A race doesn’t get much tighter than the one that played out in the Shore Conference Class A Central division last year. Six of the division’s seven teams finished within two games of first place, with three teams (Manasquan, Monmouth Regional and Rumson-Fair Haven) tying for second place at 7-5 and two (Shore Regional and Raritan) tying for fifth at 6-6. Despite the jumbled mess, there was no sharing the outright division title, as St. John Vianney prevailed with an 8-4 mark as a follow-up effort to its greatest season in school history one year earlier.

This year promises more of the same in Class A Central, as the six teams in the mix last year all return solid groups, while Holmdel continues to build toward contention and could be ready to pounce sooner rather than later. None of these preseason prognostications are scientific by any stretch of the imagination, but take this prediction with many, many grains of salt. Class A Central can go in seven different directions this year, like it almost did last year.

 

In predicted order of finish

St. John Vianney

Head Coach: Mike Morgan, 10th season
2015 Record: 13-8 (8-4, first in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Ciaran Devenney Sr. C .393/.526/.557, 5 2B, 3B, HR, 11 R, 11 RBI, 10 SB
Victor Jamandron Sr. 2B .300/.434/.333, 2 2B, 17 R, 11 RBI, 9 SB
Sebi Bellone Jr. INF/C .207/.233/.276, 2 2B, 3B, 6 R, 7 RBI
Zack Richards Sr. OF .209/.309/.305, 2 2B, HR, 10 R, 9 RBI, 7 SB
Chris Cerniglia Sr. SS/P .275/.333/.333, 4 2B, 6 R, 11 RBI, 9 SB
Brandon DeKovics Sr. P/INF 1-for-12, 4 BB, R 18.1 IP, 15 H, 6 BB, 9 K, 1.53 ERA, 2-0
Joey Raia Sr. P 23.1 IP, 17 H, 9 BB, 12 K, 0.60 ERA, 1-2
Returning Players Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Ryan DeMille Jr. P 6.2 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 7 BB, 9 K
Nick Ficsor Sr. INF 1-for-6, 2 BB, R, RBI

Key Losses: Nick Gugliara (CF), Nick DeLuise (INF), Dan Schirmacher (P), John Michael Broderick (P), Dan Gesior (OF), Stephen Adami (OF)
Key Newcomers: Michael Nolan (Sr., P), Robert Meli (Sr., INF/C), Nick Simone (Sr., OF), Matt Cerniglia (Jr., P/OF), Seamus Coyle (Jr., OF/INF), Gerardo Rivera-Colon (Jr., INF), Jack Whalen (Jr., OF), Patrick Caragliano (So., INF/C), Frank D’Alessio (So., OF), Michael DiPede (So., INF), Logan Marter (So., P/OF)

St. John Vianney flexed its program muscle within A Central last year and won the regular-season division title despite graduating nearly its whole team from 2014, when the Lancers finished the year as the No. 1 team in N.J. This year’s group will also have some key spots to fill, but there is a foundation of experience up the middle with catcher Ciaran Devenney, second baseman Victor Jamandron and shortstop Chris Cerniglia. While Cerniglia and Jamandron each flashed some offensive promise, Devenney made the most of his first full season of at-bats by batting just a shade under .400 with seven extra-base hits. Junior Sebi Bellone and senior outfielder Zack Richards will also return after starting last year to give the Lancers five position players with plenty of starting experience.

The pitching staff will face a steeper challenge in replacing top starters Dan Schirmacher and John Michael Broderick, but both Brandon DeKovics (1.53 ERA in 18 1/3 innings) and Joey Raia (0.60 ERA in 23 1/3) sparkled on smaller workloads by each posting ERA’s well under 2.00. Junior Ryan DeMille also showed he’s ready for a larger sample after 6 2/3 solid innings as a sophomore. As long as that trio of starters can produce over a larger helping of innings and Vianney’s lower levels continue to provide some complementary pieces, the Lancers looked primed to finish at or near the top of A Central again in 2016.

 

Manasquan

Head Coach: Bob Waldeyer, first season
2015 Record: 14-11 (7-5, tied second in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Jack Sheehan Sr. INF/P .315/.381/.425, 2 2B, 2 HR, 15 R, 14 RBI, 8 SB 31.1 IP, 29 H, 9 BB, 32 K, 1.79 ERA, 6-1
Tom Sheehan Jr. P/1B .307/.361/.360, 4 2B, 8 R, 13 RBI 44 IP, 37 H, 20 BB, 60 K, 2.86 ERA, 3-1
Adam Schreck Jr. C/OF .227/.273/.277, 2 2B, 6 R, 4 RBI

Key Losses: Max Hawkins (CF), Tyler Bradley (C), Matt Edwards (SS), Tanner Cowley (RF), Ty Hawkins (1B/DH), Matt Paturzo (2B), Marc Galvan (P)
Key Newcomers: Pat Kinneally (Sr., P/OF), Mike Moran (Sr., P/INF), Parker Day (Jr., OF), Nick Jaime (Jr., OF), Connor Muly (Jr., P/INF), Joey Ostberg (Jr., C/INF), Nick Perone (Jr., P/OF), Tommy Antonucci (So., OF), Ethan Thompson (So., P/INF)

Manasquan is facing a challenge similar to the one St. John Vianney faced last season when nearly the entire team graduated. The Warriors, however, have two big reasons for optimism and both share the same last name. Brothers Jack and Tom Sheehan are both committed to pitch at the University of Notre Dame, Jack next season when he ventures off to college and Tom after he graduates in 2017. Tom has been more the power pitcher over his high school career, but Jack showed a refined ability last year that his younger brother will try to match in his junior season. Jack Sheehan walked just nine batters in 31 1/3 innings and posted a 1.79 ERA while serving as a versatile pitcher who won both in relief and as a starter. Tom Sheehan, meanwhile, continued to mow down hitters from the left side, striking out 60 in 44 innings while running a 2.86 ERA behind a mix of fastballs that he combines with a quality changeup and breaking ball.

Manasquan will likely go as far as its brothers on the hill can take the Warriors because the rest of the team lacks varsity experience. Junior Adam Schreck usually found his way into the lineup last year, either in left field when Tom Sheehan pitcher or at third when Jack Sheehan pitched. He is preparing for time at catcher this season. Seniors Pat Kinneally and Mike Moran will both get a shot to lead the team along with Jack Sheehan, while a wave of junior newcomers joins the varsity ranks along with Sheehan. Sophomores Tommy Antonucci and Ethan Thompson could also be key for a Warriors team that has a great chance to win the division if they can back up their two aces with solid defense and some offense as the season progresses.

Manasquan junior left-hander an Notre Dame recruit Tom Sheehan. (Photo by Matt Manley)

 

Monmouth

Head Coach: Paul Crivello, third season
2015 Record: 9-13 (7-5, tied second in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Christian Hoplock Sr. OF/P .315/.486/.426, 4 2B, 3B, 15 R, 7 RBI, 7 SB 15.1 IP, 6 H, 13 BB, 22 K, 2.74 ERA, 2-1
Garrhet Reedy Sr. C .329/.422/.486, 7 2B, 2 3B, 11 R, 9 RBI, 4 SB
Josh Jackson Jr. 3B .308/.432/.508, 7 2B, 2 HR, 9 R, 17 RBI
Andrew Slinger Sr. INF/P .183/.300/.250, 2B, HR, 10 R, 8 RBI 19.1 IP, 24 H, 12 BB, 15 K, 4.34 ERA, 1-3
Returning Players Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Mark Abrams Jr. OF .308/.400/.423, 2B, 3B, 4 R, 4 RBI
Preston Mellaci Sr. OF .095/.174/.143, 2B, 9 R, RBI, 3 SB
Joe Malfara Jr. P 8.2 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 1-2
Chris Raike Sr. P 0-for-1, BB 15 IP, 21 H, 12 BB, 14 K, 7.00 ERA, 1-0
Paul Birzin Jr. P/INF 4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 5 K
James Seldner Sr. P 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0
Chris Marcincak Sr. INF 0-for-4, R, SB
Christian Boujaoude Sr. OF/INF 0-for-3
Skylar Marvin Sr. INF 0-for-5

Key Losses: Matt Vincenti (OF/1B), Marc Marcincak (OF), Jimmy Green (SS), Joe Berner (INF/P), Corey Shevlin (P), Christian DeFazio (P)
Key Newcomers: Alec Fruchter (Sr., C/OF), Trenton Sartor (Sr., OF), Noah Eggenschwiler (Jr., P/OF), Josh Rife (Jr., P/INF), Derek Radzik (Jr., P), Mike Valerio (Jr., INF), Alex Palmieri (Jr., P), Trevor D’Meo (Jr., INF/P), Jay Eustace (Jr., P), Charlie Kelly (So., OF/P)

Last year, Monmouth’s productive offense overcame some inconsistency on the mound but the Falcons lost three of their most productive players from that 2015 lineup, including all-time doubles leader Matt Vincenti. The Falcons do, however, bring back three proven bats in outfielder Christian Hoplock, catcher Garrhet Reedy and junior third baseman Josh Jackson. Reedy and Jackson each logged nine extra-base hits last year and Hoplock followed up a big sophomore year by running a .486 on-base percentage thanks to a walk total (17) that matched his hit total.

Monmouth’s pitching will look to rebound this year with a fairly deep stable of arms that hope to produce some breakouts. Hoplock was effective from the left side in 15 1/3 innings, during which he struck out 22 and allowed only six hits. Senior Andrew Slinger, who will also play on the infield, pitched 19 1/3 innings as well last year and senior Chris Raike threw 15. The sleeper of the returning group might be junior Joe Malfara, who allowed two earned runs and struck out 10 in 8 2/3 innings as a sophomore. Fellow junior Mark Abrams was also impressive in a small sample at the plate last year, when he hit .308 with a double and a triple in 28 at-bats. Pitching is not typically the facet of the game a team wants to be a question mark going into the season, but Monmouth has some intriguing options and enough position player talent to stay in games if the pitching struggles at all and to push Monmouth over the top if it improves.

 

Rumson-Fair Haven

Head Coach: Kevin James, 14th season
2015 Record: 9-9 (7-5, tied second in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position
Mickey Schluter Sr. C
Jackson Rissucci Sr. OF/P
Jake Caruso Sr. 2B
Teddy Sourlis Sr. 1B/P
Sam Chandler Sr. SS
Mike Frissora Sr. P/OF
Anthony Mazzuca Sr. P
Returning Players Yr. Position
Matt Fahey Jr. OF/P
Connor Dupree Jr. INF/P
Max Phrang Sr. 1B/C

Key Losses: Morgan McGuire (P/1B/OF), Max Goione (SS/P), Kenny Ferrare (1B), Shane McCabe (OF), Lucas Scinto (OF)
Key Newcomers: Danny Trochia (Sr., INF), Matt Maisto (Sr., OF), Chase Pfrang (So., INF), Robbie Smith (So., C), Alex Burnett (So., P), Jack Oberle (Jr., P), Jack Volker (Jr., P), Will Pillizzi (Sr., C), Tommy Lenskold (Sr., OF), Jack Mohen (Sr., P)

In one sense, Rumson could be in for some trouble this year because the Bulldogs got so much offensive and pitching production from two senior players last year – Morgan Maguire and Max Goione. On the other hand, the Bulldogs began to play well toward the end of the season, when some of their underclass talent got healthy and gave the team some more depth throughout the lineup and in the staff while also stabilizing the defense. Now that the smoke is clearing after a turbulent early part of 2015, Rumson has itself a senior-heavy roster that could surprise anyone expecting the Bulldogs to fall off after losing those two players.

Senior Mickey Schluter returns behind the plate and classmates Jake Caruso and Sam Chandler are slated to form the double-play combination up the middle. Jackson Rissucci Mike Frissora and Teddy Sourlis all established themselves as varsity hitters last year and in addition to driving in runs, both will carry some more of the pitching load to replace the two Division I talents who graduated. Senior Anthony Mazzuca will also contribute to the pitching staff after winning four games last year and juniors Matt Fahey and Connor Dupree should also give the lineup a boost. This season could go either way for Rumson, but considering the health of the roster heading into opening day and how much a lack of health derailed the team last year, there is reason to bet on the Bulldogs.

 

Raritan

Head Coach: Jeff Struble, fourth season
2015 Record: 10-11 (6-6, tied fifth in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Jon Rodriguez Sr. OF/P .370/.418/.438, 5 2B, 12 R, 17 RBI 48.1 IP, 46 H, 26 BB, 36 K, 2.75 ERA, 2-6
Bo Bentley Sr. DH .200/.355/.383, 5 2B, 2 HR, 12 R, 12 RBI 5.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Johnny Guccione Sr. INF/P .338/.416/.411, 3 2B, 3B, 19 R, 11 RBI 24.1 IP, 22 H, 7 BB, 25 K, 1.73 ERA, 3-1
Mike Lind Sr. C .333/.444/.350, 2B, 13 R, 8 RBI 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K
Mason Sheehan Sr. OF .205/.295/.358, 3 2B, HR, 10 R, 7 RBI
Kenny Friend Jr. OF .293/.356/.317, 2B, 10 R, 11 RBI
Matt Birdsall Jr. P/OF 2-for-11, BB, R 33.2 IP, 31 H, 3 BB, 14 K, 3.12 ERA, 2-1
Returning Players Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Nick Principe Jr. OF 4-for-15, 6 BB, 3B, 2 R, RBI
Zack Johnston So. INF/P 2-for-14, 2 BB, R, 4 RBI 22.1 IP, 21 H, 10 BB, 21 K, 3.13 ERA, 1-1
Joe Cavaluzzi Jr. 2B 1-for-5, BB, 2 R

Key Losses: Tom Pulcine (3B), Mike Kelleher (P), Ryan Ruziecki (Jr., SS) – Transferred to Middletown South
Key Newcomers: Tim Hayes (Fr., 1B/P), Dan VanMeerbeke (So., OF), Tyler Bruno (Fr., OF)

Excluding Manasquan and its brothers at the top of the rotation, Raritan has a pretty strong case as the best returning pitching staff in Class A Central. Johnny Guccione, Jon Rodriguez, Matt Birdsall and Zack Johnston each threw at least 22 innings and all four posted respectable ERA’s over those workloads. Rodriguez was the workhorse of the bunch, tossing 48 1/3 innings while posting a 2.75 ERA and biting the proverbial bullet by facing tough competition and absorbing a 2-6 overall record. Guccione and Birdsall, meanwhile, both exhibited excellent control as the two combined for just 10 walks over 58 innings. Johnston struck out 21 in 22 1/3 innings as a freshman with a 3.13 ERA.

Raritan’s offense took a significant hit with the graduation of Tom Pulcine and the transfer of junior shortstop Ryan Ruszecki to an already-loaded Middletown South squad. Despite the losses, Raritan still has the makings of a quality lineup, led by Rodriguez, Guccione, senior Bo Bentley and senior catcher Mike Lind. Senior Mason Sheehan and juniors Kenny Friend and Nick Principe will man the outfield after each contributed last year, while Johnston and junior Joe Cavaluzzi will see more time at the plate and in the field. Freshmen Tim Hayes and Tyler Bruno can also make an instant impact for Raritan, which is only carrying 13 players on the varsity roster to open the season. With enough health, that is enough to get the job done as long as the Rockets get some growth from the underclass to complement the senior nucleus.

 

Shore

Head Coach: Pat O’Neill, fifth season
2015 Record: 17-11 (6-6, tied fifth in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Devin McLaughlin Sr. 3B/P .295/.402/.449, 7 2B, HR, 14 R, 12 RBI 34 IP, 32 H, 17 BB, 30 K, 3.09 ERA, 4-1
Dhillon Barbetti Sr. C .301/.468/.373, 4 2B, 3B, 16 R, 12 RBI
Chas Breithoff Sr. 1B/P 3-for-19, 5 BB, 2 R, 3 RBI 34.2 IP, 47 H, 18 BB, 21 K, 4.44 ERA, 2-3
Michael O'Halloran Sr. SS .333/.432/.449, 4 2B, 2 3B, 13 R, 10 RBI
Returning Players Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Marco Parrino Sr. OF 0-for-4, BB
Michael Jelliff Jr. 2B .269/.406/.269, 8 R, 6 RBI
Matt Pennell Jr. OF/P 7 SB 4.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K
Transfer Yr. Position
Austin Cannon (Long Branch) Jr. OF

Key Losses: James Kelly (P/3B), Sam Parrino (OF/P), Matt McCarthy (1B), Justin Halper (OF), Ryan Campi (P/OF)
Key Newcomers: Jack Campbell (Sr., 1B), Josh DeFino (Sr., OF), Matt Engel (Sr., OF), Michael Mendillo (Sr., P/OF), Alex Patton (Sr., P/OF), Ryan Jones (Jr., 3B), Mick Zimmerman (Jr., P/Util), Mike Deusch (Fr., P)

Now two years removed from an overall Group I championship, Shore is looking to make a push back to the toward the top of A Central while again setting itself up for the Central Jersey Group I playoffs in May. The Blue Devils graduated four significant sources for offense and two key weapons on the mound, including Monmouth University freshman James Kelly, who is part of both of the aforementioned groups. While the Blue Devils endured an up-and-down regular season in B Central, they rallied during the postseason by reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals as a No. 23 seed and the Central Jersey Group I final as a No. 6 seed.

Senior right-hander Devin McLaughlin played a key role during Shore’s postseason surge as a two-way standout and leads this year’s group of returning talent. Senior Chas Breithoff settled in as another two-way player after transferring from Henry Hudson and will back up McLaughlin in the rotation along with junior Matt Pennell. Senior catcher Dhillon Barbetti and senior shortstop Michael O’Halloran give Shore some depth to the top-half of the lineup and likely a pair of high-on-base players for McLaughlin to drive in. Junior second baseman Michael Jelliff could be a potential impact newcomer to the starting lineup after getting a varsity taste last year and junior center fielder Austin Cannon has the makings an impact transfer after coming over from Long Branch. Like the rest of the teams in this division, Shore will be in the mix for the top spot and has proven to be a handful come tournament time, regardless of what transpires in April.

 

Holmdel

Head Coach: Gene Crimoli, third season
2015 Record: 6-15 (1-11, seventh in A Central)

Returning Starters Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Tyler Fischer Sr. SS/P .271/.377/.356, 3 2B, 3B, 13 R, 5 RBI 19 IP, 18 H, 29 BB, 21 K, 5.53 ERA, 0-1
Will Van Name Sr. C/INF .435/.514/.581, 5 2B, 2 3B, 7 R, 13 RBI, 3 SB
Sal Monticciolo So. 1B/P .270/.352/.333, 4 2B, 5 R, 10 RBI, 3 SB 16.2 IP, 21 H, 17 BB, 17 K, 5.04 ERA, 2-3
Lukas Gudelis Sr. OF .318/.452/.328, 2B, 17 R, 11 RBI, 13 SB
Chris Ammirati Jr. OF .302/.431/.321, 2B, 12 R, 7 RBI, 7 SB
Matt Fanelli Jr. 3B .317/.383/.317, 5 R, 8 RBI
Mike Carannante Sr. UTIL .238/.243/.267, 2 2B, 6 R, 6 RBI
Jordyn Brosemer Sr. P 0-for-1, R, SB 33.2 IP, 37 H, 16 BB, 22 K, 4.37 ERA, 1-4
Returning Players Yr. Position 2015 Batting Stats 2015 Pitching Stats
Matt Metzger Sr. INF 0-for-2, BB
Mike Lupo Sr. DH 1-for-2, 2B
Jake Henkin Sr. OF 0-for-2, 3 R

Key Losses: Ashwin Jain (P/OF), D.J. Goins (OF/DH), Tyler Kiss (2B/P)
Key Newcomers: Alex Galarza (So., OF), Alex DiBona (So., 3B/P)

The only team to finish well behind the pack last year, Holmdel is poised to make a move this year with strong group of position players back in the fold. The Hornets did lose their top starting pitcher in Ashwin Jain, but the return of top hitters like catcher Will Van Name, shortstop Tyler Fischer and promising sophomore Sal Monticciolo have Holmdel expecting a leap forward this season. Van Name is coming off a breakout season at the plate after hitting over .400 with on-base and slugging percentages over .500. Fischer, meanwhile, is a four-year varsity starter who is coming off a down offensive year relative to the one he had as a sophomore and is primed to have his best season. Monticciolo held his own as a freshman on the varsity level and his 6-foot-4-inch frame suggests there is plenty of power yet to be unlocked.

Holmdel’s pitching will again be a point of concern until it is not. Senior Jordyn Brosemer was solid in 33 2/3 innings last year and returns with the most experience on the mound. Monticiollo will also pick up some innings after throwing 16 2/3 last year, while sophomore Alex DiBona joins the staff as an impact newcomer. The offense has enough depth to go along with those top three hitters – namely juniors Matt Fanelli and Chris Amarati, as well as senior Lukas Gudelis – to compete throughout the A Central season and if one or more of the returning pitchers finds his stride, Holmdel can find its way out of the A Central cellar despite another competitive mix of teams this year.

 

Division Lineup

Ciaran Devenney, Catcher, St. John Vianney

Sal Monticciolo, First Base, Holmdel

Johnny Guccione, 2B/SS, Raritan

Michael O’Halloran, SS, Shore

Josh Jackson, Third Base, Monmouth

Christian Hoplock, Outfield Monmouth

Jon Rodriguez, Outfield, Raritan

Matt Fahey, Outfield, Rumson-Fair Haven

Will Van Name, Catcher, Holmdel

 

Division Rotation

Tom Sheehan, LHP, Manasquan

Jack Sheehan, RHP, Manasquan

Joey Raia, LHP, St. John Vianney

Devin McLaughlin, RHP, Shore

Brandon DeKovics, RHP, St. John Vianney

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Zack Johnston, INF/RHP, Raritan

Chris Cerniglia, SS, St. John Vianney

Connor Dupree, 3B, Rumson

Mark Abrams, OF, Monmouth

Michael Jelliff, 2B, Shore