The South River High School baseball team barely qualified for the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional tournament.
But once they got in, the Rams shook up the bracket with a major upset.
On May 20 at Voorhees High School, South River, the No. 15 seed, shocked Voorhees, the No. 2 seed, 5-1, in the Central Jersey, Group 2 first round. It was the central New Jersey baseball version of the first day of March Madness.
Senior right-handed pitcher Nick Razzano sparked the upset with a great performance, throwing a complete game in 103 pitches. Razzano allowed just five hits and one earned run.
South River’s senior leadoff man, Chris Barberio, gave the right-hander the lead he needed with a two-run, go-ahead single. In the top of the fourth inning, with Voorhees up 1-0, Barberio swung at a first pitch fastball and ripped it to left-centerfield. Sophomore Austin Soares and Razzano raced home to give the Rams their first lead, one they never relinquished.
The Rams also made no errors behind Razzano. In the seventh inning, senior right fielder Billy Drum made two running catches that kept runners off the base paths and kept Razzano’s pitch count below 110, the NJSIAA limit.
After Drum’s second catch, the Rams clinched their victory and huddled in their dugout. At that moment, they realized they had knocked off a two seed.
“It was really shocking,” Razzano said. “We didn’t understand the magnitude of what we just did until we were in the huddle.”
South River went into the game with confidence, but the team’s energy skyrocketed after Barberio’s hit. The senior pumped his fist as his teammates cheered against the dugout fence.
“We were pumped,” Barberio said.
“I was cautiously optimistic at that point,” added South River coach Mike Lepore. “The most important thing was not letting them answer in the fourth.”
Razzano took care of that, getting stronger as the game continued. The righty allowed one base runner in the fourth and then pitched a perfect fifth and sixth. Overall, the senior induced 13 fly outs and fanned five other batters.
He kept hitters out in front with curve balls and changeups.
“He was that way all year. Steady,” Lepore said. “Whenever he was on the mound, we had a really good chance to win.”
“I knew they would have really good at bats, so I tried to mix it up,” Razzano said.
South River went on to lose in the quarterfinals of the state tournament to seventh-seeded Bordentown Regional High School. But the huge first round upset highlighted a season when the Rams had to get hot in the second half to make the playoffs.
“It’s something we can really look back on,” Barberio said. “Knowing we were projected to lose and won anyway was a huge accomplishment and moment.”
Lepore will lose 11 seniors to graduation at the end of this school year. But the Rams will also return three quality starters who can form the core of a solid lineup, sophomore shortstop Vincent Lepore, a sophomore second baseman in Soares and freshman third baseman Ryan Kurtz.
“They all gained valuable experience this year,” Lepore said. “But a couple junior varsity kids will have to step up.”