SRHS Baseball Squad Snags South Jersey Group IV Crown, First Time in 50 Years

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 02, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy The Southern Regional baseball team gathers around the championship trophy after capturing the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV title with a 6-2 victory over Lenape on June 2.

In championship baseball games, it’s usually on a team’s agenda to draw first blood and score first. And Southern Regional senior Joey Robertson wanted to make sure his squad set the tone for their NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championship clash against Lenape on June 2.

“At least 75 percent of the time I get on base to lead off an inning, the guys behind me get me in,” said Robertson, who led off the game with a walk and scored the Rams’ initial run in a 6-2 victory to secure the program’s first state sectional title in 50 years. “We had to set the tone and keep the momentum, and as soon as I got on I knew I was scoring.”

After senior catcher Nolan Watson’s single to right field sent Robertson to third base, junior Marcos Matias hit a high but short fly ball into center field, which was caught by opposing shortstop Tommy Gardiner as he was backpedaling. Robertson tagged up and took off for home but stopped halfway down the baseline.

“I was trying to draw the throw and I wasn’t expecting him to run the ball at me,” Robertson said. “I was caught midway, but then he pump-faked and I saw an opportunity. As soon as he did that, I knew I was getting in there.”

With 45 feet left to cover, Robertson made a dash for home and Gardiner made the throw to the plate as he stepped onto the infield dirt. Robertson made the head-first slide past catcher Anthony Isopi’s diving tag attempt to make it 1-0. The 11th-seeded Rams (18-8) never looked back.

After senior pitcher Nick Simone worked out of a two-out, second-and-third jam in the bottom of the first, Southern really took control of the contest, scoring four runs in the top of the second.

Senior shortstop Pat Barrett led off with a single to center field, which was followed by a single to right by senior outfielder Garrett Lange as well as a double to right off the bat of senior first baseman Zach Oddo, bringing in Barrett with the Rams’ second run.

A walk to senior outfielder Vaughn Walker loaded the bases for Cole Markley, who hit into a fielder’s choice which scored Lange from third. With two outs, Markley stole second and senior outfielder Noah Brown singled to left to bring in Walker and Markley, giving Simone a five-run cushion.

“It was huge to have that lead,” Simone said. “We were very aggressive and wanted to take over the game as quick as possible. Scoring that many runs that fast really put a lot of pressure on them and gave me the comfort to just go out and throw.”

The eighth-seeded Indians (20-7) scored their only runs in the bottom of the third inning to trim the deficit to three runs, but Southern made it a four-run contest with a run in the top of the fourth inning. With one out, Walker singled to left, and an errant throw by the left fielder allowed him to go to second, from which he scored when Robertson whacked a two-out single to right, making it 6-2.

Simone retired the Lenape side in order in the bottom of the fourth, but started having some control issues in the fifth, as he hit back-to-back Indians to put runners on first and second with one out. Southern head coach Keith Cocuzza pulled the right-hander in favor of senior left-hander Zach Fillmore, who struck out the next two batters to end the threat.

Lenape managed to get a pair of one-out hits in the bottom of the sixth, but Fillmore stranded them when he induced a grounder to Robertson at second base for a fielder’s choice and a flyout to Brown in center to end the inning. With a runner on first in the bottom of the seventh, Lange made a running grab in right-center for the first out, and Fillmore finished off the Indians by striking out the next two batters.

After fanning the last batter, Fillmore briefly looked toward the dugout, almost in disbelief, then tossed his mitt in the air as the celebration began.

“I got the first strike on that last batter and I felt it,” Fillmore said. “It was over. I knew I was going to get him. This is amazing. But we want to keep on playing. We don’t want it to end here. We want a state championship now.”

Southern last won a sectional crown – Central Jersey Group II – in 1967. The last time the Rams were in the South Jersey Group IV final was in 1987, losing to Toms River East. The Rams now advance to the Group IV semifinals, where they will meet Hunterdon Central, a 2-1 winner over Freehold Borough in the Central Jersey sectional championship.

“It doesn’t feel real yet,” Simone said. “It feels like a dream. It’s crazy. I can’t even describe it.”

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