By Matthew Rocco
Shore Regional High School knows the road to the Shore Conference Class A Central Division title will be a tough one. So after key divisional wins to start the baseball season, the Blue Devils have more reasons to believe they are a contender.
A veteran pitching staff has played a central role in Shore Regional’s early victories. Senior Devin McLaughlin, the staff’s ace, opened the season with six shutout innings and 10 strikeouts to carry the Blue Devils in an 8-1 win over Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, a division rival.
He picked up his second win of the year in another A Central matchup vs. Manasquan High School. McLaughlin recorded four innings in relief, as Shore Regional won, 7-4.
Chas Breithoff did it all in his start against Raritan High School, which fell victim to a complete game four-hitter. The senior struck out eight batters and at the plate, he drove in the winning run in a 1-0 win for the Blue Devils.
Matt Pennell no-hit Matawan Regional High School into the sixth inning, although the Blue Devils ultimately lost, 5-3, in nine innings.
Shore Regional (4-4 overall, 4-3 division) has cooled off following its hot start, losing three straight games to Matawan, St. John Vianney High School and Manasquan. Head coach Pat O’Neill said the Blue Devils were on the winning end of close games early, and he is looking for the team to rediscover that late-game success. In one of those late wins, Shore Regional beat Holmdel High School in walk-off fashion when senior outfielder Marco Parrino struck an RBI-single in the bottom of the seventh.
“We were doing the little things to win games. Lately, we’ve been losing close games. We’ve been finding ways to lose them,” O’Neill said. “Some days we hit the ball well, some days we don’t. Some days we play defense well, some days we don’t. The big thing for us is to be more consistent.”
The hard-fought losses are signs that Shore Regional can give itself a chance to win each day.
“I feel like every game we play, especially within our division, we’ll be competitive,” O’Neill said.
The Blue Devils are also counting on their experienced players to keep the team on the right track. In addition to its starting staff and Parrino, Shore Regional welcomed back junior Michael Jelliff (second base) and seniors Dhillon Barbetti (catcher/pitcher) and Michael O’Halloran (shortstop).
O’Neill believes the Blue Devils will become more consistent as the younger players get more time on the field.
“It’s about getting the runner in from third with two outs. It’s our defense, too, understanding where to throw the ball. Having that baseball sense; it’s something we’ll improve on, and the only way to improve is by playing,” O’Neill said. “The more situations that arise in the season, the better we’ll be later in the year for the tournaments.”
With an eye on the postseason, the Blue Devils expect to get stronger down the stretch. Playing in a tough division helps speed up the process. If the first three weeks of the season are an indication of things to come, the A Central race will be neck-and-neck.
“We’re a small school in [NJSIAA Central Jersey,] Group 1 playing in A Central with Group II and Group III schools. There are no cupcakes in the division,” O’Neill said. “I think it prepares us for later in the season. It doesn’t help your record, but it gets you prepared.”
The Blue Devils will begin their quest for a postseason title April 30 against Freehold High School in the Monmouth County Tournament. Shore Regional is seeded eighth, while Freehold is the ninth seed.