Despite some early-season drama, Class A North turned out to be no contest last year, with Christian Brothers Academy rolling to wins in its last nine division games to win the division by three games over Howell and Middletown South. The Colts will have to replace some of the best graduating talent in the Shore Conference and while they are sorting things out, the rest of the division will attempt to pounce on the opportunity to take control of the race.

Just as is the case in Class A South, there are a whole lot of possibilities when it comes to the possible order of the standings at the end of the season. Marlboro and Freehold Township finished last year strong, Howell started fast and all three bring back a lot of talent. Manalapan has a promising sophomore class that is ready to complement the returning pieces, while Middletown South returns some position-player talent and always seems to exceed expectations. CBA is the defending champ and is, thus, the favorite, but this division won't be a runaway again this season.

CBA coach Marty Kenney won his 700th career game last year and will look to win another A North title in 2014. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Predicted Order of Finish (Click on school name for team preview)

1. Christian Brothers Academy
2. Howell
3. Freehold Twp.
4. Marlboro
5. Manalapan
6. Middletown South
7. Colts Neck
8. Middletown North

Division Lineup

Brandon Martorano, Catcher, CBAAlthough he looked like a freshman at the plate at times, any struggles Martorano had were par for the course for a player still growing into his frame. He showed an advanced approach and some power in a small sample of at-bats while also displaying a polished game behind the dish. He has already committed to North Carolina as a sophomore.

Nick Cardace, 1B, Freehold Twp.Season went overlooked last year on a non-playoff team, but Cardace is right up there with any hitter in the division.

Kyle Brey, SS, Middletown SouthExcellent defensive shortstop and steady at the plate in each of the last three years for one of the Shore’s top public school programs.

John Diana, SS, ManalapanShowed his offensive ceiling with a .396 average and seven doubles during his sophomore year.

Chris Talbott, 3B, Freehold Twp.One of the best two-way players in the division also has a nice combination of power and speed. Talbott went deep twice and also swiped 10 bags last year.

Ryan Ramiz, OF, CBAComing off a big year at the plate in which he hit .483 with a .600 slugging percentage, Ramiz will probably pitched differently now that Joe Dudek is not hitting behind him.

Will Morgan, OF, CBAAlthough it was eight behind Dudek, Morgan was second on the team with three homers as a sophomore last year and figures to be a top run-producer this year for the Colts.

Jordan Gonzalez, OF, Colts NeckAfter mashing (.350/.422/.650 with three homers) in 40 at-bats last year, the Cougars would take a fraction of that over 70 this year.

Pete Papcun, OF/3B, CBACould have used some more breaks in a year in which he hit .263, but the Monmouth University recruit showed some power (five extra-base hits) and patience (.383 on-base percentage).

 

Division Rotation

Ryan Wares, RHP/2B, HowellArguably the best offensive player in the division as well, Wares will need to be a shutdown, No. 1 pitcher again as the Rebels look to ride the momentum from last year’s surprise season.

Luca Dalatri, RHP, CBAAt an athletic 6’5” with a fastball that already approaches 90 miles-per-hour, Dalatri has all the makings of another great CBA pitcher and was awfully close to such status last year when he pitched to a 1.25 ERA and allowed only 33 baserunners in 39 1/3 innings with 40 strikeouts.

Andrew Nardi, LHP, MarlboroWith ace Adam Ashenfarb on the shelf, Nardi stepped into the role of ace and helped lead Marlboro to the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals.

Joe Ellerman, RHP, Freehold Twp.Went 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA as a junior and was the winning pitcher in a win over Jackson Memorial, the highlight of Freehold Township’s eight-game winning streak to end the season.

Alex Wolf, RHP, ManalapanOne of the more reliable returning arms in the division, Wolf pitched to a 2.80 ERA in 40 innings as a junior last season.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Tyler Kay, OF, Colts Neck – After hitting .345 as a sophomore, look for Kay to add some pop to his stat line as a junior

Jake Sadowitz, LHP/1B, Manalapan – Has the skills and make-up to become one of the Shore Conference’s best two-way players and should help on the mound immediately.

Chris Rodriguez, OF, Manalapan – Speedy center fielder wasn’t quite ready with the bat as a freshman last year, but should be ready to fly this season as part of a talented Manalapan sophomore class.

Griffin Arnott, OF, CBA – Hit better than .400 in limited duty last year and could be lined up for a big junior season, similar to what Ramiz did for the Colts last year.

Matt Platenyk, RHP, Middletown South – The right-hander lost his junior season to injury and will look to make up for lost time. The Eagles always seem to come up with pitching and Platenyk looks like he could be the guy this year.

 

Burning Questions

Is CBA’s trio of slugging outfielders and a talented sophomore battery enough to repeat in A North?

The Colts don’t have quite as much back as Howell or Freehold Township does, but they were also much better than every other A North team over the course of the schedule last season. Ryan Ramiz, Pete Papcun and Will Morgan all hit in the middle of the batting order last year and stack up with any other middle-of-the-order in the division. There are also some other good pitchers and catchers in the division, but none have the ceiling that Dalatri and Martorano do. Dalatri already looks like one of the top pitchers in the conference based on his freshman year results.

Can Freehold Township win enough games early to make its annual late-season surge count?

With a lot of juniors last year, the Patriots did not quite have the sense of urgency needed at the beginning of the season and it may have cost them a chance to play in the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group IV tournaments. They did, however, close the season on an eight-game winning streak, which came a year after they won the Monmouth County Tournament to end the season. With more seniors in the mix this year and, quite frankly, more talent, Freehold Township looks poised to put it together in April this time around.

After a surprising 2013, can Howell’s experienced lineup hold up over the long haul?

The Rebels fell off after beginning the season 7-3 and ended up tied for second place in Class A North, three games out of first place. While that might have been a little disappointing based on where they started, it was right on schedule with the overall plan, as the Rebels ran out a lineup of mostly new starters that hoped to make some noise and position themselves for a run in 2014. That is exactly what they did and as long as they don’t feel haunted by a 4-7 finish to the season, there should be little to no ill-effects of the rough finish.

Can Middletown South compete without a returning “ace”?

The Eagles have always survived heavy losses to graduation, but they have also had a returning pitcher at the top of the rotation in each of the last five years. Senior Matt Platenyk might have been in position to earn a rotation spot last year if not for an injury, so if he and the rest of the staff makes a smooth transition to the varsity mound, Middletown South has shown it can do the little things to win games.

Is Manalapan building up for another major three-year run?

The Braves’ talented Class of 2016 crop did not contribute to the varsity team last year, but now that the group is sophomores, it should start to make an impact this year. It will take strong years from seniors Alex Wolf and Matt Parke, as well as juniors John Diana and Nick Serra to form the foundation so that sophomores like Jake Sadowitz and Chris Rodriguez can step in and contribute to a winning team that could be especially dangerous come late May.