Southern Regional Baseball Team Falls to Toms River North in OCT Championship

May 24, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Southern’s Zach Fillmore delivers to the plate during the Rams’ 13-4 loss to Toms River North in the Ocean County Tournament championship on May 18.

Before any of the Southern Regional High School baseball team’s batters stepped into the batter’s box for the bottom of the first inning during the Ocean County Tournament championship game on May 18, the Rams knew they were in for either one of two types of games – a barn-burner or a blowout.

Down 2-0 to fourth-seeded Toms River North after a half-inning, the third-seeded Rams had their answer within the next few Mariners’ at-bats. Southern had beaten North twice during the regular season, but this time the Mariners were going to get revenge in a big way.

“This was a tough loss, but we lost to a quality team,” said senior center fielder Noah Brown, who went 2-for-3 and was the only Southern hitter with multiple hits during the 13-4 loss. “They’ve been on fire with their bats lately, and they really hit the ball well today. We didn’t hit the ball when we needed to.”

The Mariners slugged 16 hits, including six for extra bases, off four different Southern pitchers as they racked up runs in bunches throughout the contest, denying the Rams (14-8) their first OCT title since 1977.

“They just kicked our butts. It’s that simple,” said head coach Keith Cocuzza, the only coach to bring a Southern baseball squad to the OCT final since 1983, when the Rams lost to Toms River South. “They hit the ball a lot, and got the timely hits we couldn’t get. Even down 2-0 in the first, I still felt confident we could get back in it. But they just poured on the offense and we couldn’t stop it.”

The Mariners (17-6) scored twice in the top of the third, then added two in the top of the fourth to take a 6-0 lead. The Rams shaved the deficit back to four runs by scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth.

After Joe Colonna walked, Cole Markley and Brown, who had singled in the third as well, swatted back-to-back singles to right field to load the bases for Joey Robertson, who bounced into a fielder’s choice to bring in Colonna. With two outs, Nolan Watson doubled to left-center field to score Markley and make it 6-2.

North scored three times in the top of the sixth to push the lead to seven runs, 9-2, then tacked on four more in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the seventh, the Rams scored their last two runs when Robertson drew a one-out walk, went to third on a Vaughn Walker double to right-center field and scored on a wild pitch. Vaughn then scored on a groundout off the bat of Watson.

Southern finished with six hits. Oddo also whacked a single to left in the sixth. Zach Fillmore took the loss on the hill, starting the game and giving up three earned runs through the 2-1/3 innings.

Despite the loss, Brown said he and the rest of the team understood the significance of being the first Southern team in the OCT final in 33 years.

“This is an experience our program hasn’t had in a long time, since my dad was in high school,” Brown said. “By making it to the championship this year, hopefully we’ve changed the tone of the program for years to come.”

Still, Cocuzza knew his players were dejected.

“It’s a great thing we got here, no doubt,” he said. “But just getting here wasn’t what these guys wanted. They expected to win. Yeah, it’s an amazing achievement for this program to be in the OCT final, but it’s kind of deflating to lose like this. Our guys are bummed about it.”

Unfortunately, Lacey added to the Rams’ woes two days later in the Shore Conference Tournament first round, when the fifth-seeded Lions walloped the 12th-seeded Rams, 11-1. Lacey racked up 10 hits, while Southern managed just three. Earlier last week, Southern scored a 4-2 win over Manchester in the SCT preliminary round, as Brown went 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs and Marcos Matias went 2-for-3 with a double.

After the game was rained out on Monday, May 22, Southern, as the 11th seed, was scheduled to take on sixth-seeded Vineland in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tournament on Tuesday.

— David Biggy

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