Jaguars bidding for 2022 postseason baseball championships

Jackson Memorial High School starting pitcher Zach Crotchfelt fires a strike to home plate during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on June 4 in Jackson. Crotchfelt struck out 12 Old Bridge batters in six innings to lead Jackson Memorial to a 7-1 victory.

JACKSON — If there is one aspect of his game that Jackson Memorial High School senior pitcher Zach Crotchfelt is proud of, it’s his ability to bounce back from a tough outing or a loss.

“Bouncing back is where I perform well,” Crotchfelt said. “Having that little chip on my shoulder helps me perform better the next time out.”

Crotchfelt suffered only his second loss during the 2022 season in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game against Red Bank Catholic High School on May 29.

His next start came in an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament quarterfinal round game against Old Bridge High School on June 4 in Jackson.

That afternoon, the senior lefthander struck out 12 hitters in six innings as the Jaguars defeated the Knights, 7-1, to advance to the state sectional tournament semifinal round.

“It feels great to come out and give the best performance I could for my team,” Crotchfelt said. “Coming off that tough loss to RBC, we all really just wanted to bounce back and be the strong (team) we are.”

The Jaguars gave Crotchfelt a lead to work with in a thunderous way in the bottom of the first inning when senior Charlie Meglio homered on the first pitch he saw to put Jackson Memorial up 2-0.

“I’m glad I was able to set the tone and get everyone fired up,” Meglio said. “I was sitting on a fastball and saw it leak over the plate and knew it was my pitch to hit and I couldn’t miss it.”

Meglio leads the Jaguars with seven home runs this season.

In the bottom of the third, senior Chris Cartnick scored on a wild pitch to push the lead to 3-0.

Through five innings, Crotchfelt allowed only two hits and struck out 10 hitters.

“He needed to go out and do his thing and he did,” Coach Pat George said about Crotchfelt. “He was around the zone and didn’t have many walks. For him, this is a big confidence booster going into another potential state tournament game down the road.”

In the sixth inning, Crotchfelt got out of a jam with minimal damage after the first two Knights he faced reached base on a walk and an error.

With runners on second and third, Crotchfelt struck out Justin Herbstman, but catcher Aidan O’Donnell dropped the third strike and the ball rolled to the backstop. Herbstman reached base and a run scored as Old Bridge trimmed the Jaguars’ lead to 3-1.

With the tying runs on base, Crotchfelt retired the Knights’ next three hitters on two strikeouts and a groundout.

“I didn’t get ahead of myself or lose focus on what was working for me during the game,” Crotchfelt said. “It was bearing down and understanding that what I had done to that point was working.”

Crotchfelt has struck out 130 hitters during the 2022 season.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Jaguars loaded the bases and scored two runs when two batters were each hit by a pitch. That pushed the lead to 5-1. With two out, Crotchfelt singled off Old Bridge’s Will Kennedy to drive in two runs and give the Jaguars a 7-1 lead.

“That single felt good,” Crotchfelt said. “I was sitting on a curveball the whole way because I knew that was the only pitch (Kennedy) had confidence throwing for a strike. It was a good feeling to see everything I have worked on show there.”

Junior Andrew Osmond pitched a scoreless seventh inning to close out the win for the Jaguars (21-8).

Cartnick and James Osmond each added an RBI in the victory.

Jackson Memorial will play Howell High School in Howell on June 7 in the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament semifinals. The Jaguars are trying to win their first state sectional tournament title since 2018.

On June 8, the Jaguars will play Central Regional High School of Bayville in the Ocean County Tournament championship game.

George said his team will take each game one at a time.

“We have to win a game on Tuesday (June 7) and then take a break from the state tournament and win a county championship game on Wednesday (June 8). We have some arms we can rely on for both (games). It’s a nice thing to have,” the coach said.