Baseball – 2017 Preview: Class A South
The crosstown rivalry between Toms River South and Toms River North intensified last year as the two foes battled to the end for the Class A South title, with Toms River South winning an outright title for the first time since 2010. Toms River North got the Indians back by beating them in the Ocean County Tournament final, so the two teams – both restocked with experienced, talented rosters – have plenty to settle on the field in 2017, when the rivalry is sure to reach a crescendo.
Of course, in Class A South, it’s never just a two-team race. The division is once again complete from top to bottom and boasts six other programs that can give a first-place team a hard time. While Toms River North and Toms River South should battle for the top spot, there are a number of other teams who will decide the race and maybe even steal the division title.
Toms River North
Head Coach: Andy Pagano, fourth season
2016 Record: 17-9 (9-5, tied second in A South)
Returning Pitchers: Brendan Mullins (Jr., RHP), Jared Bellissimo (Jr., LHP), Anthony Sasso (Jr., RHP), Craig Larsen (Jr., RHP), Brody Sprinkle (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Mike Nyisztor (Sr., SS), Austin Feigin (Sr., 3B/OF), Ian Mindas (Sr., C), Jared Bellissimo (Jr., 1B), Alex Klalo (Jr., CF), Craig Larsen (Jr., 2B), Anthony Sasso (Jr., 3B)
Key Losses: Joey Rose (3B), Jeff Ciervo (OF), Dave Cordoma (OF), Pat Marinaccio (OF), Brandon Fischer (2B/OF)
Key Newcomers: Justin Schaff (Jr., C/OF), Nick Sibilia (Jr., OF), Jonathan Giordano (So., RHP/OF), Mike Centeno (Jr., RHP)
A year after climbing back to the top of Ocean County via the OCT, Toms River North returns enough talent to think even bigger this year. The Mariners lost SSN Hitter of the Year Joey Rose – now in the Diamondbacks farm system – and a number of other key bats in the order to graduation but the pitching staff comes back entirely intact and the defense figures to be solid again. Junior right-hander and Penn State commit Brendan Mullins emerged as Toms River North’s big-game pitcher last year, a reputation he cemented by pitching seven strong innings in the Ocean County Tournament final against Toms River South to claim the tournament MVP honors while also clinching the Mariners their second OCT trophy in four years.
Junior left-hander and Rutgers recruit Jared Bellissimo was second on the team in innings pitched and was proficient in attacking the strike zone as a sophomore. Junior right-hander and Villanova commit Anthony Sasso, meanwhile, struck out 24 in 22 innings while boasting an ERA under 1.00. Senior Brody Sprinkle is the elder statesman of the group and he is coming of 27 2/3 impressive innings as a junior, which included a 0.98 WHIP. Finally, junior Craig Larsen gave the Mariners some depth and length and could very easily perform to the level of the other four in the rotation this season.
Bellissimo and Larsen will also be important pieces in the field and in the batter’s box for Toms River North, which enters the season with considerably less power in the lineup after the graduation of Rose and outfielder Jeff Ciervo. They do return some all-around good hitters, with senior Mike Nyisztor chief among them. The shortstop and Rutgers recruit led the Shore with 38 runs scored and was 10th in batting average at .448. Larsen will be the other half of the Mariners’ double-play combination, Bellissimo will play first base when not on the mound and senior Austin Feigin could end up playing third base after patrolling left field last year. The Mariners also return catcher Ian Mindas while junior Alex Klalo takes over in center field after playing a part-time role last year.
The collection of position players will have to string together hits more often to keep up with last year’s offensive output, but with the pitching the Mariners return, scoring seven runs every game should not be a must. A well-oiled machine on offense is not necessary for Toms River North to have a good season, but it would give the Mariners a chance to have a very special year.
Toms River South
Head Coach: Ken Frank, 40th season
2016 Record: 229 (10-4, first in Class A South)
Returning Pitchers: Justin Fall (Sr., LHP), T.J. Scuderi (Jr., RHP), Matt Shiffer (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: T.J. Scuderi (Jr., OF), Ben Montenegro (Sr., 3B), Matt Shiffer (Sr., 2B), Tom Campo (Sr., SS), Mark Fitzpatrick (Sr., 1B/DH)
Key Losses: Trevor Wagner (RHP/OF), Tyler Wisnewski (C), Nick Scrudato (RHP), Connor Feeney (1B), Mike Conover (OF),
Key Newcomers: Dylan Danelson (Sr., OF), Jared Kwicinski (Sr., OF/RHP), Connor Leatherman (Sr., C), Cameron Foerst (Sr., INF), Tom Spiwak (Jr., RHP), Nico Gonnella (Jr., INF/RHP), Chris Mellott (Jr., OF/RHP), Derek Elmendorf (Jr., 2B), Jake Towell (Jr., C), Colin Mackle (So., OF/RHP), Jordan Erbe (So., INF/RHP), Gabe Driscoll (So., RHP/INF), Matt Hartshorn (So., RHP/1B), Sam Conover (So., OF), Mike Lazzaro (So., 2B), Damien Scott (So., C), Justin Lowden (So., RHP/OF)
Although Toms River North captured the Ocean County Tournament title, it was Toms River South that won the Class A South championship outright and the Indians have an army of returnees to do the same in 2017. Senior left-hander Justin Fall did not find himself on the losing end of a decision until his final start of the season in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III semifinals. The 6-foot-5 St. John’s commit will head up a pitching staff that sported four standouts in 2016 and brings back half of the quartet. Toms River South’s other returning starter is junior right-hander T.J. Scuderi, who began the season as a potential depth option on the mound and emerged as the team’s No. 3 starter. Senior Matt Shiffer could play a similar role to the one Scuderi played last year, while senior Jared Kwicinski and a wave of juniors and sophomores will give the Indians an even deeper staff this year that could very well yield four options similar to the 2016 team’s rotation.
Scuderi was not necessarily in the plans to contribute on the mound the way he did in 2016, but the Indians knew what they had at the plate and in the field. Scuderi won the starting right field job in the preseason and went on to hit .355 with 15 extra-base hits in his first varsity season. Shiffer hit .360 as the second baseman last year and will once again play up the middle with senior shortstop Tom Campo. Senior third baseman Ben Montenegro is also back after cranking four home runs last year and first baseman Matt Fitzpatrick gives Toms River South an all-senior infield with varsity experience. Senior Dylan Danelson spent time in center field last year and could end up a starter, while sophomore Colin Mackle leads a group of newcomers in pursuit of playing time in the outfield. The Class of 2019 will begin to make an impact this season and could be an x-factor for a team that already has plenty of experience in place from a year ago.
Head Coach: Jason Groschel, 12th season
2016 Record: 16-11 (6-8, tied fifth in A South)
Returning Pitchers: Mike Soldo (Sr., LHP), John Zurawski (Sr., RHP), Matt Stadelberger (Sr., RHP), Jayden Tisseker (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: John Prato (Sr., CF), Mike Soldo (Sr., 1B), A.J. Serrino (Sr., 3B), Jerry Hutchison (Sr., C), Matt Stadelberger (Sr., SS), Kenny Bala (Sr., OF), Jayden Tisseker (Sr., 2B)
Key Losses: Nic Chirichello (LHP), Tito Morales (LHP), Trevor Rowe (C), Jake Scott (3B)
Key Newcomers: Ed Zarzynski (Sr.,P/3B), Nick Sekera (Sr., P/OF), Joe Guerra (Jr., C), Mike Brunner (Jr., P/1B), Chris Salsano (Jr., 2B), Vincent Galdieri (Jr., SS), John Coppola (Jr., OF), Jim Leblo (So., OF/P), Denzel Drumright (So., 1B/P), Cole Groschel (So., OF), Anthony Prato (Fr., 2B)
Last season got off to a rough start for the Green Dragons, who went 1-6 in their first turn through Class A South. That one win, however, was against OCT champion Toms River North and it turned out to be an indication of the Brick team that would show up during the second half of the season. Brick reached the semifinals of both the OCT and the Central Jersey Group III Tournament and now the Green Dragons return the vast majority of the lineup and a few reliable arms from last year’s squad – most of whom are seniors.
Senior John Prato leads the cast of returnees after an All-Shore junior season, while classmates A.J. Serrino, Mike Soldo, Jerry Hutchison, Matt Stadelberger and Kenny Bala also return as key contributors in the lineup. Soldo and Stadelberger will also be prominent pitchers on the staff, with Soldo returning as one of the team’s top three pitchers from a year ago. Replacing left-handers Tito Morales and Nick Chirichello will be Brick’s most pressing challenge and Soldo will help shoulder the load as the most experienced member of the staff returning. Stadelberger, senior John Zurawski and senior right-hander Jayden Tisseker will give Brick’s pitching a more right-hander flavor this year and if the group delivers like Soldo, Chirichello and Morales did, the Green Dragons should make noise again in 2017 – this time without the stumble out of the blocks.
Head Coach: Frank Malta, 13th season
2016 Record: 9-14 (7-7, fourth in A South)
Returning Pitchers: Connor Takacs (Sr., LHP), Dylan Kanner (Sr., RHP), Tim Halasnik (Sr., RHP), Mike Dimino (Jr., RHP), Colin McCulligh (Sr., RHP), Shawn Kelich (Jr., LHP), Matt D’Amore (Jr., RHP), Nick Sefick (Jr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Dylan Kanner (Sr., 1B), Tim Halasnik (Sr., 1B), Jake Fox (Sr., INF), Ryan Boyle (Sr., INF), Alex Iadisernia (So., OF), Mike Dimino (Jr., INF), Connor Takacs (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Kyle Johnson (SS), Chris Hawryluk (RHP/1B), Kyle Lona (Sr., CF), Dave DeJesus (OF)
Key Newcomers: Tom Pellone (Jr., C), Christian Pellone (Fr., INF), Ryder Tallent (Jr., LHP), Troy Bathman (So., OF), Kyle Thaiss (Jr., OF), Dominic Billotti (Jr., OF), R.J. Bonner (Sr., 1B), Mike Koslowski (Jr., INF), Mike Simon (Jr., RHP)
Last season started out like any other for Jackson Memorial in recent years. The Jaguars set the pace in Class A South early and looked like the division front-runner, even after graduating several important players from 2015. All of a sudden, the Jaguars hit a rut that lasted for the remainder of the year and the result was an uncharacteristic 9-14 year for a program that has been as consistently as any team in the Shore Conference over the last decade.
The No. 1 culprit in the demise of Jackson Memorial was its pitching, which never really settled in. Most of that staff will get another chance to bring the Jaguars back to prominence and now seniors and juniors instead of juniors and sophomores, the returning players should be more prepared to handle the rigors of pitching in A South. Senior right-hander Colin McCulligh was the steadiest of the returning Jackson Memorial pitchers after finishing second on the team in innings (27 1/3) while putting up a 3.72 ERA. Seniors Connor Takacs, Dylan Kanner and Tim Halasnik will also be key pieces to the rotation and a collection of juniors should also make an impact. Among that group is right-hander Mike Dimino, who pitched for the Donovan Catholic varsity club as a freshman and will be in his first full year with Jackson Memorial this year.
Offensively, Jackson Memorial has the makings of a more balanced lineup despite losing three top producers in Kyle Johnson, Chris Hawryluk and Kyle Lona. Halasnik slammed six doubles and four home runs last year and is likely to be Jackson Memorial’s top run-producer, with Kanner joining him in the heart of the order. Sophomore Alex Iadisernia showed promise as a freshman and is poised to take a step forward as a sophomore setting the table. Senior infielders Jake Fox and Ryan Boyle also return to a Jackson Memorial lineup that has depth and potential to win games as long as the pitching comes around this season.
Toms River East
Head Coach: Keith Smicklo, first season
2016 Record: 8-13 (5-9, seventh in A South)
Returning Pitchers: Nick DeGennaro (Jr., RHP), Brad Brush (Jr., RHP), Darren Scholl (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Jordan Lewis (Sr., OF), Brad Brush (Jr., 1B/3B), Ahmir Cournier (So., SS), Darren Scholl (Sr., OF), Nick DeGennaro (Jr., 2B)
Key Losses: Cole Robbins (SS), Connor Robbins (C), Bailey Engelhard (1B), Chad Leonard (OF), Tyler Idzinski (OF), Nick LaVecchia (OF)
Key Newcomers: Rob Cenci (Jr., 3B), Danny Clemente (Jr., OF), Jason Longo (Jr., OF), Jared Mizrachi (Jr., 1B), Shaun Sullivan (Jr., 2B/3B), Nick Silvia (Jr., OF)
The upcoming season is a critical one for the development of the Toms River East program, not just because it is the first year for the Raiders under the direction of new head coach Keith Smicklo, but because they will have to develop a nucleus of position players that can complement a potentially dominant pitching staff at some point over the next two years. Toms River East has a junior trio of pitchers that would be the envy of most teams and regardless of what happens on the offensive side of things, right-handers Nick DeGennaro, Brad Brush and Darren Scholl will give the Raiders a chance to win every game as long as one of them is on the mound.
The question for Toms River East centers around whether or not he Raiders can overcome losing most of the 2016 starting lineup, which struggled support the pitching staff last year. One way the Raiders are attacking that issue is by featuring the three pitchers more prominently as everyday hitters, with DeGennaro playing second base, Brush playing the corner infield spots and Scholl manning the outfield. Toms River East also returns junior outfielder Jordan Lewis, while sophomore Ahmir Cournier is set to take over the shortstop spot by following graduated standout Cole Robbins. With the pitching staff it has, Toms River East has the ingredients to surprise the two other Toms River schools and push for a title if this offense can come together quickly.
Head Coach: Keith Cocuzza, second season
2016 Record: 6-12-1 (6-8, tied fifth in A South)
Returning Pitchers: Nick Simone (Sr., RHP), Zach Fillmore (Sr., LHP), Pat Barrett (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Pat Barrett (Sr., SS), Joey Robertson (Sr., 2B), Noah Brown (Sr., OF), Marcos Matias (Jr., OF), Garrett Lange (Sr., OF), Vaughn Walker (Sr., OF), Zach Oddo (Sr., 3B/OF/C), Nolan Watson (Sr., C), Danny Wright (Sr., SS/2B), Connor Ciliberto (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Ronnie Velardi (3B/RHP), Jared Lubanski (RHP/UTIL)
Key Newcomers: Nick Periera (Sr., 1B), Matt Tancredi (Jr., 1B), Mike Liantonio (Jr., 3B), Austin Pharo (Jr., SS/2B), Joe Colonna (Jr., OF), Nick Downey (Jr., SS/3B), Brady Clark (Jr., 1B)
With a team of mostly juniors last year, Southern laid the groundwork for a breakthrough season this year by winning six games in a tough Class A South. The Rams competed thanks to a pitching staff that completed nine games in which it gave up three runs or fewer, although Southern was just 4-4-1 in those games. The offense scored more than four runs just twice all season and both times were against two of the best pitching staffs in the Shore Conference a year ago: Brick and Toms River South. Southern also won both games, so the Rams have seen that giving the pitching some run support delivers results, even against top-10-caliber teams.
The Rams return nearly a full roster from a year ago, led by three experienced, senior pitchers in right-handers Nick Simone and Pat Barrett and lefty Zach Fillmore. Simone emerged as the staff ace by turning in one quality performance after another down the stretch and finished with a 2.60 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 35 innings. He pitched six scoreless innings against both Toms River North and Jackson Memorial and struck out 11 while allowing one run over six innings in a 1-0 loss to Brick. Fillmore also earned some valuable experience against quality opponents and Barrett is a good arm with potential to be a dependable pitcher when he’s not playing shortstop.
Southern’s offensive output will be the x-factor in its season, assuming the pitching returns to form and the defense continues to get steadier. Senior second baseman Joey Robertson was one of the team’s more consistent sources of production last year, while junior outfielder Marcos Matias and seniors Noah Brown, Garrett Lange and Barrett also had their moments to shine. Outfielder Vaughn Walker, catcher Nolan Watson, outfielder Conor Ciliberto, middle-infielder Danny Wright and utility man Zach Oddo – all seniors – are all back in the fold as well. As juniors, this group showed it can pitch and pull out close games against good teams and with a little more hitting and some help in the staff behind Simone, the Rams will be a threat to break into the top half of the A South standings.
Head Coach: Mike Casale, second season
2016 Record: 9-12 (5-9, tied sixth in Class B South)
Returning Pitchers: Jared Morris (Sr., RHP), A.J. Smith (Jr., RHP), Connor Keehn (Sr., LHP), Ryan Greene (Sr., RHP), Vance Pelino (Jr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Tom Ruscitti (Jr., C), Jack Sudia (Sr., OF), Mike Bickford (Sr., 3B), Shane Black (Jr., OF), Colin Stacy (Jr., SS), Ryan Greene (Sr., 1B), Ryan Galati (Jr., 2B), Vance Pelino (Jr., 3B), Jared Morris (Sr., OF), Connor Keehn (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Matt Aires (CF), Ryan Paul (1B/LHP), Joe Bassett (INF/P), Chris Kowalski (SS)
Key Newcomers: Mitch Greiner (Sr., INF), Zach Greiner (Sr., OF), Jake Whelan (Sr., LHP), Tyler Aires (Jr., LHP/OF)
The newest member of A South, the Golden Eagles bring a tradition of winning from Class B South to one of the Shore’s toughest divisions. Last year was more of a rebuilding year for the traditionally-competitive Golden Eagles, who still managed to hang around in most games despite finishing 5-9 in the division. They also showed some signs that they will be able to handle some of A South’s toughest competition by beating both Toms River South and Toms River East last year and playing Toms River North tough in a 4-1 Ocean County Tournament loss. Central also churned out 16 runs in a first-round win over Hammonton in the South Jersey Group III playoffs.
Offense should not be a problem for this year’s team, which returns its three top producers from 2016 in junior Tom Ruscitti and seniors Jack Sudia and Mike Bickford. Ruscitti is entering his junior season after an impressive freshman season and a monster, All-Shore effort last year in his first year playing catcher at the varsity level. Sudia was a breakout performer for the Golden Eagles at the plate and Bickford’s football prowess – he is Central’s all-time leader in rushing yards – translated to the baseball field in the form of a .489 on-base percentage and three triples. Juniors Shane Black and Colin Stacy also return with some experience, with Black ticketed for the outfield and Stacy set to take over shortstop duties.
Central experienced some inconsistency on the mound over the course of the year, but still managed to sport three pitchers with an ERA under 4.00 in at least 30 innings apiece. Only one of those pitchers returns and that is senior Jared Morris, who will look to reign in the walks (22 in 33 innings) as he assumes the mantle as the leader of the staff. Junior right-hander A.J. Smith is likely to follow Morris based on last year’s performance, which included a 3.77 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 13 innings. Seniors Connor Keehn and Ryan Greene will also look to build on last season’s experience on the mound and if the defense can back up a dependable staff, Central should hit enough to win plenty of games in A South this year.
Head Coach: Evan Rizzitello, seventh season
2016 Record: 15-11 (9-5, tied second in A South)
Returning Pitchers: Nick Stephan (Jr., RHP), Ray Lutick (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Ray Lutick (Sr., 3B), Antonio Laborte (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Matt Cuppari (SS), Brian Markoski (1B/OF), James Donlon (OF), Dave Clark (2B/RHP), Tim Santiago (OF), Justin Bates (C), Dylan Evans (OF), D.J. Wilson (RHP), Alec Merrit (RHP), Teddy Gonzalez (3B), Nick Reyes (1B/DH), Andrew LaRosa (INF)
Key Newcomers: Blaine Netterman (Jr., OF/RHP), Trevor Sherman (Jr., LHP/1B), Anthony Garcia (Sr., 2B), Joey Howell (Sr., 2B/SS), Mike Murphy (So., C), Joe Manso (Sr., UTIL), Joe Tufaro (Sr., RHP), Vinny Guerra (Sr., RHP), Zack Hopcroft (Sr., RHP), Mike McCarthy (Sr., RHP), Dale DiMicco (Sr., C/DH), C.J. Banka (Sr., 3B/P), John Votta (Sr., OF), John Whalen (Sr., OF), Mike Sullivan (Jr., 1B/P), Justin Hans (Jr., OF), Alex Benson (Jr., OF), Teejay Rosace (So., SS/P), Tristan Savoia (So., P/1B), Torrey Savoia (So., P/OF), Joe Casselli (So., C), Nick Gillen (Fr., P), Nick Doubt (Fr., C), Colin Turner (Fr., OF/DH)
Of all the teams in Class A South, Brick Memorial was hit the hardest by graduation. In fact, few teams in the Shore lost as much production as the Mustangs, who sported a lineup consisting nearly entirely of seniors last year. An injury to shortstop Matt Cuppari put a dent in an otherwise successful season that saw Brick Memorial finish second place in A South – the program’s highest finish ever in the rough-and-tumble division. Even Brick Memorial’s depth on the bench was mostly seniors, so this year’s team will be relatively green heading into Monday’s opener.
On the bright side, Brick Memorial returns a pair of right-handed pitchers who know their way around a varsity mound. Junior right-hander Nick Stephan took over closer duties as a sophomore last year and earned the No. 1 starter spot in 2017 by pitching to a 1.76 ERA and saving four games. Senior right-hander Ray Lutick also saved two games and sported a 2.00 ERA in 21 innings last year. Lutick will double as the team’s starting third baseman as well after earning some innings at the position last year. Lutick, senior outfielder Antonio Laborte and junior outfielder Blaine Netterman will all see a lot more time in 2017, while junior Trevor Sherman will angle for more innings on the mound. That group will make up the returning foundation for the Mustangs, which will also lean on sophomores Mike Murphy (catcher) and Teejay Rosace (shortstop) to establish a core within a solid sophomore class.
With so many players returning in Class A South, competing with a roster as inexperienced as the one Brick Memorial will trot out seems like a tall order, but there is bound to be a hidden gem or two that was stuck waiting behind last year’s senior-loaded group. With enough gems, the Mustangs will find themselves right back in the A South mix.
Tom Ruscitti, Jr., Catcher, Central
Tim Halasnik, Sr., 1B/RHP, Jackson Memorial
Matt Shiffer, Sr., 2B/RHP, Toms River South
Mike Nyisztor, Sr., Shortstop, Toms River North
Ben Montenegro, Sr., Third Base, Toms River South
T.J. Scuderi, Jr., OF/RHP, Toms River South
John Prato, Sr., Centerfield, Brick
Austin Feigin, Sr., Outfield, Toms River North
Jared Bellissimo, Jr., 1B/LHP, Toms River North
Justin Fall, Sr., LHP, Toms River South
Brendan Mullins, Jr., RHP, Toms River North
Nick DeGennaro, Jr., RHP, Toms River East
Mike Soldo, Sr., LHP/1B, Brick
Brad Brush, Jr., RHP, Toms River East
Breakout Players to Watch
Anthony Sasso, Jr., RHP, Toms River North
Blaine Netterman, Jr., OF/RHP, Brick Memorial
Alex Iadisernia, So., OF, Jackson Memorial
Colin Mackle, So., OF/RHP, Toms River South
Pat Barrett, Sr., SS/RHP, Southern