Baseball – 2014 Preview: Class B South
It's not often that a baseball team is successful thanks in large part to one player, but there is one instance in which that's the case. It's not a revelation that the pitcher has the most control over the outcome of a game, but the fact that he does not pitch every game limits his impact over the course of the season. High school baseball, however, is a sport that allows one player to dominate a season because not only are many pitchers good hitters, but they also have a chance to pitch in about a third of their team's games.
What does this have to do with anything? The top projected teams in Class B South are built on pitching and in one case, a pitcher. The regular season will be a measure of pitching depth vs. one dominant starter, unless of course the team with the ace also has some secret weapons on the mound. There may be some divisions that have an edge in quantity of pitching talent, but no Shore Conference division has the top-level arms that can be found in Class B South.
Predicted Order of Finish (Click on the school for a team preview)
Nik Fraim, Catcher, Barnegat – Has shown a good feel for hitting since he won the starting job as a freshman and hit .387 with power (nine doubles and a homer) as a sophomore last year. Fraim handled a hard-throwing, ACC left-hander (Mike McCoy) as a freshman and now is helping Barnegat’s next wave of pitchers.
Terrence Berkeley, 1B/C, Point Boro – Might play more at catcher, but the bat will play regardless of position.
James Sofield, 2B/SS, Jackson Liberty – With a lot of talent from last year graduated, Sofield will shoulder more of the load, which includes a move to shortstop.
Jaison Jerez, SS, Lakewood – A bright spot in an otherwise rough season, Jerez was an all-division selection by the coaches.
Russ Petranto, 3B, Monsignor Donovan – Injury derailed a breakout sophomore season, but Petranto still hit .367 with three doubles.
Joe Letinski, OF, Barnegat – While the Bengals young pitching is the draw of the roster, the outfield quietly had a good season last year, led by Letinski (.286, four doubles, two triples)
Christian Beardon, OF, Central – Showed some pop last season with a homer and a triple while also knocking in 11 runs.
Ryan Ulrich, OF, Barnegat – Another good athlete in Barnegat’s outfield, Ulrich scored 12 runs and racked up five doubles last year and profiles well at the top of the order.
Marquis Drumright, 1B, Central – Central had some good bats coming off the bench last year and Drumright was very good in the pinch-hitting role, as well as in the occasional start.
Andrew DiPiazza, RHP, Central – One of the top pitchers in the state, the Alabama recruit will try to top his junior season, when he went 9-0 with a 0.85 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 66 innings.
Dan Serreino, RHP, Jackson Liberty – Seton Hall recruit was a big-game pitcher for the Lions, beating Red Bank Catholic and CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament.
Devin Tomei, RHP, Manchester – With a tall, athletic frame and a good fastball, Tomei projects to build on a junior season in which he was tough to hit, but struggled at times to find the zone.
Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat – Coming off an impressive freshman season, Groome should continue to improve as he continues to grow after already demonstrating at a young age that he knows how to pitch.
Mike Dunham, RHP, Point Boro – Emerged as Point Boro’s top starter as a junior last year and has the tools to improve on a solid year.
Breakout Players to Watch
Jake Dominguez, RHP, Central – Fourteen outs are not a whole lot in one season’s work, but of the 14 batters Dominguez retired last season, 10 of them went down on strikes.
Collen O’Connor, OF, Barnegat – Another player with a small sample of success, this sophomore went 7-for-15 with a double last season, which should earn him some time this year.
Jonathan Meaney, INF/P, Manchester – The Hawks will be looking for some offense this year and Meaney might be able to help as a sophomore who can play the infield spots and also throw some innings.
Mitch Merrill, SS, Pinelands – No one wants to endure a sophomore slump, but Merrill would have gladly taken that instead of a season lost to injury. The junior should pick up right where he left off at the end of his impressive freshman season.
Howard Taylor, UTIL, Jackson Liberty – The Lions can use him at a few different positions, including on the mound. He worked a .414 on-base percentage and ran a tidy 11-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 innings.
What will Andrew DiPiazza do for an encore?
High school baseball is unique because unlike a high school football or basketball star who has made his college decision, a good baseball prospect still has a chance to play himself into a draft pick. DiPiazza will likely be on the draft radar, and if that’s not enough motivation, Central has a chance to do some real damage this season after reaching four straight sectional semifinals. DiPiazza will be a big part of any success the team has, and if they go as he goes, the Golden Eagles will go far.
Can Jackson Liberty overcome some key losses to graduation and take another step toward a championship?
Technically, Jackson Liberty has been a championship team based on its success in Class B South, but the Lions have also made two deep runs in the Shore Conference Tournament under coach Jim Rankin. Of course, Jackson Liberty would like to finish off an SCT title, but the Lions would also like to bottle that SCT mojo and unleash it in the Group III playoffs. Although there are some questions offensively, the Lions return two proven pitchers and have a deep stable of arms behind them. Regardless of the offense, that kind of pitching makes Jackson Liberty a dangerous team in any tournament.
Can Devin Tomei develop into a top starting pitcher and carry the Manchester staff?
The tools are all there for Tomei, a Campbell recruit who will look to attack the strike zone with this season after an up and down junior year. The Hawks have some options behind their ace, but if Manchester is to contend for the division and make a postseason run, it will be with Tomei as its go-to pitcher.
Barnegat is the sleeper, but can the Bengals really win the division?
The Bengals opened some eyes last year with an early-season win over Jackson Liberty, which should be proof enough that Barnegat has what it takes to contend. Last year, they were probably a year away from doing so on a game-to-game basis, but now that some of their key players have grown some, the Bengals will have a chance to not only beat the top teams in the division, but also hang with them in the division race. With three quality pitchers in the fold, Barnegat should be taken seriously as threat in Class B South.
Does Monsignor Donovan stand a chance after graduating its whole pitching staff and most of its lineup?
As rare as it is to see a team like Wall basically bring its whole team back, it’s almost as rare when a team like Monsignor Donovan returns only one regular starter, either on the mound or in the field. Russ Petranto showed he can produce at the varsity level last year, but he is the only proven commodity coming back for the Griffins this year. Moreover, none of the Griffins starting pitchers are back, so any notion that Monsignor Donovan will contend this year is based on the premise that experience means little.