Southern Advances to Baseball Tourney Quarterfinal

By DAVID BIGGY | May 08, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern pitcher Frank Pelligrino fires to the plate during the fourth inning of the Rams' 2-1 loss to Toms River North on May 6.

Stafford Township — When the baseball season started, Southern Regional head coach Keith Cocuzza was hoping his mostly young and inexperienced squad would develop into a competitive team within the Shore Conference Class A South division, typically one of the toughest in the conference year in and year out. It took the Rams a few weeks to really get it together.

“We’ve become more consistent and very competitive during the past couple of weeks,” Cocuzza said. “I knew going into the season, we’d be starting four or five sophomores on most days, so it takes some time for them to develop experience. I thought they would go through some growing pains, but that’s part of building the experience.”

During the first month, the Rams went 3-8. But comparing the first three weeks – when they were dealt five losses in which the opposing team scored 10 or more runs – to the past two weeks, is like night and day. The games have become much tighter.

“Our pitchers have done a great job,” Cocuzza said. “Defensively, we’ve been good. Our biggest problem hasn’t been getting on base, but just not getting hits with runners in scoring position. We don’t score a lot of runs, so the margin of error is really thin.”

Such was the case on Monday, May 6, when Southern dropped a 2-1 decision to division rival Toms River North. The Rams managed just five hits against Mariners starter Brandon Feigin, who struck out five – four during Southern’s last two at-bats – and walked just one.

The Rams (5-10) got on the scoreboard in the first inning when Kevin Cooney doubled, stole third base, and with two outs scored as Frank Pelligrino reached on an error. Southern threatened in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings, but couldn’t muster the timely hit with runners in scoring position.

In the fifth, the Rams had runners on second and third base with one out before Feigin induced a pair of popups to end the inning. During the last two at-bats, the Rams received only a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh from Austin Scheider, who went 2-for-3.

Meanwhile, Toms River North capitalized on Southern miscues in both the fourth and sixth innings to swipe the victory. Otherwise, Pelligrino – making his first start of the season – was stellar, allowing just four hits and two walks while fanning four through six innings and firing only 81 pitches before being lifted for reliever Cole Markley in the seventh.

“Against a good team, Frankie did all I could have asked him to do,” Cocuzza said. “For us, it really came down to not getting runs when we could have gotten them.”

Somewhat shockingly, the Rams scored several times and limited the Mariners (12-6) to just a run in the bottom of the third on May 4, as Southern bounced North from the Ocean County Tournament in the opening round. The Rams are the 14th seed. The Mariners were the third seed.

Southern scored once in the first, added another run in the third and its final run in the fifth, while Mike Schiatarella delivered a solid performance from the hill, giving up just three hits and two walks while whiffing five. He fired a complete game and threw just 84 pitches. Cooney, A.J. Mandell, Markley and Scheider each swatted hits. Pelligrino drove in a pair of runs on outs.

With the win, the Rams advanced to the quarterfinals, where they’re scheduled to take on sixth-seeded Lacey on Thursday, with the winner to meet up with either second-seeded Jackson Liberty or seventh-seeded Brick Memorial.

The day before, on May 3, Southern scored a 4-2 win over division foe Toms River East. Earlier in the week, the Rams lost back-to-back contests against A South rival Brick – losing a 5-2 decision on April 29, followed by a 3-2 defeat on May 1.

Heading into the week, Southern held the 16th power-points position for qualification in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tournament. The qualification cutoff is Saturday, May 11.

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