It was shortly after last season concluded when Toms River High School East baseball coach Bill Frank met with C.J. Hirschy and told him what he expected from him for the 2014 season.
“I said, ‘Listen, you’re going to be the guy (this year),’ ” said Frank, who is in his 30th season as the Raiders’ head coach and is the Shore’s third all-time winningest coach with 504. “He was ready then.”
Hirschy, a senior right-hander showed against Toms River South on Tuesday at Toms River East’s Raider Ravine that he is ready to take the next step.
He hurled an efficient one-hitter on 83 pitches and Toms River East, ranked No. 9 in the Asbury Park Press preseason Top 10, scratched across two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to record a 3-1 win over the No. 8 Indians in a Shore Conference Class A South game.
Hirschy, who went 3-1 last season, allowed just a first inning single to Ryan Shifer. He struck out five, walked two and hit two batters. Helped by two double plays, one of which he started, Hirschy faced the minimum number of batters in five of the seven innings.
“First game, I had a lot of adrenaline. I was very pumped up and ready to go,” Hirschy said.
Frank said the training wheels were on Hirschy the last couple of seasons even though he and his assistant coaches knew the potential Hirschy, who has made a non-binding oral commitment to attend Pace University, had.
“To tell you the truth, we didn’t really pitch him until he matured,” Frank said. “He was just not developed yet. He wasn’t physically mature enough. I didn’t want to hurt him. We had enough pitching last year and we used him for a couple of innings here and there. We spotted him a lot, knowing that this year he prepared for it as a pitcher. That’s his main thing now.”
The only run Hirschy gave up was an unearned one in the top of the sixth when Indians’ standout center fielder Russell Messler reached on an error and eventually scored when Hirschy balked as Messler was about to steal home.
The run tied the game and Hirschy was in a real jam. Toms River South — which was beginning its 37th season under legendary coach Ken Frank, New Jersey’s all-time winningest coach with 791 and Bill Frank’s older brother — had runners on second and third. However, Hirschy got a strikeout to get out of the jam.
“That (the steal of home and the balk) made my focus go even higher than it was because I wanted to win this game and it was a tied game,” Hirschy said.
Toms River East, which had taken the lead in the bottom of the fifth on a two-out RBI single to left by Jerry Caporale, had the heart of its order up in the sixth against junior Vinny Scrudato, who had entered in relief in the fourth.
Junior shortstop Jon Meola, who had been home with the flu for several days before Tuesday, led off the sixth by ripping a double down the left field line.
“I needed to come to this game. I wasn’t going to miss South or any game,” said Meola, who has made a non-binding oral commitment to the University of Virginia and is the son of former United States Men’s National Soccer Team goalkeeper Tony Meola. “I knew when I got sick, I was definitely coming to school Tuesday.”
Meola said he had a plan of attack in mind when he came to the plate.
“I knew I was getting a curveball,” Meola said. “I didn’t think they would throw me a fastball. I felt confident enough in my hands that if they did throw me a fastball, I could still hit it. My mantra was just put the ball in play and hopefully get something started.”
A bloop single to left by Anthony DeBlasio plated Meola and then a double by Tommy Vincent, who entered the game in the middle innings, accounted for the insurance run.
Hirschy retired the side in order in the seventh.
It was just the type of start the Raiders, who quietly feel they can be a contender in the always-rugged Class A South, needed.
“Opening Day is a hard day to win,” Frank said. “They (Toms River South) played very well. They only had one hit and they were in the game.”