Baseball – 2017 Preview: Class B South
Last year’s Class B South race was supposed to be a formality, with Barnegat returning the best pitching in the country to a team that already figured to be in the hunt. As it turned out, the race was a formality, but it was Point Pleasant Boro that ran the table and won B South going away. There is no juggernaut that should wipe out the field this year; in fact, the B South race should carry with it as much drama as any in the Shore Conference in 2017.
Five of the eight teams in the division return their No. 1 pitcher and all five were all-division selections by Shore Sports Network. Two others return key pieces from deep staffs, which makes B South one of the best divisions in the conference for returning pitching talent. That should make for a while season and teams knock each other off based on the pitching matchups and jump each other in the standings based on who is hot or cold for a two-week stretch.
In predicted order of finish
Head Coach: Corey Hamman, fifth season
2016 Record: 6-14 (4-10, eighth in Class A South)
Returning Pitchers: Don Zellman (Sr., RHP), Anthony Elefante (Sr., RHP), Tom Corragio (Sr., RHP), Brandon Haggerty (Sr., LHP), Jarrett Dial (Sr., RHP), Jake Capatasto (Sr., LHP)
Returning Position Players: Don Zellman (Sr., INF), Anthony Elefante (Sr., OF), Jorden Jurkiewicz (So., C/3B), Paul Carluccio (Sr., C), Keith Apostolos (Jr., INF), Jarret Dial (Sr., UTIL), Brandon Haggerty (Sr., 1B), Justin Thompson (Sr., OF), Jake Capatasto (Sr., OF), Colin Trembley (So., OF), Evan Ross (Sr., 3B/C)
Key Losses: Anthony Ruggerio (UTIL),
Key Newcomers: Miles Feaster (So., INF)
For the last four years, Lacey has been at the bottom of the food chain in the A South jungle and now the Lions have a chance to be kings of a smaller forest now that they reside in Class B South. With the talent Lacey has coming back though, limiting the expectations to just winning a Class B South title might be setting the bar too low, especially considering that its strength resides mostly in a deep pitching staff. Senior right-hander Don Zellman was among the top pitchers in Class A South a year ago, while classmate Anthony Elefante put up respectable numbers in a tough division – particularly when you take out a game against a loaded Toms River North lineup in which he failed to make it out of the first inning. Add in Tom Carragio (2.36 ERA in 2016) and Jarrett Dial from the right side and Jake Capatasto and Brandon Haggerty from the left and Lacey boasts an all-senior staff that is battle-tested. The group will also throw to a varsity veteran in catcher Paul Carluccio.
For the Lions to actually get over the hump this year, even in a new division that consists of smaller schools, they will need to produce more offense to help out a pitching staff and defense that gave up a little fewer than five runs per game. Zellman, Elefante, Haggerty and Dial will all be keys to the offense, but the most dangerous hitter in the group by the end of last season was sophomore Jorden Jurkiewicz, who hit .300 as a freshman and led the team with 13 RBI. His primary position is behind the plate, but he played a solid third base for the Lions last year as well. While Lacey has the development of Jurkiewicz and some other interesting sophomore prospects to look forward to, there is no doubt that with a senior-loaded pitching staff, the rebuilding phase is over this year. The expectations for the Lions now include winning a championship.
Head Coach: Jim Rankin, 10th season
2016 Record: 11-11 (7-7, third in Class B South)
Returning Pitchers: Matt Pickus (Jr., RHP), Andrew Ludovico (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Kyle Tavaska (Sr., CF), Billy Hart (Jr., 1B/C), Dave Melfi (So., C), Daniel Sofield (So., SS/2B), Alex Torres (So., 2B/SS), Connor Keenan (So., OF)
Key Losses: Mike Zak (1B/RHP), Ryan Van Wickle (INF/RHP), Brandon Pallante (RHP), Ken Pommerencke (OF)
Key Newcomers: Scott Wierciszewski (So., OF/P), Kevin Ritz (So., P), Nick DeCarlo (So., P), Shane Hickey (Fr., INF), Rich Dordas (Jr., 1B/P), Dan Dordas (Jr., INF), Jake Greene (Jr., C), Brandon Frith (Jr., OF), Matt Piro (Sr., P), Jared Carroll (Sr., P), Matt Hickman (Sr., OF), Chris Matragrano (Sr., INF)
Among the seven Class B South holdovers from a year ago, Jackson Liberty likely has the most room to grow. While Pinelands also has a deep group of sophomores, Jackson Liberty managed to finish higher in the standings while starting four freshmen who all stand to improve dramatically in the field and at the plate. Catcher Dave Melfi was arguably the most impressive of the group considering he took over regular catching duties in his first year of high school ball, showed some extra-base thump in the form of four doubles, and also waved off the courtesy runner to score 11 runs and steal three bases. Throw in three more promising sophomore returnees in middle infielders Daniel Sofield and Alex Torres and outfielder Connor Keenan – plus another wave of first-year varsity sophomores – and the Lions should only get better over the next three years.
One of the reasons the young lineup worked last year was because of the Lions’ stellar pitching, led by now-junior right-hander Matt Pickus. As a sophomore in 2016, Pickus was among the best pitchers in B South who were not drafted by the Red Sox. In all seriousness, were it not for Jason Groome pitching in the division last year, Pickus might have had the most impressive season of any B South pitcher – one that included a no-hitter. Senior Andrew Ludovico also returns to the rotation this season and the duo will look to continue to put up zeroes against a B South field with a lot of teams that boast quality lineups and tough opposing pitchers.
Head Coach: Dave Beauchemin, second season
2016 Record: 13-12 (8-6, second in B South)
Returning Pitchers: Joe Felipe (Sr., LHP), Gavin Pabst (Sr., RHP), James Cuber (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Steven Rodriguez (Sr., 2B), Kirk Montanye (Sr., OF), Matt Migliaccio (Sr., CF), Gavin Pabst (Sr., 3B), Derek Scmhidt (Jr., 1B), Jack Felipe (So., C)
Key Losses: Ryan Vanderham (SS), Darrius Garcia (C), Jon Meaney (3B), Mark Wernoch (1B), Matt Bryant (OF/P), Dillon Barry (P), P.J. Martinez (P/INF)
Key Newcomers: James Johns (Fr., SS/RHP), Quint Keanrs (So., OF), Patrick Carney (Sr., INF/RHP), Chris Santiago (Jr., 1B), Jacob Roberts (So., RHP), Jagger Karaska (Jr., RHP)
In his first season following longtime coach John Musolf, skipper Dave Beauchemin showed he had the state-tournament touch by guiding the 10th-seeded Hawks to two road wins in the South Jersey Group II Tournament before bowing out to Cinnaminson in the sectional semifinals. It might not have been a fluke either, considering Beauchemin just coached the girls basketball team at Manchester to its first ever sectional championship earlier this month.
It’s also not a fluke because Manchester has some players – led by senior left-hander Joe Felipe. Like Pickus at Jackson Liberty, Felipe has a worthy claim as the top returning pitcher in the division after posting a 1.93 ERA as a junior while punching out 49 in 46 innings. He and returning right-hander Gavin Pabst are both slated to play at NJAC programs next year – Felipe at The College of New Jersey and Pabst at Stockton.
Although the returning pitching is strong, Manchester will have some work to do to replace its shortstop, catcher and third baseman. Jack Felipe got 22 at-bats as a freshman and will take over catching duties while Pabst fills a vacancy at third on days that he does not pitch and junior freshman James Johns jumps right in at shortstop. The Hawks also return a senior trio of proven producers – second baseman Steve Rodriguez and outfielders Matt Miggliaccio and Kirk Montanye. Rodriguez had a down year offensively by the standard he set early in his four-year varsity career, so a bounceback season is likely in the cards. Montanye, meanwhile, debuted last year by going 11-for-29 with a double and a home run. With some emerging talent around those three returnees to the lineup, plus a fortified pitching staff, Manchester should again find itself in the top half of the B South standings.
Point Pleasant Boro
Head Coach: Dave Drew, seventh season
2016 Record: 21-5 (14-0, first in Class B South)
Returning Pitchers: Josiah Gliddon (Sr., RHP), Thomas Paul (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Josiah Gliddon (Sr., INF), Tom Paul (Sr., OF), Justin Rafi (Sr., C), Patrick Feehan (Sr., INF), Kyle Lauria (Sr., INF)
Key Losses: Frank Graziano (OF/RHP), Sam Monaco (SS), Bill Feehan (OF), Mike Falconetti (1B/RHP), Mark Leyble (3B), Sebastian Severio (C), Tim Rossi (RHP)
Key Newcomers: John Duggan (Sr., OF), Ben Herrman (Sr., OF/P), Ed Machnicki (Sr., 1B/P), Jack Waddleton (Sr., OF/1B), Hayden Frey (Sr., OF), John Sullivan (Sr., OF), Jack Brennan (Jr., INF), Andrew Laspina (Jr., OF/1B/P), Ryan Sansone (Jr., P/UTIL), Cole Weingarten (Jr., 3B), Joe Letizia (Jr., P/UTIL), Trent Livolsi (So., C/1B), Christian Aurin (So., C), Jonathan Alfonso (So., P/1B), Dylan Kleinfeldt (So., 2B/ OF), Jack Bysek (So., INF), Sam Collins (So., SS), Garrett Romer (So., UTIL), Paul Franceschini (So., UTIL), Nick Guzzi (Fr., P/INF)
On returning talent alone, Point Boro does not stack up with the rest of B South. Luckily for the Panthers, they were so much better than every other team in the field last year that they are still likely to have enough left over to contend for another outright division title. Seniors Josiah Gliddon, Tom Paul and Patrick Feehan are the lone everyday starters back from last year’s 21-win team and the trio will have a major say in how much this year’s team wins. Senior catcher Justin Rafi also got time behind the plate last year thanks to a couple of different ailments suffered by starting Sebastian Severio. Senior Kyle Lauria will also see a much bigger role this year on the infield with the graduation of the left side of the infield.
Gliddon will anchor the pitching staff when he is not manning a corner infield spot or serving as the designated hitter. Gliddon’s standout junior season included a number of memorable performances, including throwing the first five innings of a combined no-hitter, as well as a game-winning, walk-off home run. Feehan, meanwhile, will look to have a breakout similar to the one his older brother, Bill, had last year when he was an All-Shore outfielder.
With so many seniors on last year’s team, a lot of younger talent was blocked from contributing in any significant capacity last year. That all changes this year as a wave of juniors and sophomores will compete for at bats and innings. Freshman Nick Guzzi is also in the mix for playing time as well and could make an impact sooner rather than later. Senior classes like the one Point Boro had last year have a habit of breeding depth and that depth should keep the Panthers relevant throughout the B South season and make them dangerous once May rolls around.
Head Coach: Rob Sanzari, fifth season
2016 Record: 10-13 (5-9, tied sixth in B South)
Returning Pitchers: Noah Dean (So., LHP), Joey Ventresca (So., RHP), Joey McDonald (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Anthony Diaz (So., 3B), Joey Ventresca (So., SS), Chris Burke (Sr., 2B), Tommy Madge (Sr., OF), Brandon Weedo (Sr., C), Tommy Allen (Sr., OF), Sean O’Rourke (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Brad O’Brien (C), Ryan Ross (OF), Jared Strang (OF), Dave Lunn (OF), Jared Miller (RHP), Darien Martinez (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Riley Stephenson (Sr., C), Peter Hammond (So., RHP), Sean Crowley (Sr., INF), Billy Crawford (So., 2B), Jimmy Zazenski (Fr., C), Bobby LeFevre (So., OF)
While Point Boro will have to win with a lot of players who played at lower levels of the program last year, Pinelands will be relying on its returnees to lead the way to a division title that is well within reach. Despite sporting a freshman-heavy roster last year that finished tied for last in B South with Central and Lakewood, Pinelands competed throughout the season. That distance from the top should temper the outside expectations somewhat, but this group has every reason to believe it has a shot at the division championship after watching sophomores Anthony Diaz, Joey Ventresca and Noah Dean shine as freshmen. Diaz and Ventresca both hit well over .300 with doubles power while Ventresca and Dean both held their own and then some on the mound. Those two will be a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation for the next three seasons and there is some depth in place with fellow sophomore Peter Hammond and senior Joey McDonald.
Although the Wildcats graduated a few solid offensive contributors, they have a chance to improve around Diaz and Ventresca. Senior Chris Burke is a tough out and a quality defensive second baseman, while Tommy Allen, Tommy Madge and Sean O’Rouke are ready for more at-bats after gaining varsity experience last year. Senior Brandon Weedo takes over behind the plate for departed backstop Brad O’Brien and will be a key to the season given how young the pitching staff is. Age and experience is a bit of a question for Pinelands, but the Wildcats have the necessary talent in place to make a run at the B South title.
Head Coach: Dan McCoy, sixth season
2016 Record: 11-14 (6-8, tied fourth in B South)
Returning Pitchers: Justin Diefenbach (RHP), Tyler Suydam (So., RHP), Ryan Bush (Jr., RHP), Evan Albanese (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Aaron McLaughlin (Sr., C), Justin Diefenbach (INF), Tyler Suydam (3B), Anthony Lani (Sr., SS), Mimo Padilla (Sr., 2B), Eric Becker (Sr., OF), Nik Caputo (Sr., 1B), Evan Albanese (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Jason Groome (LHP), Jared Kacso (3B/RHP), Max Ritner (C), Collin O’Conner (CF)
Key Newcomers: Lucas Torres (Fr., OF/LHP)
Even with the No. 12 overall pick in last June’s MLB Draft, the Bengals could not crack .500 in B South or overall. When he pitched, Jason Groome was as dominant as anyone could have reasonably expected last year, but the Bengals had trouble scoring runs and committed a number of untimely errors in close games – all of which led to their ultimate undoing. So now that the most imposing pitcher in the country is gone, why do the Bengals still have high hopes for 2017? For one thing, the spotlight that came with Groome was overwhelming for a group of players that did not play with him a year earlier. That game-to-game pressure will be a small fraction of what it was last year, which should allow the Bengals to play free and easy from the first pitch without worrying about scouts, national reporters, NJSIAA rulings and keeping no-hitters intact.
Then again, Barnegat’s pitching staff might be good enough to make a run at a no-hitter or two. While Barnegat did lose a lot of close games last year, it had little to do with the pitching. No. 2 starter Jared Kacso also graduated along with Groome, but Barnegat was solid throughout the staff last year and returns senior Justin Diefenbach and sophomore Tyler Suydam to head the rotation. Senior captain and Rutgers recruit Aaron McLaughlin was often dominant closing out games and could do so again, but he will be shifting from shortstop to catcher this season to lead the promising pitching staff. McLaughlin is also the team’s top offensive player and will try to ignite an improved run-scoring attack.
Diefenbach, senior shortstop Anthony Lani, senior Eric Becker and senior Nik Caputo all got plenty of at bats last year and Mimo Padilla and Evan Albanese also return with experience. It’s fair to say last year’s results were disappointing, but Barnegat still has a strong pitching staff in place – one that will carry the Bengals far if they can improve on offense.
Head Coach: Bill Beining, second season
2016 Record: 7-14 (6-8, tied fourth in B South)
Returning Pitchers: Zack Mann (Sr., RHP), Bart Goble (Sr., RHP), Charles Dowling (Sr., LHP), Jack Bilancia (Jr., LHP)
Returning Position Players: Ryan O’Sullivan (Sr., 2B), Zack Mann (Sr., 3B), Jack Bilancia (Jr., 1B), Nick DeMaio (Jr., C), Matt Morro (Sr., OF), Gerard Russo (Sr., SS), Alex Jansen (Sr., OF), Bart Goble (Sr., 1B), Thomas Smith (Sr., C), Brandon Zanetti (Sr., 3B)
Key Losses: Kyle Malloy (CF/P), Andrew Jarvis (P), P.J. Armstrong (1B), Ray Ray Drumright (3B)
Key Newcomers: Ross Artale (Jr., OF), Andrew Connallon (So., RHP), Sawyer Conrad (Jr., OF/RHP), Eian Gilray (So., RHP/OF), Ryan Miller (Jr., RHP), J.T. Murphy (So., 2B), Jonathan Poplawski (Jr., LHP), Patrick Wade (So., 3B/RHP)
There was no better example of a team that got amped to play against Barnegat than Donovan Catholic, which knocked off the Bengals twice last year – including once in a game started by Groome. The Griffins scored a total of three runs in those two games but got great pitching in both – the hallmark of the Donovan Catholic team in its first season under skipper Bill Beining. When the Griffins were at their best, they kept opponents off the board – which was necessary considering the Griffins averaged only 2.4 runs per game and never scored more than six in a single game. This year, the focus will be on getting the bats to catch up to the arms and the gloves while mixing in the constant pursuit of consistency that every team chases.
On the plus side, Donovan Catholic’s pitching should be good again. Senior right-hander Zack Mann was the ace of the staff as a junior last year and is another of B South’s returning workhorses. Mann will be backed up by senior right-hander Bart Goble and left-handers Charles Dowling and Jack Bilancia and that trio will have to meet the high bar set by the departures from last year’s staff – namely Kyle Malloy. It wouldn’t hurt if the Griffins stepped up their scoring, which will be up to Mann, Bilancia and senior second baseman Ryan O’Sullivan. Bilancia showed some promise by delivering a few big hits as a sophomore and O’Sullivan and Mann both progressed as hitters during their junior seasons. Junior catcher Nick DeMaio and senior shortstop Gerard Russo will help solidify the middle of the diamond and give the Griffins the defense to go with what they hope will be another competitive pitching staff on a B South contender.
Head Coach: Gene Drumright, 13th season
2016 Record: 10-12 (5-9, tied sixth in B South)
Returning Pitchers: Angel Mendez (Jr.), Julian Zingler (Jr.)
Returning Position Players: Julian Zingler (Jr., INF), Hector Rodriguez (Sr., OF), Tayon Conover-Hart (Jr., OF), Yamil Toro (Sr., OF), Kevin Lopez (Sr., 1B), Deion Crooks (Jr.), Terrence Cole-Woodson (Sr.)
Key Losses: Jason Holguin (SS), Alex Guzman (C/RHP), Raymond Alvarez (OF/RHP), Richard Uriarte (RHP), Ramon Mercedes (RHP/3B), Javiel Figueroa (INF)
Key Newcomers: Justin Vega (So.), Robert Alaberron (Sr.)
The Piners made notable strides as a program last year by improving over the course of the season and securing five divisional wins. Not only did Lakewood pick up its fair share of victories over the course of the year, but it also contended in most of its losses as well. Although the Piners finished 10-12 overall, they outscored their opponents by a combined total of 102-90.
Lakewood’s problem is that many of the players that had a hand in that success are gone and it will be up to a relatively young roster to build on that performance. The Piners will have plenty of athleticism with the return of Hector Rodriguez, Tayon Conover-Hart, Yamil Toro, Deion Crooks and Terrence Cole-Woodson to its group of potential outfielders. Senior Kevin Lopez and Julian Zingler will provide some thunder in the middle of the order, with Zingler returning as a dual threat who could be in for a career season.
Junior Angel Mendez will join Zingler in a Lakewood rotation that will have to absorb four key losses on the mound from a season ago. That loss of pitching is unique in this division this year, so if the Piners can not find more quality innings that rival those that they lost, they might have a tough time keeping up in a pitching-rich B South.
Division Lineup (with 2016 stats)
Aaron McLaughlin, Sr., Catcher, Barnegat
Josiah Gliddon, Sr., 1B/3B/RHP, Point Boro
Steven Rodriguez, Sr., Second Base, Manchester
Joey Ventresca, So., SS/RHP, Pinelands
Anthony Diaz, So., Third Base, Pinelands
Thomas Paul, Sr., Outfield, Point Boro
Kyle Tavaska, Sr., Centerfield, Jackson Liberty
Kirk Montanye, Sr., Outfield, Manchester
Anthony Elefante, Sr., OF/RHP, Lacey
Don Zellman, Sr., RHP/2B/SS, Lacey
Matt Pickus, Jr., RHP, Jackson Liberty
Joe Felipe, Sr., LHP, Manchester
Zack Mann, Sr., RHP/3B, Donovan Catholic
Noah Dean, So., LHP Pinelands
Breakout Players to Watch
Jorden Jurkiewicz, So., C/3B, Lacey
Dave Melfi, So., Catcher, Jackson Liberty
Jack Felipe, So., Catcher, Manchester
Tyler Suydam, So., RHP, Barnegat
Patrick Feehan, Sr., Second Base, Point Boro