POINT PLEASANT BEACH – It was less than a week into the season and the St. Rose was already at a critical point in its season.
The Purple Roses, the perrenial champion of Shore Conference Class B Central, had lost their first three games. That included an 11-run shellacking at the hands of Point Pleasant Beach on April 7.
It made for a unique practice the day after that game.
“We had an entire practice where we just talked,” senior center fielder Travis Cloney said. “It was freezing and we talked about our goals for the season.”
St. Rose has won 10 straight since.
Monday, it avenged the Point Beach loss by defeating the Garnet Gulls, 8-3.
St. Rose is tied with Mater Dei Prep for first place in Class B Central with an 8-1 divisional record. Point Beach (8-2, 8-2) is a half-game back.
“We’ve been ready for this game, preparing for this game for about a month,” Senior pitcher Jason Criscuolo, who picked up the win Monday by pitching 3 2/3 innnings of scoreless, two-hit relief, said.
It is not often St. Rose loses a game to Class B Central opposition, let alone gets hammered by a divisional opponent the way Point Beach did on April 7.
“It was a slap in the face,” Cloney, who went 2-for-3 and was walked intentionally twice and is hitting around .600, said. “I think it’s exactly what we needed.”
There may also have been a feeling out process early in the season for a team that had just four seniors plus a new head coach in Chris LeMore, a former head coach at Red Bank Regional and Marlboro.
“When things weren’t going the way we wanted them to go, we kind of all took a step back,” LeMore said. “But, the most important concern was we had to stay together. We couldn’t be in a situation where people started pointing fingers.
“It was early in the season. We only played three preseason (scrimmage) games. We weren’t getting on the field for practicing. The first thing I told them was look: ‘It’s a long season. This is a marathon, not sprint’. I wanted them to stay focused on what we were trying to do.”
“Coach lit a fire underneath us,” Criscuolo said. “He’s been thinking this game since the last game (April 7).”
St. Rose played solid baseball Monday. It did not commit an error and took advantage of five errors by Point Beach.
However, the key moment of the game came in the bottom of the third when Criscuolo came on in relief of starter Pat Fullman with two runs in, the game tied 3-3 and the bases loaded and one out.
“I was just ectastic to get to play (Monday,” Criscuolo, who indicated the original plan was to probably pitch him Thursday in a Monmouth County Tournament first-round game at Raritan, said. “To get to pitch in this big rivarly game was awesome.”
Criscuolo preceeded to get two consecutive strikeouts looking.
St. Rose then took the lead for good in the top of the fifth on an RBI single to right by Joe Volpe and a two-run error.
Sophomore shortstop J.P. Traynor, who went 3-for-4, added an RBI double in a two-run seventh.
“I think we proved we were the better team (Monday),” Cloney said.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com