Anthony Rocco is well aware his role has changed this year.
Rocco, a senior left-hander at Jackson Memorial, has become the Jaguars’ ace after the graduation of ace Brandon Holup, the Asbury Park Press Player of the Year last year, and No. 2 pitcher Alex Daniele.
“I can’t mess around anymore,” Rocco said. “In practice, I’ve just go to do my work to be ready for everything.”
Rocco has sure looked ready in his first two starts of the season. His latest gem came on Wednesday as he pitched four-hit ball over the first six innings in Jackson Memorial’s 8-1 win over Toms River East in a Shore Conference Class A South game.
Rocco, who pitched a two-hitter on April 4 in the Jaguars’ 7-0 win over Toms River North, struck out five and walked one.
“I think he’s got that mindset that he’s excited to get the ball in these spots. He wants the ball in these spots,” said Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta. “You know what: Those are the guys you want out there. They want to be able to perform under the bright lights, in these type of games. He’s definitely embracing the role.”
Jackson Memorial senior catcher Matt Thaiss, who has signed with the University of Virginia, said the secret to Rocco’s success is that he does not rely on just one pitch.
“He can control his change-up, his curve ball and his fastball very well,” Thaiss said. “No matter whether its 3-1 or 2-1 and if we call a curve ball or change-up, I know he’ll throw it for a strike. I know if I set it up inside or set up outside, he’s going to hit it (the target).”
Rocco, since he is left-handed, is obviously different than the tall, hard-throwing Holup, who ended last season with 35 consecutive scoreless innings and five shutouts. However, the one similarity between the two is they both pound the strike zone. That has been a characteristic of Jackson Memorial pitchers ever since former Toms River North standout and Milwaukee Brewers’ 1998 first-round draft choice J.M. Gold became the Jaguars’ pitching coach before the 2008 season.
“In high school baseball, if you are around the strike zone with your pitches, good things will happen,” Malta said.
Rocco gave up a leadoff bloop single to left by Raiders’ talented sophomore shortstop Jon Meola in the bottom of the first. Thaiss then threw Meola out at second on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Jerry Caporale before Rocco retired the next two batters.
Toms River East’s only major threat came in the fifth when a double by Christian Danyo, a single by Dave Lewis and a fielder’s choice led to their only run. Rocco got out of the first and second jam by retiring the next three batters.
Jackson Memorial scored its runs over four consecutive innings.
Brian Delesky had a line drive homer to right with two out in the second. Spencer Young and Matt Guarino had two-out RBI singles in the third. Ed Guippone had a two-run double and Thaiss a sacrifice fly in the fourth and Brandon Janofsky a two-run double in the fifth.