#4 Anthony Martino & #18 Rocko Brzezniak (Photo by Mike Ready)

Brookdale Baseball Advances To NJCAA Region XIX DIII Final Four

LINCROFT – The Jersey Blues continued their season-long assault on opposing pitchers Saturday, putting up 18 runs and banging out 33 hits in their doubleheader sweep of Ocean County in the quarterfinals of the NJCAA Region XIX DIII playoffs.

Third-seeded Brookdale (43-7-1) now advances to the Final Four of the tournament and will face No.2 seed Northampton (45-8) this Friday, May 17. Rowan College South Jersey—Gloucester, the top seed and ranked No.1 nationally, hosts the round-robin tournament and is the defending NJCAA DIII champion.

“The guys played well; I thought we were the better team,” Brookdale head coach Johnny Johnson said. “We hit with the best of them. If we hit and play defense, we’re going to win the majority of our games. I thought our fielding and pitching did a nice job keeping us in the games. I was impressed with our defense in the two games.”

Brookdale sophomore Rocko Brzezniak led the charge, as he has all season, going 3-for-4 with four RBI in the first game of the twin bill, which the Blues won 9-2. In the second game, a 9-5 win, Brzezniak crushed two doubles, his 21st and 22nd two-baggers of the season, and drove in two runs to give him a team-leading 79 RBI in 50 games this season.

“He’s the best,” Johnson said of his All-American. “Rocko works hard, he respects the game and he’s one of my favorite kids because he plays the game the right way.”

The slugging infielder leads the country with a .570 batting average, is second in RBIs (79), and fifth in home runs with 12.

“It was huge, absolutely huge,” Brzezniak said of the sweep, thus avoiding a third game in the best-of-three series. “Now we get to rest up a whole week. We had 33 hits, everyone did their job today in the lineup, we only made one error in the two games in 18 innings of play and everyone one through nine in the order did their job in the field and in the box.”

Freshman third baseman Anthony Martino (Brick Memorial) smacked a game-winning grand slam in the six-run third inning to put the Blues up 7-1, and Brookdale needed every one of those runs in the win. The blast easily cleared the fence in left-centerfield, giving the slick-fielding second baseman five dingers on the year.

“Just trying to help our team,” Martino said. “When I have runners in scoring position in front of me, I just try to get the job done. We have a lot of guys on this team that we trust to come through. It was a great feeling.”

According to Johnson, Martino has been battling a hamstring issue, so seeing him swing the bat the way he did was a good sign.

“No question it was the difference in the game,” Johnson said of Martino’s grand slam. “He has the potential to do that, but his hamstring has been bad the last month, so he wasn’t hitting full strength. He told me he was healthy, so I let him go, and he stepped up in a big way right there.”

Another plus coming out of the second game was the return of pitcher/first baseman Ryan Cole, who has been battling a wrist injury that kept him sidelined for the last couple of weeks. Cole (8-2) took the mound Saturday and picked up the win, going four and a third innings, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out six and walking one. He exited the game after a blister formed, but his wrist wasn’t an issue. Cole also had a hit and a walk, scored two runs at the plate, and played a flawless first base.

“He didn’t feel the wrist; his time off helped,” Johnson said. “He’s getting his curveball back the way it was before his wrist started bothering him; he has a major league curveball. He developed a blister on his finger, so we’ll rest him again until this weekend. With him on the mound healthy, we can beat anybody.”

Not to be overlooked was a sensational diving catch by center fielder Devon Smith in the top of the eighth of the second game with runners on first and second and no outs, preventing what could have been a big inning for Ocean and holding them to just one run in the inning.

“No question that prevented a big inning,” Johnson said of Smith’s catch.  “He’s been doing that all year for us. He has a shot at a gold glove this season. He’s going to get a scholarship somewhere.”

Brzezniak transferred to Brookdale after an All-American season at Gloucester, during which he helped the Roadrunners win the national championship. He feels his experience could help Brookdale return to the NJCAA World Series for the first time since 2009.

“I think my experience can help our team greatly,” Brzezniak said. “We went all the way last year, and I feel like with the experience I got playing there and the team chemistry we have on this team, I think we can go all the way and seriously do this thing.

“This has been a really special year with everyone putting up fantastic numbers,” Brzezniak added. “We just have to continue it in the final four next week and punch our ticket to the DIII World Series in Auburn (NY).”

Johnson is optimistic about his team’s chances this upcoming weekend with a trip to the World Series on the line.

“We’re all healthy now, and I’m excited; this is a good bunch of kids,” Johnson said. “If we execute the way we’re capable of in hitting, fielding, and pitching, we have a good shot at winning this tournament.”

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