Another baseball season is upon us and yet again, the Class B Central division goes though St. Rose. Even after Point Pleasant Beach dethroned the Purple Roses in 2010, the 2011 season came with the expectation that St. Rose would return angry and ready to take back the division (which it did).

The Roses, however, are not unbeatable and if they run the B Central table again like they did last year, they will have earned it. Point Beach, Mater Dei and Keansburg return enough talent to give St. Rose a push with the right pitching match-up and should the Roses drop a game the first time through the division schedule, things could get interesting.

Conor Gammond - Class B Central's lone All-Shore representative last season - will look to lead St. Rose to another division championship this season. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Predicted Order of Finish (Click on team for full team preview)

1. St. Rose
2. Point Pleasant Beach
3. Mater Dei Prep
4. Keansburg
5. Henry Hudson
6. Keyport
7. Ranney
8. Asbury Park

Division Lineup

Joe Ruth, Catcher, Mater Dei Prep – If you prefer your catchers play in April, go with Keyport’s Jonathan Trigg or St. Rose’s Will King. If you don’t mind the 30-day wait because of the NJSIAA transfer, then it’s hard to say no to last year’s numbers for the Keyport transfer. Or his last name.

Sean Struncius, 1B, Point Beach – Hit .326 with six doubles last year in a lineup that scores a lot of runs. Struncius should have plenty of chances to drive in runs with Noah Yates back in the order.

Conor Gammond, 2B, St. Rose – The lone Class B Central position player to find himself on an All-Shore team last season, Gammond should be considered among the best all-around infielders in the Shore to open the season.

Noah Yates, SS, Point Beach – After missing all of 2013 because of elbow surgery, Yates will be one of the more fascinating players to watch because of his stellar sophomore season, as well as his exploits in football and basketball.

Paul Bacon, 3B, Asbury Park – Quietly had a solid season for the Blue Bishops, highlighted by a .442 on-base percentage, a .486 slugging percentage and three triples while playing the hot corner.

Ben Thompson, OF, Henry Hudson – Hit comfortably over .300 as a junior while ripping five doubles and three triples. Thompson also punched out 32 batters on the mound.

Johnny Kussmaul, OF, St. Rose – Although not a headliner yet, Kussmaul hit .353 with 16 runs scored as a sophomore on a 19-win Purple Roses team.

Ryan Prima, OF, Point Beach – Spent the season hitting near the bottom of Point Beach’s deep batting order, but still collected a number of big hits for the Gulls. He’ll shift up in the order this year.

Matt Eckert, 2B, Mater Dei Prep – One of the better all-around returning players in the division, Eckert showed some pop from the second base position with two home runs and six doubles.


Division Rotation

Jimmy Gowen, LHP, St. Rose – The lefty will move to the top of the St. Rose rotation, which has been a rather prestigious position over the last decade or so.

Mike Politano, LHP, Keansburg – With 57 punchouts in 43 innings last year, Politano will look to put the Titans on his back as they try to make a run at a public division title.

John Van Schoick, RHP, Point Beach – Went 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 34 innings as a freshman and may again not have to carry the staff with Noah Yates back in the fold.

Anthony Stanziale, RHP, Mater Dei Prep – The Seraphs struggled on the mound for most of last season, particularly against non-division competition, but Stanziale was sharp overall: 27 strikeouts with eight walks and an even 3.00 ERA in 30 innings.

Parker Haggerty, RHP, St. Rose – A spot starter for one of the best pitching staffs in the Shore Conference  last year, Haggerty will bring quality stuff to the hill for the Roses every three games or so as a starter.


Breakout Players to Watch

Joe Breheny, 1B/P, Keansburg – After coming on at the end of last season, the senior first baseman will help anchor the middle of the Titans lineup and also give them some innings on the mound.

Jay Criscuolo, RHP, St. Rose – After going 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA last year in spot duty, the Purple Roses will rely a good deal on the junior right-hander this year while considering him as the No. 1 guy next year.

Ryan Stewart, 3B/1B, St. Rose – The Purple Roses always prepare the next players in line to step in and play, and Stewart showed he will be ready by hitting .400 in limited duty last year.

Ian Terry, INF/P, Keansburg – Slotted as the No. 3 starter on the mound, Terry should give the Titans a little bit of everything, even when he’s not on the mound.

Will Wells, OF, Asbury Park – A senior with good tools, Wells got lost in the B North shuffle on a Neptune team that has struggled. He will join another struggling program, but he will also be facing the back of a lot of Group I rotations, which should be to his liking.


Burning Questions

Remember Noah Yates?

If you follow Shore Conference basketball or football, the answer to this question is “Remember? How could I forget?” But if you are a baseball-only fan, the name might only ring a bell. Here are some numbers to refresh your memory: .436 average, 13 doubles, 23 RBI while playing standout defense at shortstop. Point Beach finished a game behind St. Rose with Yates as its shortstop in 2012 and although the Garnet Gulls have a lot to replace, they are getting a whole lot back in Yates, who is headed to Yale to play football.

How will Jimmy Gowen take to the role of St. Rose ace?

The job of the St. Rose’s top pitcher not only comes with a fair amount of prestige, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. The pervasive stigma is that St. Rose pitchers have it easy pitching in Class B Central, but the No. 1 pitcher on the staff is more likely to get the ball against each top non-divisional opponent. Gowen should certainly have the confidence to handle the job after a fantastic junior season, so it’s just a matter of executing when he gets the ball.

Is Keansburg ready to make a move to the top of the division?

The Titans likely have the best two-way player (three-way counting defense) in the division in Mike Politano, at least among the players who played last year. Keansburg will have a chance against St. Rose with their ace on the mound, but the rest of the pitching staff will have to come through against the rest of the schedule. A more likely scenario is that Politano pitches Keansburg to a big win or two, but the Titans can’t quite keep up with the leader of the pack.

Will Mater Dei get enough bounce-back performances at the plate and on the mound to contend for a division title?

The Seraphs went 11-3 in the division last season, which is certainly something on which to build. If the goal is beating out St. Rose for a division title, the first step has to be to rack up wins against the rest of the division. Mater Dei went 11-1 against the division outside of St. Rose, which would have made things interesting if the Seraphs could have beaten St. Rose. With Point Beach and Keansburg boasting some top talent, St. Rose will have to be on top of their game at all times and if the Purple Roses are not, the door could be open for one of the other contenders.

Can Ranney make some more progress after winning two B Central games last season?

Ranney is a rather fascinating case study and a little different than some of the public schools that recently joined the Shore Conference. The Panthers are an established program that is attempting to ramp up its program now that they are in a more competitive environment. Regardless of what one might think of Class B Central as compared to the five other Shore Conference divisions, it is a very competitive division to have to join as a small non-public program. The Panthers still have a young team and are still a relative unknown, so while 2014 appears to be another building year in the making, one of these years Ranney will sneak up on us all.