By Wayne Witkowski
Jackson Liberty High School’s baseball team moved back into contention for Shore Conference and New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Group III tournament berths, beating Manchester Township High School, 11-3, April 28 to come into the week with a 6-5 record.
It ended a three-game losing streak — all by 3-2 scores. Along with a 10-inning loss to Donovan Catholic High School, the Lions squandered a 2-1 lead in the last inning in a loss to Wall High School and also fell to Barnegat High School.
“We had opportunities in each game to take care of business and we failed to execute. We are at that ‘fork in the road’ that each team hits in the season,” Jackson Liberty coach Jim Rankin said. “Our pitching has been very good the last three games.”
Rich Dordas, a junior, threw strongly against Donovan Catholic, striking out 11. Kevin Ritz, a sophomore, threw 4.2 innings against Wall, allowing one unearned run. Sophomore Nick DeCarlo gave up two runs to Barnegat on five hits in his stint on the mound.
Jackson Liberty is in a three-way tie for second place in the Shore Conference B South Division at 5-4 behind Lacey Township High School (12-1 overall, 8-1 division). The Lions play three division opponents in four days this week against Central Regional High School (May 1), Lacey (May 2) and Point Pleasant Borough High School (May 4) before a rematch with Donovan Catholic May 10.
Cutoffs for the state tournament is April 12 and for the Shore Conference Tournament is May 14 (teams must be .500 or better). The state tournament selection is based on power points off the first 15 games. Rankin said he knows his team has to start getting some momentum.
“At this point in the season, all wins are critical to get us in the Shore Conference Tournament and also boost our résumé for the state tournament,” Rankin said. “Once in the tournament, anything can happen. Our goal is not just to get in tournaments, but that is certainly step one.”
Rankin said his team needs to continue to get good pitching as it has gotten of late, as well as to perform well on defense and at the plate.
“The key going forward is to play a solid three phases (pitching, fielding, hitting) of the game. We don’t have to be great in all aspects, but solid,” said Rankin, whose team has scored 73 runs in 11 games but has scored two or fewer runs in four of them. “We have yet to put together a solid performance all-around. We always seem to get one or two out of those three. We also have to limit our mental errors. We are a very young team but at this point in the season, being a freshman or a sophomore is not a crutch to lean on anymore. Every player has 11 games under their belt now.”
A lineup that has stayed healthy is poised to cash in on that experience.