By Wayne Witkowski
Kyle Tavaska came through in the clutch for Jackson Liberty High School’s baseball team as it advanced to the second round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey, Group III tournament with a 6-4 victory May 23 over Moorestown High School.
Tavaska, who hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning to drive in the first of two runs that forced the extra innings, hit a walk-off three-run homer in the eighth inning that led to a celebratory group scene at the plate before the Lions’ jubilant home fans. Moorestown finishes 7-12
“The win was outstanding for our kids. To win a close game and a walk-off homer in extra innings, especially in the state tournament, is always special,” coach Jim Rankin said.
Jackson Liberty is familiar with close games. It had lost six of nine games this season by one or two runs, but it also had four victories by one or two runs before beating Moorestown in a 16-9 season and was well-prepared when going into extra innings.
Moorestown had moved out to a 3-0 lead before Jackson Liberty rallied back, as winning reliever Matt Pickus pitched a four-hitter over the last 4.2 innings. He struck out four and did not walk a batter.
Dan Sofield, who collected three hits, and Matt Hickman, who had two hits, each had a hit in the seventh and eighth innings, and both players scored in both innings.
Jackson Liberty expected to pitch by committee to stay within the new pitch count rule May 25 when they played No. 2-seed Steinert High School (22-5) in the second-round state tournament game, with Kevin Ritz, Andrew Ludovico and Rich Dordas expected to share innings. Rankin said the situation would dictate the order of pitchers.
“[Steinert] certainly presents a tough challenge for our program,” Rankin said. “If we are able to execute pitches, make the routine play and put the ball in play consistently, I like our chances. Our kids have been playing with confidence and believe they can beat anyone at this point.”
Jackson Liberty showed that May 12 when it beat a Toms River High School South (21-3), 3-1.
Before playing Moorestown, the Lions had come off a gritty Shore Conference Tournament loss May 20 to Toms River High School North. David Melfi led Jackson Liberty with two hits and three RBIs, and Shane Hickey batted in two runs in that game. Sofield, Scott Wierciszewski and Tavaska also knocked in runs.
Jackson Memorial High School, meanwhile, is looking to turn around a possible losing season after beating Shawnee High School, 5-1, behind Matt D’Amore’s four-hit pitching in its NJSIAA South Jersey, Group IV opener.
The Jaguars (10-12) next played at Shore Conference A South Division rival Southern Regional High School May 25. The two teams split their regular-season meetings, with Jackson Memorial winning the first one, 9-5, and then losing, 2-1.
D’Amore struck out three and walked four while throwing 108 pitches against Shawnee. Mike Koslowski smashed two hits for Jackson Memorial, which broke out for three runs in the second inning and scored the other two in the sixth.
New Egypt High School’s baseball team ended its season at 8-11 with a 7-6 loss to Florence Township Memorial High School in its NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I opener. The Warriors, who are contending late in the season for Burlington County Scholastic League Freedom Division honors, lost their last four games by a combined five runs and ended up 4-5 in the division.
In the state tournament game, New Egypt rallied back from a 7-0 deficit and had the bases loaded in the last inning when Anthony Burr’s hard-hit grounder that was headed to the outfield ticked off a baserunner for the final out of the game. Connor Healy drove in three runs with two hits.
In softball, Jackson Liberty lost its NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III opener, 2-1, to West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North on a walk-off single in the last inning. D.J. Diodato was 3-for-3 and batted in Jackson Liberty’s run. Pitcher Meghan Conroy allowed eight hits.
Jackson Liberty faced a familiar opponent in Lacey Township High School for the fourth time this season in the Shore Conference Tournament May 27. It was the third time they played in 11 days. Jackson Liberty won the first regular-season game in the Shore Conference B South Division but dropped a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals of the Ocean County Tournament May 16 and then managed only one hit in a 2-0 loss in their second league matchup this season May 24. Conroy allowed only five hits in the Shore Conference Tournament loss, striking out 10 and walking two.
Jackson Memorial’s softball team dropped its South Jersey, Group IV opener to No. 1-seed Egg Harbor Township High School, 7-1, May 18. The Jaguars lost, 4-1, to Brick Township High School May 20 in the Shore Conference Tournament to end their season 8-11.