Baseball – 2017 Preview: Class A Central
The 2016 season ended without a Class A Central team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and the only one that was close – division champion Manasquan – is no longer in Class A Central this year. In fact, two of the three teams in last year’s A Central that had winning records (Manasquan, Shore and Monmouth) are gone, replaced by two – Matawan (12-11) and Red Bank (8-16) – that went a combined 20-27 while members of Class B North.
So what does all of that mean? Well, it seems to suggest that the Class A Central race is wide open, with Shore Regional returning as the team with the highest standing last year. St. John Vianney is the perennial contender of the bunch, while Raritan, Red Bank and Holmdel all hope to make big leaps as programs this year. Matawan and Rumson, meanwhile, will hope to offset heavy losses to graduation. There may be a top 10 team in this group, but with opening day fast approaching, it’s unclear, at this point who that team is.
In predicted order of finish
St. John Vianney
Head Coach: Mike Morgan, 11th season
2016 Record: 8-12 (6-6, fourth in A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Ryan DeMille (Sr., RHP), Logan Marter (Jr., LHP), Brendan Martin (So., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Sebi Bellone (Sr., C/1B), Logan Marter (Jr., OF), Seamus Coyle (Sr., OF/INF), Frank D’Alessio (Jr., OF), Michael DiPede (Jr., INF)
Key Losses: Ciaran Devenney (C), Zack Richards (OF), Victor Jamandron (2B), Chris Cerniglia (SS), Brandon DeKovics (RHP), Joey Raia (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Gerardo Rivera-Colon (Sr., INF), Robert Skinner (So., INF), Jack Whalen (Sr., OF), Matt Cerniglia (Sr., P/OF), Drew Cary (Sr., INF/OF), Fred Younger (Sr., INF), Matt McCormack (Jr., P), Evan Perrette (Jr., INF), Alex Tango (Jr., P), Anthony Almonte (So., C/INF), Chris Caragliano (So., INF), Matt Della (So., P), Luciano Fabrizzi (So., C), Joe Krause (So., P), Spencer Margulis (So., OF/C), Nick Noto (So., INF), John-Paul Fleming (Sr., P)
The Lancers are coming off a rare sub-.500 season in a winnable Class A Central division and must replace their best two hitters and best pitcher. Despite that, the outlook for 2017 is positive because St. John Vianney returns two quality arms from either side of the rubber and will have plenty of depth to plug the gaps in the lineup, at least relative to the other teams in the division.
Senior Ryan DeMille threw just under 30 innings last year with a 3.91 ERA and is poised to assume the role as stopper on the staff. Junior left-hander Logan Marter has a chance to cement himself as one of the Shore’s better dual threats after posting a sub-2.00 ERA and showing strikeout ability (16 punchouts in 14 2/3 innings) in a short stint last year. The key to the staff could be sophomore Brendan Martin, who worked seven varsity innings as a freshman and will headline the Class of 2019 for the Lancers.
Senior Sebi Bellone returns to the middle of the order this season and while he did not have the kind of statistical year he might have hoped for, Bellone showed extra-base bunch with four doubles and a homer during the season. Senior Seamus Coyle and juniors Frank D’Alessio and Michael DiPede will all look to increase their roles after getting a helping of playing time last year, as will senior Gerardo Rivera-Colon, senior Jack Whalen and sophomore Robert Skinner. Senior Matt Cerniglia also has a chance to make an impact for the Lancers on the mound and in the outfield after a small helping of time last year. With a stream of juniors and sophomores ready to compete for time and help out the lineup, St. John Vianney is positioned to improve in the win-loss column and compete for a division title in 2017.
Head Coach: Nick Tucker, fourth season
2016 Record: 8-16 (3-11, seventh in B North)
Returning Pitchers: Mason O’Mara (Sr., RHP), Jack Povey (So., RHP), Josh Horowitz (Sr., RHP), Jack Mangold (Sr., RHP), Danny Wagner (Sr., RHP)
Returning Positions Players: Jack Mangold (Sr., SS), John Juco (Sr., 2B), Matt Santos (Sr., 1B), Jonah Rosen (Sr., OF), Jack Povey (So., SS/3B), Aidan Kelly (So., OF), Danny Wagner (Sr., 3B), Jack Stamer (Sr., OF), Mason O’Mara (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Nick Massa (RHP/DH), Claudio LoBraico (C), Sammy Tekelch (OF), Matt Reardon (SS/P),
Key Newcomers: Mike Eulner (Jr., 1B/LHP), Will Grant (Sr., RHP/INF), Nick Quaranta (Jr., 3B/RHP), Zach Yates (Jr., (2B/3B/RHP), Colin Chatto (So., C), Luke Jurek (So., OF)
After laboring through the 2016 season in rugged Class B North division, Red Bank is ready to take the next step as a program and moving to a more winnable Class A Central division should help the Bucs’ record reflect that. One challenge the Bucs will have to endure is the graduation of right-hander Nick Massa – a third-team All-Shore pitcher who was quietly one of the Shore’s most dominant pitchers while playing for a team that lost twice as many games as it won.
Fortunately for Red Bank, the Bucs have a strong group of arms coming back that got experience in 2016, led by senior Josh Horowitz and sophomore Jack Povey. The two right-handers both threw significant innings, with Povey emerging as the No. 2 pitcher behind Massa during his freshman season. The Bucs should also benefit from a full season from George Mason commit Mason O’Mara, who struggled after sitting out a full month following his transfer from Christian Brothers in April.
In order for the Bucs to take the next step and compete in the top half of a division, they will have to find a way to start producing more runs and backing their pitchers up with consistent defense. The senior double-play combination of shortstop Jack Mangold and second baseman John Juco will be a big part of that progression. Mangold is coming off a solid junior season in which he hit .275 with five doubles while playing a solid shortstop. Senior first baseman Matt Santos will likely be a middle-of-the-order run producer for Red Bank, while Povey and classmate Aidan Kelly could be key sophomore cogs on offense – Povey at third base and Kelly in the outfield. Seniors Danny Wagner and Jack Stamer also return after seeing a dose of time last year and will help out on the infield and in the outfield, respectively. In an A Central division that didn’t have a powerhouse last year and does not return a lot of its talent, Red Bank has enough experience and potential to make a big jump this year.
Head Coach: Pat O’Neill, sixth season
2016 Record: 13-9 (8-4, tied second in A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Michael Deusch (So., LHP), Michael Jelliff (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Austin Cannon (Sr., OF), Michael Jelliff (Sr., 2B), Ryan Jones (Sr., 3B)
Key Losses: Devin McLaughlin (3B/P), Mike O’Halloran (SS), Dhillon Barbetti (C), Chas Breithoff (1B/P), Marco Parrino (OF), Mick Zimmerman (1B/DH), Matt Pennell (P)
Key Newcomers: Alex King (Sr., OF), Dean Smolokoff (Sr., C), Jared Breithoff (Jr., C), Bailey Crochet (Jr., INF/RHP), Jack DuBois (Jr., OF), Thomas Dunleavy (Jr., 1B), James LaBruno (OF/LHP), Jimmy Malletto (Jr., INF/RHP), Michael Shirvanian (Jr., SS/RHP), Sal LaRosa (So., C), Cody Fleischer (Fr., INF/C/RHP), Oscar Scott (Fr., OF/RHP)
In recent years, Shore has been able to establish two or three pitchers at the top of its pitching staff and ride those arms to either a competitive regular season, a state tournament run or both. Doing so this year will be harder than in past years because Shore does not return an established ace like Devin McLaughlin was when he returned last year. The most experienced arm on Shore’s roster is sophomore left-hander Michael Deusch, who displayed plenty of chops as a freshman on the varsity team but will have to grow up quickly in order to anchor the staff like McLaughlin, Monmouth University right-hander James Kelly and George Washington outfielder Matt Cosentino did in each of the past three seasons.
Offensively, Shore should be able to hang with any team in A Central and many outside of it. Senior second baseman Michael Jelliff is coming off a solid junior campaign in which he smacked eight extra-base hits while hitting .319, while junior Austin Cannon transferred in from Long Branch last year to contribute a .388 average and good defense in the outfield. Senior third baseman Ryan Jones also grew into playing time and knocked in seven runs. Shore will tap into the lower levels to fill some holes, with sophomore catcher Sal LaRosa, junior shortstop Mike Shirvanian, two-way freshmen Cody Fleischer and Oscar Scott, among others, all angling to make an impact.
Head Coach: Jeff Struble, fifth season
2016 Record: 6-13 (3-9, tied sixth in A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Matt Birdsall (Sr., RHP), Zack Johnston (Jr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Ken Friend (Sr., OF), Tyler Bruno (So., OF), Mike Wojtowicz (Sr., SS)
Key Losses: Jon Rodriguez (P/OF), Bo Bentley (DH), Johnny Guccione (3B), Mike Lind (C)
Key Newcomers: Alex Lammatina (Jr., C), Jake Tennant (So., 1B/RHP), Tim Hayes (So., DH)
Despite struggling their way to a last-place finish last season, the Rockets found some reasons for optimism going forward and one of the primary sources for that optimism is the pitching. Senior right-hander Matt Birdsall posted a near-unfathomable 53-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings last year and had a corresponding WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) under 1.00. Junior Zack Johnston also showed command of the zone as a sophomore with 20 strikeouts and seven walks in 21 1/3 innings. Both pitchers, however, sported ERA’s higher than one might expect for high school pitchers who throw strikes – Birdsall at 2.78 and Johnston at 4.92 – so both can improve at staying out of the middle of the zone while hoping the defense behind them also improves.
The infield has some questions after graduation of Johnny Guccione and catcher Mike Lind, but senior Mike Wojtowicz is ready for the full-time job at shortstop after taking over late in the year and Johnston can also contribute in the infield. Raritan also has a potential standout outfield duo in senior Ken Friend and sophomore Tyler Bruno. Friend hit .474 in 38 at-bats last year and will play every day this year, while Bruno hit .275 as a freshman. Fellow sophomores Jake Tennant and Tim Hayes also got a taste of varsity baseball last year and should contribute to the lineup, as will junior catcher Alex Lammatina. Raritan will have to sort out its lineup and improve defensively, but with Birdsall at the top of the staff and younger arms like Johnston and Tennant ready to break through, Raritan has a leg up on a lot of teams in A Central.
Head Coach: Kevin James, 15th season
2016 Record: 8-13 (5-7, fifth in A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Kyle Burnett (Jr., RHP), Patch Adams (Sr., RHP), Christian Lanzollatta (So., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Matt Fahey (Sr., OF), Connor Dupree (Sr., SS), Robbie Smith (Sr., C), Christian Lanzollatta (So., DH)
Key Losses: Dan Trocchia (3B), Jackson Rissucci (P/OF), Teddy Sourlis (1B), Sam Chandler (SS), Mickey Schluter (C), Anthony Mazzuca (P), Mike Frissora (P/OF), Max Phrang (DH), Jake Caruso (2B)
Key Newcomers: Jack Boyer (Sr., 1B), Alex Walsack (Sr., 2B), Andy Schluter (Sr., OF), Pat Russo (Sr., OF), P.K. Kelleher (Sr., RHP), Mike Martino (Jr., 1B), Thomas Scinto (Jr., OF), Dan Harbie (Jr., OF), Carson Kirman (Jr., P)
Like all of the teams in Class A Central, Rumson enters the 2017 season with some real questions regarding its roster, but the Bulldogs have a chance to have a strong showing this year because they have some potential answers to those questions as well as at least one player who should be a sure thing. Senior outfielder Matt Fahey took a couple of weeks to get healthy at the beginning of last season, but once he stepped back into the lineup, he swung a big bat for the Bulldogs. Fahey hit just a tick under .400 with an on-base percentage north of .500 while hitting four doubles and a homer. An imposing figure in the batter’s box at 6-foot-4, Fahey is committed to play at Manhattan next year.
Senior shortstop Connor Dupree, senior catcher Robbie Smith and sophomore right-hander Christian Lanzollatta all saw time last year and all three will have to emerge with more playing time this season. Dupree saw 22 at-bats last year while Smith played a defense-heavy role, so both with get more of a chance to show their full range of skills now that Rumson has graduated most of its 2016 starting lineup. Lanzollatta, meanwhile, threw 3 2/3 innings as a freshman and will step in as a dual threat as a sophomore. The pitching staff, meanwhile, must replace most of its 2016 innings and coach Kevin James is optimistic junior right-hander Kyle Burnett is primed to develop into a potential Division I arm and a staff ace for the Bulldogs. If Burnett can settle in as Rumson’s ace, there is enough there for the Bulldogs to hang around in A Central.
Head Coach: Bobby Carnovsky, fifth season
2016 Record: 12-11 (6-8, fifth in Class B North)
Returning Pitchers: Jake Burlew (Sr.)
Returning Position Players: Tom Collazo (Sr., SS), Antonio Martinez (Sr., 2B), Jake Burlew (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Adam Elliott (RHP), Richard Joa (LHP/OF), Makel Caldwell (OF), Brandon Rivera (INF), Chris Vetter (C), Anthony Hirujo (RHP), Collin Thompson (RHP), Dylan Dobbin (OF)
Key Newcomers: Jackson Hercek (So., C/OF/P), Christian Rodriguez (Jr., 1B), Richie Olson (Jr., P), Wayne Bloom (Sr., INF/OF), Griffin Leibell (Sr., INF), John Carelli (Sr., P), Kyle Gamble (Sr., P), Mike Trapani (C)
Preview Written by Patrick Hennessy, Special SSN Contributor
The Huskies will be looking to get over the hump in the state playoffs after reaching the sectional quarterfinals and semifinals in each of the past two seasons. Despite losing almost every starter from a team that reached the quarterfinals of the North Jersey Group 3 playoffs, optimism is running through the mind of every player on the 2017 Matawan baseball team.
Last season, Matawan relied heavily on a loaded 2016 class that helped the team pull off an upset of sixth-seeded Warren Hills in the opening round of the sectional playoffs. This season, the Huskies will have to look toward the Class of 2017, which has had success at both the freshman and junior varsity levels. The Huskies’ biggest hill to climb will be replacing standout Adam Elliott, who was number one in the pitching rotation, one of the Huskies’ best hitters and an All-Division and All-Shore selection. In addition to replacing Elliott, the Huskies will also be looking for someone to step in and fill the void left by Philadelphia University recruit Richard Joa, who mainly served as a relief pitcher.
Although there is a huge dent left due to graduation, the Huskies do return three starters in first baseman Jake Burlew, second baseman Antonio Martinez, and shortstop Tom Collazo. Burlew and Martinez will be entering their second year as starters while Collazo will be returning for his third. The pitching rotation will be led by seniors Kyle Gamble, John Carelli, and Griffin Leibell, the latter of whom will also see a lot of time playing third base. Those three will take over the roles left by the aforementioned Elliott and Kean University recruit Anthony Hirujo, who was solid during his senior season last year. Players who saw some time last year but will have to play a bigger role in this year’s success are seniors Wayne Bloom and Mike Trapani. Another interesting player who will be competing for a varsity starting job is sophomore Jackson Hercek, who could see some time at catcher in addition to playing the outfield.
Head Coach: Chris Arecchi, first season
2016 Record: 5-13 (3-9, tied sixth in Class A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Alex DiBona (Jr., RHP), Chris Ammirati (Sr., RHP), Michael Stoneham (Sr., RHP), Tom Tesoriero (Sr., LHP)
Returning Position Players: Sal Monticciolo (Jr., 1B), Chris Ammirati (Sr., OF), Alex DiBona (Jr., INF), Alex Galarza (Jr., OF), Mike Devino (Jr., INF), Andrew Pizzuto (Sr., C), Michael Stefany (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Will Van Name (C/INF), Lukas Gudelis (OF), Mike Carannante (UTIL), Jordyn Brosemer (P)
Key Newcomers: Ezra Caspi (So., OF), Jason Lyons (So., INF/RHP), Brandon Saghafi (So., C), Victor Wladika (Fr., RHP/OF), Brandon Wong (Sr., INF/OF)
The 2016 season was a tumultuous one for Holmdel, which brought in head coach Chris Arecchi to try to bring some calm to the program and get it moving toward contention. As far as the talent goes, the Hornets have enough on hand to feel they can compete against the top of A Central. Juniors Sal Monticciolo and Alex Galarza both had solid offensive seasons as sophomores and are likely to anchor the lineup for each of the next two years. Senior Chris Ammirati is also an experienced varsity hitter who will contribute to the Holmdel offense, while juniors Alex DiBona and Mike Devino, as well as seniors Michael Stefany and Andrew Pizzuto step into more prominent offensive roles this season.
DiBona is among the candidates to anchor the pitching staff this season after a solid showing as a sophomore in 2016. Losing senior right-hander Jordyn Brosemer and catcher Will Van Name will make pitching more of a variable for Holmdel this season, but with DiBona, Ammirati and Monticciolo returning with experience on the mound, Holmdel has a chance to be improved in that department in due time. If the Hornets can win a few games early on and make it to the tail-end of the divisional schedule in the mix, a run at the top of the standings is not so far-fetched.
Division Lineup (With 2016 Stats)
Sebi Bellone, Sr., Catcher/First Base, St. John Vianney
Sal Monticciolo, Jr., First Base, Holmdel
Michael Jelliff, Sr., Second Base, Shore
Jack Mangold, Sr., Shortstop, Red Bank
Ryan Jones, Sr., Third Base, Shore
Matt Fahey, Sr., Outfield, Rumson-Fair Haven
Austin Cannon, Sr., Outfield, Shore
Ken Friend, Sr., Outfield, Raritan
Alex Galarza, Jr., OF, Holmdel
Matt Birdsall, Sr., RHP, Raritan
Ryan DeMille, Sr., RHP, St. John Vianney
Mason O’Mara, Sr., RHP, Red Bank
Logan Marter, Jr., LHP/OF, St. John Vianney
Jack Povey, So., RHP, Red Bank
Breakout Players to Watch
Michael Deusch, So., LHP, Shore
Connor Dupree, Sr., Shortstop, Rumson-Fair Haven
Kyle Burnett, Jr., RHP, Rumson-Fair Haven
Zack Johnston, Jr., RHP, Raritan
Jackson Hercek, So., UTIL, Matawan (No 2016 Stats)