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Dream of winning state championship comes true for Mainland Regional baseball team

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher TOMS RIVER – Sometimes, when you allow yourself to dream big, your wildest dreams really do come true. The Mainland Regional High School baseball team capped off an improbable playoff run on Saturday with a gritty 5-3 win over a determined Mt. Olive team at Toms River South High School, and in the process captured the school’s first Group 3 state championship. The victory put the finishing touches on a two-week thrill ride for the 11th-seeded Mustangs, who shocked the New Jersey high school baseball world by ripping off five straight wins after entering the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. “There’s no other way to put it. It’s just a Cinderella story,” said Mustangs catcher Billy Talarico. “It’s really exciting. It’s just a surreal feeling.” Said Matt Tepedino, who struck out 13 Hamilton batters in the semifinal win at TCNJ on Thursday that got the Mustangs to the title game: “Senior year. State championship. It’s the greatest thing that could have happened to me and this team.” Drew Riska is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run in the fifth inning that put the Mustangs ahead 3-2. Drew Riska is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run in the fifth inning that put the Mustangs ahead 3-2. “I knew this game wasn’t going to be easy, and I knew it was going to come down to a couple of runs. I think us scoring early in the game helped us win this game,” Talarico said. “I could tell after the second inning that we weren’t going to win 3-2. The ball was flying, it was carrying. So it was one of those situations where I wanted to try to score every inning,” said Mainland coach Billy Kern. “We tried to bunt with our No. 3 hitter, we did bunt with our No. 4 hitter. We tried to push the tempo offensively, and we put ourselves in good position to score runs. When you do that, when they see a guy bunting in front of them they know, hey, coach expects me to come through here. And our guys came through today.” Mainland went ahead for good in the sixth on an RBI single up the middle by Jack Loefflad. Talarico followed with a booming double to left-center to plate pinch-runner Nick Trifiletti to push the lead to 4-2. Mt. Olive answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth off sophomore relief pitcher Kyle Gerace, but after Droboniku’s RBI groundout in the top of the seventh stretched the lead to 5-3, Gerace buckled down and shut the door in the bottom of the seventh. When Papademetriou fielded a sharp ground ball and threw to first for the final out, it set off pandemonium, as players dog-piled on the mound and the “Corral Crazies” – busloads of Mainland students – clammored to get inside the fence and onto the field. “I was ready to dart (onto the field). I have confidence that Roman can make that play every time, no matter what,” Tepedino said. “When I see a ground ball going over to Roman I feel really good. He’s been our rock for two years at third base,” Kern said. “If he could have run it over (to first base) my heart might have been beating a little bit slower. In my mind it’s kind of a blur right now. It’s unbelievable.” Busloads of Mainland students, who call themselves the "Corral Crazies", made the trip to Toms River on Saturday in support of the baseball team. Busloads of Mainland students, who call themselves the “Corral Crazies”, made the trip to Toms River on Saturday in support of the baseball team. Tepedino said it was tough for him to sit on the bench, having used up all his pitching eligibility in the semifinal win. But as the game went into the fifth inning, he became the Mustangs’ biggest cheerleader, pacing the dugout like a caged lion and imploring his teammates to get loud for every batter. At times screaming in their ear if he wasn’t satisfied with the output their vocal chords were producing. “It was a little challenging, mentally, for me. But it felt good having those two guys pitching. I knew we would be in the game. I have confidence in (Droboniku and Gerace). Kyle Gerace is a great pitcher, he throws a lot of good pitches and has great command. There’s a lot of good things coming in that kid’s future,” Tepedino said. “Once I started getting pumped up you could see everybody started getting the blood flowing.” Kern said what made the win extra special was the incredible fan support the Mustangs have gotten throughout their playoff run. The school sent several busloads of students up to Toms River in support of their classmates, and parents lined nearly the entire right-field foul line. “To do it in front of these people, too, our fans who have shown up for us and our community. Our principal, our athletic director, some old players and coaches were here,” Kern said. “It was just something special to see, all the green and white out here.” Said Tepedino: “It’s amazing. We’ve been working so hard all season to get here and finally we get here and we proved that we are the better team, and we had what it takes to win. We sure showed everyone that we’re not the underdog. We’re the state champions.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays  [adsense]

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