Lions ring up another winning baseball season


The Jackson Liberty High School baseball team enjoyed consistent success throughout the 2012 season, but the Lions’ diamond campaign came to an abrupt ending under an ironic coincidence.

The Lions played Monmouth Regional High School of Tinton Falls in the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament and in the NJSIAACentral Jersey Group III state sectional tournament on back-to-back days and fell short against the Falcons both times.

Jackson Liberty ended its season with a 16-8 record.

“We definitely had a nice run, but it was a disappointing finish and a fast end,” coach Jim Rankin said. “We definitely had a great season.”

The Lions posted their third straight season of 16 or more wins. Jackson Liberty won 17 games in 2011 and 18 games in 2010.

“I am happy with the consistency we have established as one of the better teams in the Shore Conference and I would like to take it to the next step,” Rankin said. “I am happy with where the program has come in a short period of time.” Although Jackson Liberty boasted victories over Red Bank Catholic and Colts Neck (in the Shore Conference Tournament), Monmouth Regional was the super spoiler for this season. The Falcons held on for a 2-1 Shore Conference Tournament victory when Jackson Liberty ended the game on a strikeout with the bases loaded.

The next day, the Lions lost to Monmouth Regional, 5-2, in a state tournament game. Once again, Jackson Liberty had the tying run at the plate in the last inning with two runners in scoring position. Monmouth Regional ended the scoreless standoff in the sixth inning with four runs and added another run in the top of the seventh.

Jackson Liberty also lost, 3-2, to Toms River North in the second round of the Ocean County Tournament. Toms River North eventually reached the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.

Rankin said there are mixed feelings ending the 2012 season and planning the next one. He will miss the five graduating seniors who had an impact, and three of them started in the outfield —left fielder John Davern, right fielderAriel Rivera, and centerfielder Vin Sica, who also pitched.

Also departing is the Lions’ No. 1 pitcher, John Holland. Sophomore James Sofield will be expected to rise to the top spot after going 5-2 this spring. Sofield, who starts at second base when he is not on the mound, hit .426 this season. Holland hit .403 for Jackson Liberty.

“Holland was 4-5, but his record does not indicate his importance to this team,” Rankin said. “He was our ace.”

While spots in the outfield will be up for grabs in 2013, the Lions’ entire infield is expected to return, led by junior shortstop Angel Garced. He was a third-team All- Shore selection who was among the conference leaders in runs scored (28), stolen bases (15) and doubles (12).

When Sofield pitches, junior Jordan Mundell steps in at second base and he was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year after fielding smoothly at six positions.

Junior Brendan Benecke is expected to return at catcher, along with junior third baseman Tyler Pallante and sophomore first baseman Dan Naif.

Pallante again figures to do a lot of pitching next season, and Rankin said that Naif will throw “a little more.”

Rankin said he will find prospects to help fill the outfield positions and add depth to the team from the Lions’ junior varsity squad that went 9-7 and the freshman team that was 11-3.

Freshman infielder Matt Castronuova may be asked to move to the outfield. Sophomore Dan Serreino could be the fourth pitcher on the staff to see meaningful innings, according to the coach.