There are days when you just don’t have your best, and on those days you need help and that’s exactly what Andrew DiPiazza’s Central Regional teammates provided Saturday in an Ocean County Tournament semifinal at Al Kunzman Field.
With DiPiazza admittedly not having his best stuff, Toms River North jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but the Golden Eagles rallied behind their ace and won 5-2 to set up an all-B South title game on Tuesday under the lights (7:30 p.m.) at Toms River East against Barnegat, an 8-0 winner over Jackson Memorial on Saturday.
“This isn’t the first time, definitely not the first time,” DiPiazza said of struggling with his command. “It happened against Barnegat (earlier this year) and a bunch of times last year. Against (Toms River South last Sunday) I felt I was lights out. Today in the bullpen I knew it.”
The Mariners jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with two unearned runs. Joey Rose, who reached on an error, scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Anthony Ferlise and Mike Tiplady, who reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on a single by Jeff Ciervo, who had three hits.
DiPiazza (4-0), who has signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Alabama, avoided further damage by getting a strikeout with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Despite falling behind 2-0 with their ace on the mound, the Golden Eagles were resilient and answered with four runs in the second inning.
“There’s no panic at all on this team, it’s a very relaxed team,” Central head coach John Scran said. “They’re a great team to coach, they listen. We have great, fundamentally sound practices.”
The second inning started with a leadoff single by DiPiazza, who was pinch run for by Matt Aires. Senior catcher Ken Beyrouty followed with a single to center. Then, senior right fielder Javon Hardy laid down a perfect bunt for a base hit to load the bases. Junior Jake Dominguez followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to score Aires, making the score 2-1 Toms River North.
John Forrester followed and reached on an error to load the bases for Dan Viscel, who drove in the tying run on a groundout to short scoring courtesy runner Chris Kowalski, who had run for Beyrouty. With two outs and runners on second and third, center fielder and leadoff hitter Rich Galati ripped a two-run single to score Hardy and Forrester, putting Central up 4-2.
“Galati had an excellent at-bat to get those two runs,” Scran said.
Galati jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Toms River North starter Brett Hyers.
“(Hyers) threw me a lot of fastballs in my first at-bat, so I was just sitting fastball trying to go up the middle,” Galati said.
“(DiPiazza is) always a good teammate to everyone,” Galati, a senior, said. “He’s always picking everybody up, so when we have to return the favor to him, someone’s got to step up and do it. So I was doing everything I could to get him those runs.”
After his teammates picked him up and got him the lead, DiPiazza settled in and still managed to throw a complete game, despite using pitches he normally doesn’t rely on.
“I settled down and I was just hitting spots,” he said. “I never throw a two-seamer, never throw a slider and those were my two biggest pitches today and in situations like this you just have to make up stuff and do what you can to get the win.”
Central scored its fifth run in the sixth inning thanks to a perfect execution of a squeeze play.
DiPiazza got the inning started with a leadoff single. Aires entered the game as a courtesy runner and stole second. Beyrouty then laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Aires to third. Enter Hardy, who laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score Aires from third base.
“Perfect execution and that was a big run to have,” Scran said. “The offense definitely came up big.”
Central, which has won five OCT titles, all coming under the late, legendary Al Kunzman who founded the tournament in 1972, is seeking its first title since 1986. Its last OCT final appearance came in 1993. The Golden Eagles will be entering the title game on a hot streak after having donned throwback uniforms.
“We went to the throwback uniforms and so far I think we’ve won six games now in a row with these. So it doesn’t matter who we play. We have all the confidence,” said DiPiazza, who scattered eight hits and struck out six in a complete-game effort.
“We feel that we’re coming together as a team. Everybody’s picking each other up.
“I played on varsity four years. My freshman year I think we had the best team talent-wise and it wasn’t as close as this team is. I feel like it’s finally starting to come together. It’s just awesome. It’s an awesome feeling.”
The Golden Eagles do seem to be gaining confidence and it might just be because they have become close.
“We had our junior prom last night (Friday) and that was something that I was worried about,” Scran said.
“We got the kids out of practice early and we talked about a brotherhood, a family, and that you guys had 15 other guys relying on you to get home safe and be there and be ready to play. And they were there. They were here today and were ready to play.
“We’ve come back in a lot of games this year, against Manchester. Against Barnegat. Liberty. We’ve been here before and the team is jelling and they are strong.
“We do activities together. We went bowling one night and have pasta nights. They really like each other and when a team likes each other they’re gonna play hard for each other.