Jaguars remain undefeated on the diamond in division play

Jackson Memorial baseball 7-1 overall, 7-0 in A South


Two sophomores and a freshman in the bottom of the batting order have helped Jackson Memorial High School’s baseball team avoid a sputtering start in the Shore Conference A South Division.

In fact, the Jaguars have gone unbeaten in the first half of the division schedule and are 7-1 overall, as they started the second half this week with scheduled games against Brick Memorial High School on April 22, at home on April 24 against Toms River High School North and at Lacey Township High School on April 25.

The Jaguars play crosstown rival Jackson Liberty High School at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood at 3 p.m. April 28.

“It’s been a little different this year filling in some of the gaps,” coach Frank Malta said. “Luckily, the younger guys have stepped up and done a nice job. They’re swinging bats, contributing runs and driving in runs.”

Sophomores John DiMaio (left field) and Brandon Janofsky (second base), as well as freshman Kyle Johnson (third base), have balanced the batting order to sustain rallies. The only exception was a 2-1 loss at Immaculata High School, a night game on April 14 in which a high fly ball was lost in the lights and misjudged at a key moment during Immaculata’s two-run rally in the third inning.

“All three of those guys are crushing the ball,” said catcher Matt Thaiss, who is headed to the University of Virginia in the fall. “They’re getting on bags [and] stealing bags. We definitely have a deep program. It all comes back to the coaching staff, [which has] done a great job. So if we do have injuries, there are guys ready and available to step up and fill those shoes.”

That trio is quickly coming of age and became important on a team that lost some key players to graduation and two returning outfielders to injuries. Junior first baseman Matt Guarino has also stepped forward with a torrid .600 batting average in the cleanup spot, which Malta calls “a key component to what we’re doing with some big at-bats.”

Nick Dabrio, the starting right fielder, has been out with an injury, and it’s not certain when he’ll return. Taylor Reynolds got off to a great start in preseason before suffering a leg injury.

DiMaio stepped into left field, and senior Brian Delesky is off to a solid start in right field, both flanking returning senior center fielder Ed Guippone. Delesky, a lefthander, also pitches. “I’m not surprised to see it turn out this way, but there was some trepidation early on,” Malta said. “Those were tough blows. We knew we had to go young in certain spots and see what we can make of it.”

Janofsky stepped into center field when Spencer Young was moved from second base to shortstop to replace Joe Ogren, who moved on to a college career at Bucknell University. Johnson has learned fast at third base while replacing Mike Folk, who has gone on to Temple University, as a well-rounded athlete who also competes in football and wrestling.

“He’s adjusting. We’re getting what we expected,” Malta said. “It’s little things being corrected in the field, little things we work on every day, but they haven’t affected him offensively.

Asking a freshman to do that on this level is not easy on him.”

Even Thaiss has had to adjust a bit from moving up in the batting order from No. 3 to

No. 2. Young is batting third.

“He’s been playing out there since his freshman year, so he knows what he needs to do,” Malta said,

The adjustments have enhanced the pitching staff, led by Anthony Rocco, who is 2-0 and headed to Pace University in the fall, and Chris Gehrsitz, who is 3-1 after moving from reliever to receiving two starting assignments of late, the second in a 7-2 victory over Toms River High School South on April 18. Delesky ripped a run-scoring double that tied it at 1-1 before the Jaguars scored five runs in the fifth inning on singles by Guippone and Thaiss, before Guarino tagged a two-run homer.

The victory was typical of many this season by Jackson Memorial, which broke open many games in the late innings.

Jackson Memorial has prevailed in A South three of the last four years, sharing last season’s title. Malta said that even with the injuries and rebuilding this year, winning A South “is an expectation that never wavers.”

“It’s talent and team chemistry,” Thaiss said. “This doesn’t surprise me at all, but we still have to play A South one more time. And we have the county, Shore Conference and state tournaments. We’re just in the beginning of our season.”

When the Jaguars get to the point of tournament play, they’ll need a lot of pitching and already have seen favorable signs from senior Jake Harlinski, as well as Young and Guarino, who have pitched well when called upon.

“The thing is our pitchers all have been throwing strikes,” Malta said. “Last year, A South was a pitching division. But what we’ve seen this year is everybody beating everybody up.

“We’ve been able to stay alive.”