If anyone needs to be convinced the Class A South is still a dominant division, look no further than the 2017 season. Toms River South ascended to the top spot in the Shore Conference during the regular season before Toms River North and Southern grabbed the headlines in the tournaments. Toms River North finished tied for second in the division, yet claimed the No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 by winning both the Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournaments.

Southern, meanwhile, enjoyed a historic season by reaching the Ocean County Tournament final for the first time in nearly four decades and won its first sectional title in 50 years. The Rams finished fourth in the division behind the two Toms Rivers and Brick. Even Brick was worth noting for beating Southern and Toms River North once each during the season.

Throw in a Central team coming off a quality season and a Jackson Memorial program that is always dangerous and A South has the makings of another deep talented, collection of teams.

In predicted order of finish

Toms River North

Head Coach: Andy Pagano, fifth season
2017 Record: 20-7 (9-5, tied second in A South)
Key Returners: Craig Larsen (Sr., SS/RHP), Jared Bellissimo (Sr., 1B/LHP), Brendan Mullins (Sr., 1B/RHP), Justin Schaff (Sr., C), Alex Klalo (Sr., CF/INF), Nick Sibilia (Sr., OF), Donovan Varga (Sr., OF/C), Mike Centeno (Sr., RHP), Jonathan Giordano (Jr., OF/RHP), Dylan Feigin (Jr., 2B/SS)
Key Losses: Mike Nyisztor (SS), Austin Feigin (3B), Brody Sprinkle (RHP), Ian Mindas (OF/C)
Key Newcomers: Sean Aguiar (Jr., OF), Nick DeRose (So., 2B/3B), Robert Jeans (So., OF/RHP), Jake Dawson (So., C)

Toms River North senior Craig Larsen. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

It took a few weeks for the Mariners to get going last year, but once they found their groove, they were too much for most teams. Toms River North won both the Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournaments before running into a hot Lenape team in the South Jersey Group IV playoffs. While the Mariners must replace current Rutgers freshman Mike Nyisztor, who was an All-Shore shortstop as a junior and senior, as well has steady and versatile Austin Feigin, they bring back the vast majority of their innings.

Seniors Craig Larsen and Jared Bellissimo headed up the staff last year and will do so again – Larsen from the right side and Bellissimo from the left. Larsen, who will play at the University of Pennsylvania next year, made a strong case to be the SSN Player of the Year with his work on the mound, at the plate and at second base and will shift to shortstop for his senior year. Bellissimo – headed to Rutgers – is also a triple-threat, with a run-producing bat and a slick glove at first base. Penn State recruit Brendan Mullins also stepped up at the plate last year while providing another Division I arm in the rotation.

Junior Jonathan Giordano emerged as another dominant right-hander on the mound and has a chance to make the kind of offensive progress that Larsen made last year. Senior Mike Centeno is committed to the University of New Orleans and is yet another big right arm for coach Andy Pagano to lead on. Senior catcher Justin Schaff is back to handle the staff and senior Alex Klalo returns as well after playing a standout center field as a junior. With so much pitching back and some turnover at a couple of the other A South powers, Toms River North enters the season as the heavy favorite and should be a contender in Group IV come May.

 

Jackson Memorial

Head Coach: Frank Malta, 14th season
2017 Record: 10-13 (7-7, tied fifth in A South)
Key Returners: Matt D’Amore (Sr., RHP), Nick Sefick (Sr., RHP), Mike Dimino (Sr., RHP), Shawn Kellich (Sr., LHP), Alex Iadisernia (Jr., OF), Tom Pellone (Sr., DH), Kyle Thaiss (Sr., OF), Troy Bathmann (Jr., OF), Ryder Tallent (Sr., LHP), Mike Koslowski (Sr., 3B), Andrew Sefick (So., C)
Key Losses: Connor Takacs (LHP/OF), Dylan Kanner (1B/RHP), Tim Halasnick (DH/RHP), Jake Fox (3B), Ryan Boyle (2B), Collin McCulligh (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Nick Beetel (So., LHP), Carmine Petosa (So., 1B), Ty Beck (Fr., SS), Joe Princiotta (Jr., LHP), Christian Pellone (So., 2B), Ryan Balla (Sr., INF), Rocco LaVista (So., RHP), Ryan Lasko (So., OF), Tom Cartnick (So., C)

Two consecutive seasons with a record right around .500 happens to most programs, but it’s still strange to see it at a Jackson Memorial program that was churning out 20-win seasons like they were nothing up until 2016. Like Toms River North, Jackson Memorial returns most of its pitching staff, which should make the Jaguars a major factor in the division an in the conference once again. While the returning pitchers for Jackson don’t have the ironclad track record that some of the Toms River North pitchers do, the extra year of experience should work wonders.

Senior Matt D’Amore was the most effective of the returning pitchers last year, putting up a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings as a junior. Seniors Nick Sefick (Montclair) and Mike Dimino (Monmouth) are also committed right-handers in the Jaguars rotation, while seniors Shawn Kelich and and Ryder Tallent offer a left-handed look on the mound as well.

While Jackson Memorial lost some key bats in its lineup, there is plenty of thunder and potential thunder on hand for 2018. Junior outfielder and Elon commit Alex Iadisernia enters his third varsity season after an All-Shore campaign as a sophomore, while classmate and Iona commit Troy Bathmann joins him in the outfield. Senior Kyle Thaiss is also back and senior Tom Pellone returns after a big season with the bat as the team’s designated hitter. Sophomore first baseman Carmine Petosa – who already has a non-binding verbal committed to Wake Forest – leads a promising influx of sophomores, as well as freshman shortstop Ty Beck. While the pitching staff should be steady with all of its seniors, there is serious upside in the offense for this year and beyond.

 

Toms River South

Head Coach: Ken Frank, 41st season
2017 Record: 22-5 (13-1, first in A South)
Key Returners: T.J. Scuderi (Sr., OF/RHP), Tom Spiwak (Sr., RHP), Nico Gonella (Sr., SS), Colin Mackle (Jr., OF), Jordan Erbe (Jr., 2B/RHP), Sam Conover (Jr., OF)
Key Losses: Matt Shiffer (2B/RHP), Justin Fall (LHP/1B), Matt Fitzpatrick (1B), Tom Campo (SS), Ben Montenegro (3B), Dylan Danelson (CF), Jared Kwicinski (OF/RHP), Connor Leatherman (C)
Key Newcomers: Chris Mellot (Sr., OF/RHP), Derek Elmendorf (Sr., INF), Jake Towell (Sr., C), Gabe Driscoll (Jr., RHP), Mike Lazzaro (Jr., INF), Damian Scott (Jr., C/3B), Michael Montenegro (So., C), Justin Lowden (Jr., RHP/OF), Max Rivas (So., INF), Shane Pennell (Jr., OF/1B/LHP), Rich Sansone (Sr., RHP/1B), Joe Ferreri (So., 1B/RHP), Shane Gibson (So., INF), Fred Grove (So., 1B/LHP), Nick Iaderosa (So., OF), Brandon Leatherman (Jr., OF), Erik Narvaez (So., RHP), Brandon Rios (Jr., OF), Tyler Diaz (Jr., OF), Keifer Samul (So., RHP/INF), Logan Spakowski (So., INF/RHP), Christian Blaska (So., OF)

Toms River South senior T.J. Scuderi. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Toms River South’s senior-loaded 2017 team delivered a dominant A South regular-season performance, going 13-1 in a deep division to win yet another title during the illustrious career of coach Ken Frank. The Indians also came painfully close to winning the Ocean County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournaments, but suffered heartbreaking losses in the semifinals of all three.

With most of its 2017 lineup and a good amount of innings on the mound gone via graduation, Toms River South will have to dig into its pipeline, which is always rich with talent. On the bright side, its one returner is one of the top all-around players in the Shore Conference from a year ago. Senior T.J. Scuderi was Toms River South’s most powerful hitter a year ago and also one half of a one-two punch at the top of the rotation with Justin Fall. Scuderi is now the unquestioned ace of the staff, especially with junior right-hander Matt Hartshorn recovering from Tommy John surgery after a breakout sophomore campaign. Fortunately, the Indians also return senior Tom Spiwak, who held hitters to a .220 batting average and struck out 14 in 12 innings last year.

Juniors Colin Mackle and Jordan Erbe got a dose of playing time as sophomores and will be two key pieces in the lineup around Scuderi. Senior Nico Gonnella also got some time in the field and on the mound and will be part of the Indians’ leadership as well as its lineup. There is a lot to replace, but with Scuderi and some players ready to take on bigger roles, Toms River South has to be considered an A South contender, especially after winning the division by four games a year ago.

 

Central

Head Coach: Mike Casale, third season
2017 Record: 12-11 (7-7, tied fifth in A South)
Key Returners: Tyler Aires (Sr., RF), Tom Ruscitti (Sr., C), Shane Black (Sr., CF), Ryan Galati (Sr., 2B), Colin Stacy (Sr., SS), Vance Pelino (Sr., 3B), A.J. Smith (Sr., RHP)
Key Losses: Mike Bickford (3B), Jack Sudia (OF), Jared Morris (RHP/OF), Ryan Greene (1B/RHP)
Key Newcomers: Will Sedilo (Sr., C), Brandon Voss (Sr., 1B), R.J. Shea (Sr., 1B), Nick Altieri (Jr, OF), Scott Truhan (Jr, OF), Fisher Senatore (Jr., P), Mike Masino (So., INF), Daniel Greene (So., P)

While Class B South has certainly closed the talent gap between itself and Class A South in recent years, there is still something daunting about making the jump from B South to historically one of the toughest divisions in the state. That’s the move Central made between 2016 and 2017 and the Golden Eagles managed to improve despite taking on some of the giants of the Shore Conference during the regular season.

The news gets even better from there for Central – the Eagles return a healthy helping of talent from last year’s squad. Although workhorse Jared Morris graduated, senior right-hander A.J. Smith is back after emerging as Central’s ace and an All-Shore pitcher who posted a miniscule 1.05 ERA over 42 2/3 innings with a pristine 5-0 record.

Despite the loss of a pair of quality hitters in Mike Bickford and Jack Sudia, the Eagles bring back plenty of thump in the starting nine. Senior right fielder Tyler Aires was an All-Shore hitter as a junior and Farleigh Dickinson recruit Tommy Ruscitti is two years removed from an All-Shore season as a catcher. Seniors Shane Black, Ryan Galati and Colin Stacy are strong both ways, with Black patrolling center field and Galati (second base) and Stacy (shortstop) forming the double-play combination. Senior Vance Pellino emerged as a slugging DH and will take over at third base for Bickford. The experience back in the fold gives Central a good base of talent to climb in the standings and make a run toward the top of the standings.

 

Toms River East

Head Coach: Keith Smicklo, second season
2017 Record: 3-17 (2-12, seventh in A South)
Key Returners: Nick DeGennaro (Sr., RHP/OF), Brad Brush (Sr., RHP/OF), Danny Clemente (Sr., OF), Jason Longo (Sr., OF), Shaun Sullivan (Sr., 2B), Ahmir Cournier (Jr., SS), Brandon Coyle (Jr., LHP), Rob Cenci (Sr., INF), Ryan Goodall (So., C/OF), Jordan Daly (Sr., P), Justin Donnamaria (Sr., P), Jared Mizrachi (Sr., RHP/INF)
Key Losses: Darren Scholl (RHP/OF), Jordan Lewis (OF), Alex Waldron (C)
Key Newcomers: Matt Santos (So., RHP/1B), Mike Farinaccio (So., INF), Aidan Meola (Fr., INF), Joe Ussery (Fr., C)

Although Toms River East is coming off a frustrating three-win season, there is reason for optimism at Raider Ravine. Even through the struggles last year, Toms River East rolled out quality pitching and the key pieces in the rotation are back this year. Senior right-handers Nick DeGennaro and Brad Brush led a staff that allowed 114 runs overall, which was in the top half of teams in A South. DeGennaro was an All-Shore pitcher as a junior and is committed to Stony Brook after he ran a Shore-best 54-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2017.

The problem for Toms River East last year was its 3.2 runs per game, by far the worst in A South. DeGennaro as also one of his team’s top bats, but did have some help that is back for this season. Senior center fielder Danny Clemente hit .339 in the top third of the order and will be a centerpiece of the offense once again. Brush and senior Jason Longo are also back in the outfield, while senior Shaun Sullivan and junior Ahmir Cournier return as the double-play combination, with Cournier playing shortstop.

Junior Brandon Coyle got some time on the mound last year and will back up the two right-handers at the top. Senior Jared Mizrachi chipped in at the plate and has some innings in his right arm and sophomore Matt Santos could fit a similar profile. Sophomore Ryan Goodall is catcher-ready and can also play a quality outfield if freshman Joe Ussery forces his way into playing time. Ussery and classmate Aidan Meola have a chance to contribute right away for a team that just needs a little bit of a push on offense to get over the hump in the A South race.

 

Brick Memorial

Head Coach: Evan Rizzitello, eighth season
2017 Record: 6-19 (1-13, eighth in A South)
Key Returners: Nick Stephan (Sr., RHP), Trevor Sherman (Sr., LHP), Blaine Netterman (Sr., OF/RHP), Mike Sullivan (1B/RHP), Mike Murphy (Jr., C), Torrey Savoia (Jr., RHP), Tristan Savoia (Jr., RHP/INF), T.J. Rosace (Jr., SS/RHP), Graham Harrigan (Jr., OF/RHP), Nick Gillen (So., RHP/UTIL)
Key Losses: Ray Lutick (RHP), Joey Howell (SS)
Key Newcomers: Alex Benson (SR., OF), Logan Bailey (Sr., 3B), Joe Casselli (Jr., C), Greg Hanlon (Jr., INF), Mark DeFelice (Jr., RHP/3B), Ed Glinka (Jr., P/1B), Bryan Baxter (Jr., OF), Nick Doubt (So., C/DH), Colin Turner (So., OF/DH), Sean Beck (So., 3B), Joe Terkildsen (So., INF/P), Kyle Cline (So., RHP), Max Cala (Fr., OF)

Brick Memorial’s 2017 team was an example of how tough life in A South can be with an inexperienced team that has to follow a successful senior-laden team. Right-hander Ray Lutick was the only returning contributor and after he and shortstop Joey Howell graduated, there will be a lot more experience coming back this season. One of the faces coming back is senior Nick Stephan, who actually was a key pitcher on the 2016 team but missed the entire 2017 campaign due to injury.

Stephan, who is committed to George Washington, will lead the pitching staff that has some innings coming back, most notably from senior left-hander Trevor Sherman. Most of Brick Memorial’s remaining pitching staff will be dual threat players from a lineup that has a chance to do more damage this season. Senior Blaine Netterman was among the team’s top run-producers last year, while junior catcher Mike Murphy and senior first baseman Mike Sullivan add to the list of run-producers. Senior T.J. Rosace will take over shortstop and spend time on the mound while also factoring prominently into the meat of the lineup.

Last year marked the beginning of a long climb back toward the top of the standings for Brick Memorial and with most of the team back this year, the Mustangs look ready to take a step or two toward that ultimate destination.

 

Southern

Head Coach: Keith Cocuzza, third season
2017 Record: 18-10 (8-6, fourth in A South)
Key Returners: Marcos Matias (Sr., C), Cole Markley (Jr., SS), Joe Colonna (Sr., OF), Austin Pharo (Sr., 2B/SS), Colin Flood (Sr., RHP/OF), Andrew Luongo (Sr., RHP), Mike Liantonio (Sr., 3B)
Key Losses: Pat Barrett (SS/RHP), Nolan Watson (C), Joey Robertson (2B), Nick Simone (RHP), Zach Fillmore (LHP), Noah Brown (OF), Garrett Lange (OF), Zach Oddo (1B), Vaughn Walker (OF)
Key Newcomers: Nick Downey (Sr., SS/3B), Brady Clark (Sr., 1B), A.J. Mandel (Jr., 1B), Frankie Pellegrino (Jr., RHP/3B), Mike Schiatarella (Jr., RHP/SS), John Tilton (Jr., RHP), Joe Capone (Sr., 3B/OF), Tyler Colon (Sr., OF/LHP), Matt Marinelli (Sr., RHP), Jordan Rosser (Sr., RHP)

Southern is another A South team that will have to replace a deep senior class, but there are much different dynamics at work in its case. The Rams enjoyed their best season in 50 years, winning the South Jersey Group IV title for the first time since 1967 and reaching the Ocean County Tournament final for the first time since the early 1980’s. The seniors on last year’s team were a program-changing group and this year’s team will not only be tasked with carrying on the tradition, but it will have to do it with new starters at almost every new spot.

Even returning starters Marcos Matias and Cole Markley will be at new positions this year. Matias moves from left field to catcher, taking over for All-Shore backstop Nolan Watson. Markley, meanwhile, will replace All-Shore two-way standout Pat Barrett at shortstop and will look to complement Matias in the batting order. Seniors Joe Colonna, Austin Pharo and Mark Liantonio all got a varsity taste as juniors, with Colonna getting at-bats in the outfield and Pharo playing shortstop when Barrett pitched.

Senior right-handers Andrew Luongo and Colin Flood pitched some important innings for Southern, which should give the Rams a base with which to replace one of the Shore’s top three-man rotations – led by right-hander Nick Simone, left-hander Zach Fillmore and Barrett. Southern showed it can compete with the top teams in Group IV last year and the goal this year is to show it was about more than just a standout Class of 2018.

 

Brick

Head Coach: Jason Groschel, 13th season
2017 Record: 14-9 (9-5, tied second in A South)
Key Returners: Chris Salsano (Sr., 2B), Joe Guerra (Jr., C), Vin Galdieri (Sr., SS), Mike Brunner (Sr., 1B/P), Cole Groschel (Jr., CF)
Key Losses: John Prato (CF), Mike Soldo (LHP/1B), A.J. Serrino (3B), Matt Stadelberger (SS/RHP), Kenny Bala (OF), John Zurawski (RHP), Jayden Tisseker (RHP), Jerry Hutchison (C)
Key Newcomers: Kyle Sullivan (Sr., OF/P), John Coppola (Sr., 1B/OF), Joel Ramirez (Sr., OF), Joe Espana (Sr., RHP/3B), Jimmy Leblo (Jr., P/OF), Joe Carchio (Jr., OF/P), Christian Malta (Jr., OF/1B), Mike McGuigan (Jr., INF), Tom Powell (Jr., P/3B), Tyler Skurat (Jr., 3B), Anthony Prato (So., INF)

Add Brick to the list of teams that is losing a lot of starting talent all at once. The Green Dragons have put together a nice run of competitive seasons going back to their breakthrough 2011 and that stretch of success will be put to the test this year. Almost the entire pitching staff from 2017 is graduated, leaving a wave of newcomers to pick up the innings. Senior Mike Brunner pitched 4 1/3 innings last year and will play a key role in establishing a pecking order of pitchers along with a wave of players new to varsity playing time.

Brick is a little more stable on the position player side of things, particularly with the return of senior second baseman Chris Salsano off a breakout junior campaign. Junior catcher Joe Guerra could be primed for a similar breakout after holding his own as a sophomore, while Brunner, senior Vin Galderi and junior Cole Groschel bring back experience as well. Brunner will play first, Galderri will take over at shortstop and Groschel – the son of head coach Jason Groschel – will move to center field to replace former All-Shore outfielder John Prato.

With two other teams in similar predicaments as it pertains to inexperience, there is definitely a window for Brick to contend this year if everything breaks right, particularly with the returning players at Toms River East and Brick Memorial still having a lot to prove after rough seasons last year. Toms River North, Jackson Memorial and Central appear to be the best bets to finish in the top half of the division and as long as Scuderi is healthy, Toms River South should be there too. The picture is unclear after that, which is why Brick, Southern, Brick Memorial and Toms River East should all feel pretty good about pushing toward the right side of .500.

 

Division Lineup

Marcos Matias, Sr., Catcher, Southern (.306/.398/.494, 11 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 16 R, 13 RBI, 6 SB)

Tom Ruscitti, Sr., Catcher, Central (.277/.429/.385, 7 2B, 12 R, 10 RBI, 4 SB)

Chris Salsano, Sr., 2B, Brick (.325/.393/.429, 6 2B, 1 3B, 18 R, 14 RBI)

Craig Larsen, Sr., SS/RHP, Toms River North (.396/.445/.563, 14 2B, 1 3B, 20 R, 24 RBI, 4 SB)

Tom Pellone, Sr., DH, Jackson Memorial (.375/.458/.556, 7 2B, 2 HR, 12 R, 10 RBI)

T.J. Scuderi, Sr., OF, Toms River South (.388/.484/.675, 5 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 25 R, 25 RBI, 12 SB)

Alex Iadisernia, Jr., OF, Jackson Memorial (.380/.457/.577, 6 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 16 R, 14 RBI)

Tyler Aires, Sr., OF, Central (.329/.410/.548, 7 R, 3 HR, 15 R, 22 RBI, 4 SB)

Danny Clemente, Sr., OF, Toms River East (.339/.444/.424, 2 2B, 1 HR, 9 R, 8 RBI)

 

Division Rotation (With 2017 Stats)

Nick DeGennaro, Sr., RHP, Toms River East (3-3, 39 IP, 33 H, 4 BB, 54 K, 2.15 ERA)

Jared Bellissimo, Sr., LHP, Toms River North (6-1, 47.1 IP, 40 H, 16 BB, 42 K, 1.78 ERA)

Brendan Mullins, Sr., RHP, Toms River North (4-1, 30.2 IP, 31 H, 13 BB, 26 K, 3.65 ERA)

A.J. Smith, Sr., RHP, Central (5-0, 42.2 IP, 25 H, 14 BB, 18 K, 1.15 ERA)

Matt D’Amore, Sr., RHP, Jackson Memorial (4-1, 31 IP, 22 H, 15 BB, 25 K, 2.03 ERA)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Colin Mackle, Jr., OF, Toms River South

Jonathan Giordano, Jr., RHP/OF, Toms River North

Carmine Petosa, So., 1B, Jackson Memorial

Cole Markley, Jr., SS, Southern

Joe Guerra, Jr., C, Brick

 

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