Point Boro Defeats Jackson Liberty for First Ocean County Title in Program History
By Jim Rosa
TOMS RIVER – It was a great night of high school baseball as two divisional rivals met on the grounds of Toms River East High School to decide the Ocean County championship. This game featured two teams that have been up and coming within the Ocean County baseball scene in Point Pleasant Boro and Jackson Liberty.
Each team came into the game seeking their first county championship. After losing to the Lions two times during the regular season, the Panthers knew they would have to score early and often. In a game that was filled with offense, Point Boro put up 10 runs to defeat Jackson Liberty, 10-7 and claim the Ocean County title. Overall, it was Point Boro’s first major championship since winning a sectional championship back in 2006.
Jackson Liberty came into the game on an 18-game winning streak. As the number two seed, the Lions were a big favorite to reach the final and contend for the championship. With Jackson Memorial falling to Toms River East in the semifinals on the other side of the bracket, it appeared that Jackson Liberty and Point Boro were destined to meet for round three. Point Boro took advantage of the opportunity as they used a total team effort to come away with the win.
Despite the loss, an OCT final appearance added to an already impressive season for Jackson Liberty. The Lions won the regular season B South championship going undefeated in the division including the two wins over Point Boro.
Point Boro had championship aspirations coming into the season as they returned seven starters from a team that reached the 2018 South Jersey Group II championship game. One of those players in particular is junior ace Nick Guzzi who started and recorded his seventh win of the season in the Ocean County final.
Guzzi, who is committed to St. John’s University, has been a big reason for the Panthers’ success this season making three pitching appearances in the Ocean County Tournament. In the quarterfinals, Guzzi pitched a 2-0 shutout advancing the Panthers to the semifinal round. He then threw three shutout innings against Toms River East in the semifinals helping his team defeat the Raiders, 8-4. While it wasn’t his most dominant performance, Guzzi showed just how much a championship meant to him pitching through six innings in the Ocean County final.
This win was impressive for the Panthers due to their ability to continue battling even after giving up a five-run lead. In total, the Panthers scored 10 runs. The last and only time Jackson Liberty gave up 10 runs was in an early season game against cross-town rival Jackson Memorial. Point Boro would get four of those runs in the first inning as Ryan Jasaitis had a two- run RBI single; Christian Aurin hit an RBI single, and an error on a hard hit ball by Frankie Dominicini led to another run. The Panthers would tack on another run in the second inning as Nick Zbikowski launched a double into left field to put the them up, 5-0.
The third inning would prove to be a damaging inning for the Lions as they erased the deficit and made it a new game. At this point in the game, both teams were even at five runs apiece. While it was a simple fourth inning for Jackson Liberty, Point Boro was able to regain the lead in the fifth. The big blow in the inning came from Point Boro’s Sam Young, who hit a big two-run double. Dominici hit another hard ball – this time an RBI triple down the left field line, giving Point Boro a 10-5 lead.
Jackson Liberty would get one run back when Shane Hickey drove in David Mefi. It was a wild pitch and a balk that got Melfi to third before Hickey drove him in to make it a 10-6 game. The rally ended when the Lions’ Kevin Ritz hit a deep fly ball that Point Boro centerfielder Christian Aurin was able to run down in the deepest part of the field.
In the seventh, Jackson Liberty scored one more run, but it wasn’t enough.
“It’s definitely special and I know that it’s certainly emotional for me. We’re the first Point Boro team to win the Ocean County Tournament so it’s definitely special. I’m proud of my teammates. They had my back and we played selfless baseball coming away with this win,” said Guzzi of the team and their championship.
“Everyone had my back, whether it was the double plays being turned or Christian running 50 yards to run down that ball, everyone helped me out,” Guzzi continued.
In addition to great defense, Guzzi credits the offense for spotting him four runs early in the game. “It definitely helped me to relax a little. As a pitcher, going into the bottom of the first gives you some confidence when you get on the mound,” he said.
“It’s definitely a mental battle as much as it is a physical battle. I know that I didn’t have my best stuff but my teammates were able to back me up and we got the victory,” Guzzi said.
The Panthers will now turn their focus to the NJSIAA state tournament where they are hoping to make a run after making it all the way to the South Jersey Group II final a season ago.