then squeezing her final ball through it for a two-point turn, pushing the defending champs back in front by one, 10-9.

Jusick didn’t throw the pallina nearly as far on his next turn, then rolled his second ball within an inch of the target before setting up a block with his third and ultimately completing the victory in about 68 minutes. For Rapella, it was the ninth time she had been part of the championship team. It was Jusick’s fourth title overall.

“Of course, we wanted to win,” said Rapella, a Realtor with Diane Turton Realtors. “We had a little trouble getting our shots to go right all the time, but we found a way to win. But even if they would have won, it would have been good. It’s all for fun. It would have been nice to see somebody else win.”

Interestingly, at the outset of the season – which began back in June – Sheppard, one of the original players from when the league was started in the early 1990s, wasn’t sure she’d keep it up.

“I wasn’t going to play at first,” said Sheppard, who had played in three other championship matches prior to Saturday. “I thought I was getting too old for this. But I said I’d play the first two matches of the season and see how I felt about it. Lou and I won those first two, so I kept playing, and now here we were, playing for the championship.”

With a bye for the semifinals, Schettini and Sheppard ended up playing the team that emerged from a four-team playoff. Rapella and Jusick ousted Robin MacMillan and Tom Butler, while Gerry Kappes and Bob Mignella knocked off Marilyn Schmidt and Bill Stanbach in the quarterfinals. Rapella and Jusick then scored a semifinals victory to land in the championship.

“It’s all about the camaraderie with us,” Schettini said. “Joan does a wonderful job of matching up the teams and putting all this together. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her effort to keep it going. And, of course, she puts on this great event for the championship to end the season. It’s really a fun time.”

Barron, of course, is one of 20 players in the league, which also includes Suzi Butler, Gail Greenwald, June Hampson, Nancy Jusick, Barry Longenbach, Bev Mignella, Kay and Dale Schoeneman and Ken Pilla. For the championship, Bob Mignella and Longenbach were the officials, and the always reliable Cam Lyle was the court groundskeeper.

“This is not just a bocce league. It’s kind of like a family,” said Barron, whose late husband, Art, helped carry on the league for nearly two decades after Vitulli first developed it. “We have some competitive players, but the game is really secondary. This is more about just getting together and enjoying our time together while playing bocce.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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