Baseball – 2017 Preview: Class B North
In recent years, Class B North has been a division of have and have-nots: four very strong teams good enough to advance deep in a county or conference tournament, and maybe one other team that can make a state-tournament run. This year, B North is arguably the most loaded division in the Shore Conference – a title that has always been reserved for either Class A North or Class A South. Realignment swapped out Colts Neck (second place in 2016), Matawan (fifth), Neptune (sixth) and Red Bank (seventh) and brought in the Class A North champ (Middletown South), a third-place team from A North (Middletown North) and the top two teams from Class A Central (Manasquan and Monmouth Regional). For those counting at home, including defending B North champion Red Bank Catholic, B North is home to three teams that won outright division championships last season.
With a number of deep rosters and traditionally strong programs, the B North season is likely to be a war of attrition, so depth – particularly in the pitching staff – will be at a premium. No team is safe in any game and the chances of a team running the table in the division are slim-to-none. With that being said, there’s also a pretty good chance that multiple teams from the division are holding up a championship trophy at some point this year.
STATS: 2016 Class B North All-Shore Primer (Ocean, RBC and Wall stats)
STATS: 2016 Class A North All-Shore Primer (Midd. North and Midd. South stats)
STATS: 2016 Class A Central All-Shore Primer (Manasquan and Monmouth stats)
In predicted order of finish
Red Bank Catholic
Head Coach: Buddy Hausmann, 10th season
2016 Record: 22-8 (13-1, first in Class B North)
Returning Pitchers: Austin Nappi (Jr., RHP), Blaise Panzini (Jr., RHP), Jake Birnbaum (Jr., RHP), Steve Turk (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Aaron Ahn (Sr., SS), Anthony DeRosa (Sr., 3B), Dom Caraballo (Sr., CF), Aidan Supp (Sr., 2B), Mike Veit (Sr., 1B), Brian Sheehy (Sr., C/DH), Steve Turk (Sr., OF), Connor Caizza (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Evan Madigan (SS), Doug Facendo (C), John Poccia (RHP), Mike Spinelli (OF), Jack Ipsen (RHP), Justin Liggett (LHP), Pat Leonard (OF), Suli Abas (OF), Jack Smith (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Eddie Barnwell (Sr., C), David Glancy (So., OF), John Beal (Sr., C), Shaun Golden (Sr., LHP), Sean Carver (Sr., OF), Jack Bertoldo (Jr., RHP), Mike Faletti (Jr., OF/C), Joe Ianelli (Jr., RHP), Tommy Lang (Jr., RHP), Jon Michael Rotondo (Jr., 1B), Tom Selden (Jr., RHP), Vin Bianchi (So., INF/RHP), John Nimeth (Fr., RHP)
The Caseys have remained a Shore Conference contender for the past decade and have been building up toward a state title run over the last five or so. The 2017 roster has the makings of a team that can reclaim a Monmouth County and Shore Conference title and reach the NJSIAA Non-Public A Final on the first weekend in June. On the position-player side of things, RBC runs deeper than any team in the Shore, led by a trio of Division-I-level seniors. Navy recruit Aaron Ahn began his high school career playing third base, made the move to second base last year and will once again change positions for this season – this time serving as the Caseys’ shortstop with three-year starter Evan Madigan moving on to Bucknell. Ahn’s six home runs as a junior were the most of any returning Shore Conference player. Rutgers commit Anthony DeRosa had a huge sophomore season before a more understated 2016 and is primed for a strong finish as the Caseys third baseman. Centerfielder Dom Caraballo is headed to Rider next year and will hit atop RBC’s deep, dangerous lineup.
Seniors Mike Veit and Aidan Supp both carved out roles for themselves last season and Veit wound up being one of RBC’s best hitters as a junior. Veit will man first base, while Supp will slide to second base after play mostly third base last year. Seniors Brian Sheehy, Steve Turk and Connor Caizza all got at bats last year and will compete for starting spots, while sophomore David Glancy is poised to emerge as one of the Shore’s top outfielders over the next three years. Glancy has already generated interest from high-major Division I programs, according to coach Buddy Hausmann.
While RBC has a few spots in the lineup to replace, the pitching staff will be almost entirely new. Senior catcher Eddie Barnwell is also a first-year starter but is well-prepared to handle the young staff after sitting behind Doug Facendo. The Caseys will rely on three juniors to lead the way, beginning with right-handers Austin Nappi and Blaise Panzini. Nappi had the best season of the bunch last year, tossing 25 innings with a 2.24 ERA and a 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Panzini is committed to Army and appears to have the inside track to be the No. 1 starter early in the year. Junior right-hander Jake Birnbaum also got a small dose of work as a sophomore.
There is plenty of upcoming depth behind those three and the name to remember among that group is John Nimeth. The freshman right-hander works in the upper-80-miles-per-hour range and is already on the radar of a number of ACC schools, according to Hausmann. In a B North with so many good teams with quality pitching, the Caseys are likely to slip up at some point or another, but over the long haul, their roster is built to handle those five-game weeks and the curveballs – figurative and literal – that come with a high school baseball season.
Head Coach: Ryan Spillane, ninth season
2016 Record: 23-6 (11-3, first in Class A North)
Returning Pitchers: John Martin (Sr., RHP), Jeff Lewandowski (Sr., RHP), Jeremy Joyce (Sr., RHP), Matt Salicco (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: John Martin (Sr., 1B/OF), Jeremy Joyce (Sr., INF), Ryan Ruziecki (Sr., INF/OF), Ben Porpora (Sr., 3B), Jeff Lewandowski (Sr., OF/C)
Key Losses: Johnny Zega (SS/RHP), Austin Markmann (INF/RHP), Zach Schild (C), Ian Scheuer (LHP/1B), Tom Gannon (CF), Tom Frandsen (OF)
Key Newcomers: Scott Benigno (Jr., OF), Tom Clapsy (Jr., RHP), Ben Kinsella (Jr., OF), Joe Sprake (Jr., RHP/1B), Trevor Brey (So., C/INF), Aurellio Licata (So., INF), Jack Lisowski (So., LHP), Jack Roesch (So., RHP), Dylan Walling (So., INF/OF), Robby Zega (So., INF/RHP/C)
On total body of work, Middletown South was the best team in the Shore Conference last year and finished No. 2 in the final rankings – its second straight season in the top five. The only person between the Eagles and No. 1 was former CBA ace Luca Dalatri, who beat Middletown South once each in the regular season, Monmouth County Tournament and Shore Conference Tournament. Although Middletown South graduated two of its top three starters, its two best hitters, its leadoff hitter and its standout catcher from a year ago, there was so much depth on last year’s team that this year’s squad is still set to have a strong showing.
Senior right-hander John Martin returns to anchor the pitching staff after committing to Monmouth over the summer. Martin went 5-3 with a 1.22 ERA on the mound as a junior and also hit .373 with nine doubles in his first year with a regular spot in the batting order. Sorting out a staff behind Martin will be coach Ryan Spillane’s primary task during the early stages of the season, with senior Matt Salicco and a host of varsity newcomers competing for innings.
Middletown South figures to be solid defensively and potent at the plate once again in 2017. In addition to returning Martin to the middle of the order, the Eagles bring back All-Shore middle-infielder Jeremy Joyce, who played second base, shortstop and third base over the course of his junior season while hitting his way to the No. 2 spot in a loaded lineup. Senior Ryan Ruziecki will reprise his role of super-utility player, with the ability to play all over the infield and in the corner outfield spots. Ruziecki is a front-runner to settle into a run-producing spot in the lineup after 11 of his 18 hits in 2016 went for extra bases. Senior Ben Porpora is the other proven hitter in the lineup after belting seven doubles and three homers while playing both corner infield spots as a junior. Senior Jeff Lewandowski also returns with starting experience and will be a key for the Eagles with his ability to play center field, catch and pitch, not to mention cause havoc on the base paths.
It’s hard to imagine Middletown South boasting a more relentless lineup than the one the Eagles ran out day after day in 2016, but the heart of the order will still be as good as anybody’s in the Shore Conference. With John Martin on the mound, Middletown South could very well be the Shore’s best team and if the pieces fall into place around Martin and the returning starters, Middletown South may not have to settle for No. 2 again.
Head Coach: Justin Nathanson, third season
2016 Record: 14-11 (8-6, tied third in A North)
Returning Pitchers: Tyler Ras (Sr., RHP), Garrett French (Jr., RHP), Mike Mercier (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Tyler Ras (Sr., OF), Garrett French (Jr., SS), Marc Cerbo (Sr., 2B), Brendon Doherty (Jr., CF), Mike Mercier (Sr., 1B), Nick Liubicich (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Kyle Capo (3B), Walter Schopf (C), Cole Fluta (SS), Seth Ziegler (1B), Phil Pecherski (OF/RHP), Hunter Rinn (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Cody Sharkey (Sr., OF/RHP), Frank Wilton (Sr., C), Michael Adamson (Jr., 2B), Jake Dillon (Jr., C), Nick Donato (Jr., 3B), Chris Price (Jr., RHP/OF), Justin Romano (Jr., SS), Jason Timmons (So., LHP/OF), Justin Valletta (Jr., C/RHP), Connor Welsh (Jr., OF)
Middletown North endured some lean years playing in an unforgiving Class A North division and finally kicked down the door to reach the top half of the A North standings in 2016. The Lions did it with pitching and with the top three pitchers from 2016 all back this year, Middletown North enters the season as a serious contender in B North and particularly in the postseason. Junior right-hander Tyler Ras was the team’s big-game pitcher as a sophomore, which partly explains why his record was only 4-5 despite running a 1.35 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00. Ras is committed to Alabama and shot up to 6-foot-4 over the past year, which should make him and his low-90’s fastball even more imposing. Not only does Ras return, but senior right-handers Garrett French and Mike Mercier are also back. Both pitchers threw more than 30 innings with an ERA under 2.00, with French logging 42 2/3 innings with a 1.48 ERA.
French will play shortstop on days he is not pitching and his offense will be crucial for Middletown North as well. French is moving over to shortstop from second base to replace graduated shortstop Cole Fluta, who was also a sparkplug at the top of the order. The Lions did lose a lot of the power from last year’s lineup with the graduation of All-Shore third baseman Kyle Capo and slugging first baseman Seth Ziegler. Ras’s extra height and muscle should translate to more power at the plate after he slugged .416 as a sophomore, while junior Brendon Doherty will also be a key bat in the middle of the order after hitting an impressive .367 as a sophomore in Class A North. Mercier also saw at bats for the Lions in 2016 and will play some first base.
Replacing catcher Walter Schopf is also high on the list of priorities for Middletown North this season and coach Justin Nathanson has a pair of options in senior Frank Wilton and junior Jake Dillon. Seniors Marc Cerbo and Cody Sharkey will also figure into the lineup, while juniors Nick Donato, Michael Adamson and Justin Romano also vie for time. The Lions don’t have the proven offensive firepower of RBC or Middletown South, but their pitching is going to keep them in the division race, particularly if they can line up Ras to face the Caseys and Eagles at least once each.
Head Coach: Bob Waldeyer, second season
2016 Record: 13-7 (9-3, first in Class A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Tommy Sheehan (Sr., LHP), Connor Muly (Sr., RHP), Nick Perone (Sr., RHP), Declan Reichey (Sr., RHP), Ricky Flynn (Jr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Tommy Sheehan (Sr., 1B), Ethan Thompson (Jr., SS), Adam Schreck (Sr., C), Tommy Antonucci (Jr., OF), James Harmstead (So., 1B), Joey Ostberg (Jr., INF), Nick Jaime (Sr., OF), Ricky Flynn (Jr., OF)
Key Losses: Jack Sheehan (2B/RHP), Pat Kineally (OF), Parker Day (OF)
Key Newcomers: Kyle Abbot (Sr., RHP), Ben Barry (Sr., RHP), Luke Brown (Sr., LHP/OF), Dan Del Guercio (Sr., OF), Dan Mulay (Sr., OF), Matt Snyder (Sr., RHP/INF), Dylan Finn (Jr., INF), Denny Maher (Jr., C/INF)
Manasquan is the third of the three 2016 outright division champions in Class B North this year after the Warriors claimed the outright Class A Central crown a year ago. The Warriors return most of last year’s roster, headlined by senior left-hander and Notre Dame commit Tommy Sheehan. Last season was a breakthrough season for Sheehan, who dramatically cut his walk rate while increasing his strikeout rate despite pitching through illness for much of the latter part of the season. Although Manasquan won’t have his older brother Jack – who is a freshman at Notre Dame – teaming with Sheehan in the rotation like the two did last year, the Warriors will still have a pitching-strong team with Sheehan and senior right-hander Connor Muly headlining the staff. Muly threw only 14 innings last year, but he struck out 18 with just five walks while running an ERA of 3.00.
The offense was inconsistent over the course of the season for Manasquan, but the Warriors should be dramatically improved all over the field and throughout the lineup. Senior Adam Schreck is in his second season behind the plate and also brings plenty of thump in the batter’s box as well. Junior shortstop Ethan Thompson hit .410 as a sophomore and sophomore first baseman James Harmstead flashed his power potential by belting a pair of home runs as a freshman. Junior Tommy Antonucci also got off to a great start at the plate as a sophomore and is ready to reprise his role in center field after a wrist injury cut his sophomore season short. Third baseman Joey Ostberg is also a returning starter and another of Manasquan’s many juniors that will make the Warriors a formidable lineup beyond this season.
Head Coach: Paul Crivello, fourth season
2016 Record: 13-10 (8-4, tied third in A Central)
Returning Pitchers: Joe Malfara (Sr., RHP), Paul Birzin (Sr., LHP), Noah Eggenschwiler (Sr., RHP), Dante Ciaramella (So., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Josh Jackson (Sr., C), Paul Birzin (Sr., 1B), Mark Abrams (Sr., OF), Mike Valerio (Sr., INF), Dante Ciaramella (So., INF), Derek Radzik (Sr., P/INF), Josh Rife (Sr., RHP), Trevor D’Meo (Sr., RHP/INF), Charlie Kelly (Jr., OF/RHP), Anthony Guarino (Jr., INF/C), Liam Kile (Jr., INF)
Key Losses: Christian Hoplock (OF), Garrhet Reedy (C), Andrew Slinger (SS), Chris Raike (RHP), P.J. Mellaci (OF)
Key Newcomers: Justin Scotto (Jr., OF/INF) – Transferred from Robbinsville; Jack Martell (Jr., RHP), Joe Schwarz (Jr., RHP), Matt Kopp (Jr., OF), Tyler Riccardi (Jr., OF), Ricky Voss (Jr., LHP/OF), Eli Rife (So., INF), Andrew Faccone (So., C), Seth Gonzalez (Jr., OF), Chris Anfuso (So., OF)
The Falcons were Manasquan’s plus-one in the move from Class A Central to Class B North and they will be a worthy addition to arguably the Shore’s toughest division. Both Monmouth and Manasquan would have been the two favorites had they remained in Class A Central, but the daily grind in B North will give the Falcons some thick skin come postseason time. Even within B North, Monmouth will be a tough out for teams like RBC and Middletown South and the Falcons have proven they can compete with teams like Manasquan and Middletown North.
The Falcons boast an experienced pitching staff comprised of seniors Joe Malfara, Paul Birzin and Noah Eggenschwiler. On a per-inning basis, Eggenschwiler was the best of the bunch with a 30 strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA in 30 innings, while Malfara ran an impressive 45-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ration over 45 innings. The trio will throw to senior and Delaware State commit Josh Jackson, who moves to catcher after playing third base each of the past two seasons and doing so while swinging one of the best bats of any returning Shore Conference player. Birzin will protect Jackson in the lineup after hitting .300 with eight doubles and a home run as a junior, while seniors Mark Abrams and Mike Valerio each return after having some success last season.
Junior outfielder Justin Scotto moved to the area after turning in a standout season at Robbinsville as a sophomore and will be a significant addition to the Monmouth lineup. Sophomore Dante Ciaramella is also a player to watch over the next three years and he could help out on the mound and in the field this year. With the senior pitching and some proven mashers in the lineup, the Falcons should be able to make the transition to a tougher division and acquit themselves nicely within the B North landscape.
Head Coach: Cip Apicelli, eighth season
2016 Record: 22-9 (10-4, third in B North)
Returning Pitchers: Phil DeMarco (Sr., LHP), Alec Keezer (Sr., RHP), Travis Lillie (Sr., LHP), Max Winters (RHP)
Returning Position Players: Alec Keezer (Sr., 2B/3B), Jack D’Auria (Jr., OF), Max Winters (So., SS), Phil DeMarco (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Brian Kochenash (SS), Jake Talarico (CF/RHP), Brian Olesen (1B), Tyler Rossback (3B), Marc Chernin (C), J.T. Toomey (RHP), Kenny Pickett (OF)
Key Newcomers: Brian Davis (Jr., P), Evan Arbeeny (Jr., C), Stephen Hagerman (So., INF/RHP), Ryan Toomey (So., 2B), Matt Redbord (Jr., 1B), Jake Papa (Jr., OF), Mark Butler (Jr., INF/P), Ryan Jenks (Jr., P), Juan Baez (Sr., P), Will Callano (Sr., OF), Max Degilio (Sr., OF), Michael Kardane (Sr., OF), J.T. Gianotti (Jr., OF), David Yatcilla (Jr., OF), Matt Samilow (Jr., OF), Connor McQuillan (Sr., OF)
The Spartans were one of six teams to win at least 20 games last season and they extended their year all the way to the Central Jersey Group III championship game, which they lost to Nottingham, 8-5. The senior class on that team was instrumental in those 22 wins and postseason run, so replicating those successes will depend on a young core of position players and a pitching staff that returns two key members from last year’s rotation. Seniors Phil DeMarco and Alec Keezer both turned in strong junior campaigns – with DeMarco getting off to a hot start and Keezer delivering a wave of strong outings down the stretch. With DeMarco throwing from the left side, the Spartans have an imposing one-two punch that comes from either side of the rubber, which should make them tough for other B North teams to peg. Senior left-hander Travis Lillie also has a chance to make an impact after throwing a handful of quality innings last year.
The key to Ocean’s season will be how quickly its offense can progress and whether or not the defense can be as consistent as it was last season. The Spartans’ returning roster took a hit when outfielder Kenny Pickett (.337 average, six doubles, two triples) enrolled early at the University of Pittsburgh as he prepares to play quarterback for the Panthers during his college career. Replacing All-Shore shortstop and Shore Conference hits leader Brian Kochenash (51 hits) at shortstop will also be a difficult task, but sophomore Max Winters is coming off a freshman season in which he hit .358 while playing catcher.
Winters might have the highest ceiling of any player in the lineup, but junior center fielder Jack D’Auria is not far off after running a .400 on-base percentage with quality center field defense as a junior. Keezer was also a significant offensive contributor for Ocean and with him at third base, Winters at shortstop and D’Auria in center field, the Spartans will be solid at three important defensive positions. If those three anchor a strong defense and can ignite a competent offense, the pitching is good enough for Ocean to challenge for a top-three spot.
Head Coach: Todd Schmitt, 20th season
2016 Record: 11-11 (8-6, fourth in B North)
Returning Pitchers: Matt Yard (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Shane Richey (Sr., 2B), David Howarth (So., C), Kevin Lenneper (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Regan Dombroski (3B/RHP), Nick Maciejewski (OF), James Loesch (C/DH), Mike Yard (1B), Joe Castellucia (SS), Jake Malone (OF), Connor Metelski (RHP), Mike Nocchi (RHP), Dylan Colatrella (RHP), Sean Larkin (OF)
Key Newcomers: Ryan Megill (Sr., 1B/DH), John Perrino (Sr., 1B), Alex Smith (Sr., RHP/SS), Grant Schulman (So., 3B/RHP), Dylan Richey (So., SS), Andy Lenneper (Jr., OF), Teddy Sharkey (Fr., P/OF), Joe Shimko (So., C/OF)
While last year’s 11-11 record was disappointing, Wall closed out the season with a run to the Central Jersey Group III semifinals that included a dramatic, seventh-inning rally to beat No. 2 Middletown South in the sectional quarterfinals. The Crimson Knights return very little from last year’s team, and while that is going to hurt them in the experience department, it might be beneficial for Wall to start fresh, especially with an exciting sophomore class. Catcher David Howarth leads that group of sophomores and is coming off an outstanding freshman debut in which he hit .357 with a .472 on-base percentage, a double and home run in 28 at bats. Third baseman Grant Schulman, shortstop Dylan Richey and outfielder Joe Shimko will also give the team contribution from the sophomore class.
Second baseman Shane Richey is the lone returning senior with starting experience in the field, while outfielder Kevin Lenneper got 10 at bats as a junior. Seniors Ryan Megill and John Perrino are both in the mix for a first-base-slash-designated hitter role, while senior Alex Smith will eat up some innings and can play shortstop. The one senior who will definitely make an significant impact for Wall is right-hander Matt Yard, who led the team in innings last year and pitched to a 2.81 ERA. Smith, Schulman and freshman Teddy Sharkey should also figure into the mix on the mound as Wall tries to keep up its winning tradition in a very difficult B North division.
Head Coach: James Reilly, second season
2016 Record: 4-16 (1-13, eighth in B North)
Returning Pitchers: James Horniacek (Jr., LHP), Matt Mincieli (Jr., RHP), Justin Navarro (Sr., RHP), Jalen Walls (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: T.J. Brewer (Jr., C), Matt Mincieli (Jr., SS), Pasa Fields (Jr., CF), Carlos Irizarry (Sr., 3B), Ryan Lorme (Sr., OF), Nick Luhn (Jr., 2B), Justin Navarro (Sr., C), Jalen Walls (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Sean Cuddy (OF), Alonzo Rawls (2B), Carlos Pacheco (LHP)
Key Newcomers: Edwin Suarez (Jr., OF), Jordan Pellot (Jr., OF), Evan Yerman (Jr., INF/RHP), Juwan Wilkins (Jr., 3B/RHP)
No team is feeling the burden of divisional realignment more than Long Branch, which managed to compete with the bottom half of last year’s B North division that consisted of Matawan, Neptune and Red Bank. Now, the Green Wave play in a division in which perennial Shore Conference and Group III contender Wall could very well be the seventh-best team. Second-year coach James Reilly and his players deserve credit for welcoming the challenge with a team heavy on juniors who proved they belong at the varsity level last year. Catcher T.J. Brewer, shortstop Matt Mincieli and center fielder Pasa Fields give the Green Wave stability and talent up the middle and all three bring something to the table on offense as well. Long Branch also has a junior second baseman in Nick Luhn and a pair of junior pitchers at the top of the rotation in Mincieli and left-hander James Horniacek.
Edwin Suarez, Jordan Pellot, Evan Yerman and Juwan Wilkins all join the varsity rosters this season to add to the junior class that should help Long Branch make a move in the division standings sometime in the next couple of years. Seniors Carlos Irizarry, Ryan Lorme, Justin Navarro and Jalen Walls will do their best to make sure Long Branch’s baseball breakthrough happens this season, but playing in this division with a roster heavy on junior talent, it seems as though Long Branch is still a year away.
Division Lineup (With 2016 Stats)
Josh Jackson, Sr., Catcher, Monmouth
Mike Veit, Sr., First Base, Red Bank Catholic
Jeremy Joyce, Sr., SS/2B, Middletown South
Aaron Ahn, Sr., SS, Red Bank Catholic
Anthony DeRosa, Sr., 3B, Red Bank Catholic
Dom Caraballo, Sr., Centerfield, Red Bank Catholic
Justin Scotto, Jr., Outfield, Monmouth (Stats from 2016 with Robbinsville)
Ryan Ruziecki, Sr., UTIL, Middletown South
Ben Porpora, Sr., Third Base, Middletown South
Tommy Sheehan, Sr., LHP/1B, Manasquan
Tyler Ras, Jr., RHP/OF, Middletown North
John Martin, Sr., RHP/1B, Middletown South
Garrett French, Jr., RHP/SS, Middletown North
Alec Keezer, Sr., RHP/3B, Ocean
Breakout Players to Watch
Max Winters, So., SS, Ocean
Connor Muly, Sr., RHP, Manasquan
David Howarth, So., C, Wall
Austin Nappi, Jr., RHP, Red Bank Catholic
Matt Mincieli, Jr., SS/RHP, Long Branch