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Spartans, Caseys look to follow strong seasons in playoffs

By Warren Rappleyea

Both the Ocean Township High School and Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School baseball teams are gearing up for their respective state sectionals following strong regular seasons by both squads.

Ocean Township (17-6) had won three straight heading into its regular-season finale May 17 at St. Rose High School. The Spartans are coming off a 3-1 win against Neptune High School May 14. Phil DeMarco gave his team five solid innings before giving way to Travis Lillie and then to Alec Keezer, who went the final two innings to pick up his fourth win of the year. Ocean Township scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the ninth inning.

“We can hit one through nine in our order, but we’ve had times where we’ve really had to scratch out runs this year,” Spartans coach Cip Apicelli said. “When we get into the state tournament, we won’t be seeing a team’s third or fourth pitchers. We’ll be seeing their top guys, so it’s going to be important to find ways to score.”

Last season, Ocean Township fell in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III quarterfinals, and Apicelli expects his team to do better this time out.

The good news for Ocean Township is that its hurlers are just as likely to keep opposing teams at bay. Keezer is 4-1 with a 2.10 ERA with 29 strikeouts in as many innings. DeMarco owns a 4-2 mark over 40 innings with a 2.60 ERA and 35 strikeouts. Jake Talerico is 4-0 and is averaging one strikeout for each of his 37 innings. In addition, Apicelli can call on shortstop Brian Kochenash late in games. The hard-throwing senior is 2-1 with a pair of saves and a miniscule 0.87 ERA.

“Brian has been awesome this season,” the Spartans coach said. “Whenever something good is happening, he seems to be right there in the middle of it — offensively, defensively or on the mound”

Kochenash’s 37 hits and .418 batting average are tops on the team. With 18 RBIs, he is third in that category. He has also scored 20 runs and stolen 12 bases.

Talerico has had a big year at the plate after moving from ninth in the order to the cleanup spot. The center fielder is hitting .413 with 12 RBIs and 14 runs scored. More important, he has struck out just once this spring.

Right fielder Jack D’Auria and catcher Mark Chernin are tied for the team lead with 19 RBIs apiece and are batting .290 and .271, respectively. First baseman Brian Olesen is at .338 with two homers, seven doubles and 18 RBIs. Freshman Max Winters is hitting .320 after winning the second base job about halfway through the season. Despite hitting just .212, outfielder Anthony Tedesco has managed to drive home 13 runs.

RBC, meanwhile, will look for a better performance after bowing out in the quarterfinals of the South Jersey, Non-Public A tournament a year ago.

The Caseys were cruising through the campaign before losing three straight, including a 4-0 loss to Christian Brothers Academy in the finals of the Monmouth County Tournament — and scoring just three runs in the process. RBC’s record stands at 18-4.

With a .334 team batting average, the Caseys’ bats are not likely to stay cool. Three regulars are batting over the .400 mark, led by catcher Doug Facendo at .456 with a home run and a team-leading 17 RBIs. Shortstop Evan Madigan is batting .427 with two home runs and 12 RBIs, and first baseman Mike Veit is at .400 with 10 RBIs.

Aaron Ahn, the second baseman, is at .373 with five homers and 16 RBIs, and junior third baseman Anthony DeRosa also has 16 RBIs to go with a .297 average.

Coach Buddy Hausmann’s pitching staff has four hurlers with at least three wins and a team ERA of 2.10.

John Poccia is the ace with a 6-2 mark and a tiny 1.34 ERA in 47 innings. Jack Smith has fashioned a 1.19 ERA to go with a 3-0 mark. In 22 innings Jack Ipsen has recorded 21 strikeouts to post a 3-0 mark with a 2.23 ERA. Hard-throwing left-hander Justin Liggett is 3-1 with 24 strikeouts in as many innings, and Austin Nappi owns a 2-1 ledger.

“Everything was working for us: pitching, hitting and defense,” Hausmann said. “Now we’ve had a bit of adversity, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We need to get back to playing a consistently strong game one inning at a time.”

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