It did not take long for Jackson Liberty to emerge as the preeminent team in Class B South under coach Jim Rankin, the only coach in the short history of the program. In each of the past three seasons, however, the Lions have had to settle for a consolation prize despite remaining competitive as the rest of the division has raised its level of play thanks to a number of high-end players passing through.

Class B South still has talent and a whole lot of it will be on two rosters this season – one of which is the aforementioned Jackson Liberty squad. The Lions have a chance to have one of their better teams and while that’s not saying something given their brief existence, it does say something considering Jackson Liberty has been to a Shore Conference Tournament final and racked up multiple B South titles.

Meanwhile Pinelands is also lining up for a big two-year push and if everything clicks for both the Wildcats and the Lions, the two could form quite the rivalry over the next two years while dominating the rest of the division. The other teams in the field will have something to say about that, but can anyone stop either favorite from winning the regular-season crown?

 

In predicted order of finish

Jackson Liberty

Head Coach: Jim Rankin, 11th season
2017 Record: 17-10 (10-4, second in B South)
Key Returners: David Melfi (Jr., C), Matt Pickus (Sr., RHP), Rich Dordas (Sr., 1B/LHP), Billy Hart (Sr., 1B/C), Connor Keenan (Jr., OF), Daniel Sofield (Jr., SS), Kevin Ritz (Jr., RHP), Alex Torres (Jr., 2B), Nick DeCarlo (Jr., RHP), Scott Wierciszewski (Jr., OF), Shane Hickey (So., 3B/2B)
Key Losses: Kyle Tavaska (CF), Matt Piro (RHP), Andrew Ludovico (RHP), Matt Hickman (2B/OF)
Key Newcomers: Dan Dordas (Sr., P), Charlie Rudderow (Jr., OF), Brandon Kinsman (So., UTIL)

Jackson Liberty senior Billy Hart. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Although Jackson Liberty was somewhat unpredictable over the course of the season, that was as a very young team and one that showed some big-game chops down the stretch. The Lions lost a couple of close divisional games to miss out on a chance to challenge Lacey for the division title, but they also beat the division champs once to spark a late-season surge. They played Toms River South tough twice in two losses – once in the Shore Conference Tournament – and beat second-seeded Steinert in the Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals.

All of those accomplishments came from a team that started two seniors in the field and leaned on two more as part of a deep pitching rotation. That means Jackson Liberty has a whole lot of talent back this year and most of it is in the junior class. Catcher David Melfi leads that group coming off an All-Shore season as a sophomore backstop. The double-play duo is also a pair of juniors – Daniel Sofield at shortstop and Alex Torres at second base -  while junior outfielders Connor Keenan and Scott Wiercizewski are also back.

The Lions are not without senior impact players either, most notably at the top of the pitching staff with All-Shore right-hander Matt Pickus and senior left-hander Rich Dordas. Senior Billy Hart is also a solid catcher who has contributed as the designated hitter over the past two seasons. Juniors right-handers Kevin Ritz and Nick DeCarlo are the other returning members of the pitching staff. Jackson Liberty also has a standout sophomore in third baseman Shane Hickey, who hit a shade under .500 and posted an OPS north of 1.000 as a freshman. With Hickey and the slew of juniors, the future is certainly bright at Jackson Liberty and based on last year’s finish, the present looks pretty promising as well.

 

Pinelands

Head Coach: Rob Sanzari, sixth season
2017 Record: 13-12 (8-6, tied third in B South)
Key Returners: Joey Ventresca (Jr., SS/RHP), Anthony Diaz (Jr., 3B), Noah Dean (Jr., LHP/OF), Sean O’Rourke (Sr., 1B/OF), Peter Hammond (Jr., RHP/1B), Nick Rapallo (Sr., 2B), Jimmy Zazenski (So., C), Bryce O’Rourke (So., 2B/SS), Patrick Apgar (So., RHP), Bobby LeFevre (Jr., OF), Billy Crawford (Jr., INF)
Key Losses: Chris Burke (2B/SS), Tommy Madge (OF), Brandon Weedo (C), Tommy Allen (OF), Joey McDonald (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Danny Thomas (Sr., OF), Matt Ingold (Sr., RHP), Colin Sweeney (Sr., OF), Jake Sobara (Jr., OF), Tommy Gessner (So., C)

Pinelands junior Joey Ventresca. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Just like the team ranked just ahead of them to open the season, Pinelands is the beneficiary of a strong crop of juniors who have already begun to show their promise. Right-hander Joey Ventresca and left-hander Noah Dean have won big games over the first two seasons of their varsity careers. Dean started against Red Sox prospect Jay Groome in a game as a freshman and last year, he pitched a no-hitter against Lakewood, beat division champ Lacey and beat St. Rose on the road in the Shore Conference Tournament. Ventresca, meanwhile, beat Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year Connor Muly and Manasquan in the SCT, 1-0, and lost to Toms River South, 1-0, in the SCT quarterfinals.

The excellence of the junior class is not limited to the top two spots in the rotation. Third baseman Anthony Diaz hit .376 out of the leadoff spot in his second varsity season and right-hander Peter Hammond gave the Wildcats 24 2/3 quality innings while establishing himself as a strong No. 3 option behind the two aces. With the junior trio on the hill, Pinelands has pitching that is ahead of its hitting but Diaz and Ventresca lead an improving lineup and a quality defense. Pinelands’ best lineup is probably with Dean on the mound, which allows Ventresca to play shortstop and lock in at the plate, where he hit .338.

Senior first baseman Sean O’Rourke is back in the middle of the order after eclipsing the .400 mark in both on-base and slugging percentage last year. Senior Nick Rappallo is also back as the team’s second baseman and sophomore catcher Jimmy Zazenski showed as a freshman last year he could handle a good pitching staff. With apologies to O’Rourke, Rappallo and fellow seniors Danny Thomas, Matt Ingold and Colin Sweeney, Pinelands is a team built to be at its best as a senior-loaded team in 2019, but that doesn’t mean the Wildcats can’t arrive early with a season to remember in 2018.

 

Barnegat

Head Coach: Dan McCoy, seventh season
2017 Record: 10-15 (5-9, tied sixth in B South)
Key Returners: Tyler Suydam (Jr., RHP), Ryan Bush (Sr., RHP), Liam Corbett (Sr., RHP), Lucas Torres (So., CF), Brian Finucan (Jr., LF), Luke Bush (So., C)
Key Losses: Aaron McLaughlin (SS/RHP), Justin Diefenbach (2B/RHP), Nik Caputo (1B), Christian Padilla (2B/3B), Evan Albanese (OF), Anthony Lani (C)
Key Newcomers: Joe Coleman (Jr., INF), David MacGillivray (Jr., INF), Dexter Dambroski (Jr., LHP), Ethan Fox (Jr., INF), Liam Lynch-Bell (Jr., OF), Nick Danbrowney (Fr., RHP), Matt Scott (So., INF), Kenny McKeon (Jr., INF)

For about as long as the program has existed, Barnegat’s baseball team has been one built around pitching that has ranged from quality to dominant – not surprising given how heavily-involved former pitcher Dan McCoy has been in shaping the program. His son, Mark McCoy, was the first blue-chip pitcher at Barnegat and eventually gave way to Seamus Brazil and, of course, Jay Groome. Last year’s staff was not the same dominant staff that boasted Brazil and Groome in 2014, but the Bengals were again a strong pitching team with Justin Diefenbach, Tyler Suydam, Liam Corbett and Ryan Bush on the mound.

Three of the four starters return this year, with only Diefenbach graduating after last season. Suydam was an all-division pitcher as a sophomore in 2017 and is likely to lead the staff. Right-handers Corbett and Bush also return as seniors, with Corbett posting an ERA under 3.00 as a junior. Left-hander Dexter Dambroski is another junior arm who is looking forward to a breakout season and is already committed to play at St. Peter’s University.

Barnegat has never had a juggernaut offense, but has had some capable hitters in recent years. This year’s team will be inexperienced at the plate and particularly on the infield, where the Bengals will start a mix of junior and sophomore newcomers. In the outfield, the Bengals return sophomore centerfielder Lucas Torres off a solid freshman debut and junior Brian Finucan – the team’s top all-around returning hitter. Sophomore Luke Bush is also back at catcher after getting time as a freshman and with the development of Bush and Torres, plus some production from the newcomers, the Bengals could be a threat to spoil the party for Jackson Liberty and Pinelands given how much pitching they have.

 

Lacey

Head Coach: Corey Hamman, sixth season
2017 Record: 21-6 (12-2, first in B South)
Key Returners: Jorden Jurkiewicz (Jr., C), Keith Apostolos (Sr., SS), Miles Feaster (Sr., INF), Anthony Tobia (Sr., CF), Colin Trembley (Jr., OF/P)
Key Losses: Anthony Elefante (RHP/OF), Don Zellman (RHP/2B), Justin Thompson (OF), Brandon Haggerty (1B/LHP), Tom Coraggio (RHP), Evan Ross (3B), Jarrett Dial (RHP/UTIL)
Key Newcomers: Evan Wallis (Sr., RHP), Sam Sramaty (Jr., RHP), Jacob Bowles (Fr., 1B/P)

Lacey had its best baseball season ever with a special senior class, which led the Lions to their first 20-win season and first division title. The Lions will miss that class dearly, even if they are able to restock the team with some capable underclassmen. Four starters from last year return and while that is a decent amount for a team trying to reload, none of them were part of Lacey’s dominant pitching staff that was the No. 1 reason the Lions went 21-6 last year.

Only one returning varsity player will get a chance to pitch this year, which is junior Colin Trembley, who played some outfield and did some pinch-and-courtesy-running last year. Senior Evan Wallis, junior Sam Sramaty and freshman Jacob Bowles will be among the group coach Corey Hamman tabs to pick up some of the slack left behind by Anthony Elefante, Don Zellman and Tom Coraggio.

Elefante and Zellman were also key parts of the offense, as were left-handed sluggers Justin Thompson and Brandon Haggerty. Lacey’s offense had its best year under Hamman last year and this year’s group should at least approach what last year’s lineup did. Junior catcher and University of Maryland commit Jorden Jurkiewicz will be the centerpiece of the offense after hitting .298 with eight extra-base hits as a sophomore in the top third of the order. Senior shortstop Keith Apostolos is also back after a productive year at the plate and a standout job in the field. Seniors Miles Feaster and Anthony Tobia also started last year and will be key cogs this time around as Lacey tries to piece together a team capable of defending the B South title.

 

Point Pleasant Boro

Head Coach: Dave Drew, eighth season
2017 Record: 10-13 (6-8, sixth in B South)
Key Returners: Sam Collins (Jr., SS/RHP), Trent LiVolsi (Jr., C/1B), Nick Guzzi (So., RHP/3B)
Key Losses: Tom Paul (OF/RHP), Josiah Gliddon (RHP/1B), Kyle Lauria (3B), Justin Rafi (C), Patrick Feehan (2B), John Sullivan (OF), Ben Herman (OF/P)
Key Newcomers: Ryan Sansone (Sr., 3B/P/C/1B), Andrew Laspina (Sr., OF/P/1B), Cole Weingarten (Sr., 3B), Jack Brennan (Sr., INF), Joe Letizia (Sr., OF/2B/P), Michael Krey (Sr., OF), Christian Aurin (Jr., P/OF/C), Paul Franceschini (Jr., OF/P/1B), Dylan Kleinfeldt (Jr., OF/P), Jack Bycseck (Jr., 2B), Cole Young (So., OF/P), Sam Young (So., OF/P), Luke Severio (So., OF/P), Ryan Jasaitis (So., C), Connor Kennedy (So., INF), Nick Zbikowski (So., 2B/SS)

Point Boro last year was in a situation similar to the one Lacey is in this year. The Panthers bid farewell to an excellent senior class that won 20 games and had to endure some growing pains in 2017 with a lot of young, inexperienced players around just a few returnees. Even with all those new players last year, Point Boro still has seven starters to replace heading into this season and will do so with another wave of youth.

Junior Sam Collins and sophomore Nick Guzzi will make up the left side of the infield, with Guzzi taking the spot held by Kyle Lauria last year. Guzzi played some outfield last year and was one of Point Boro’s top three pitchers along with graduated right-handers Tom Paul and Josiah Gliddon. Collins could also get a chance to pitch this season, while classmate Trent LiVolsi will either handle the catching duties or play first base as a starter.

Ryan Sansone, Andrew Laspina, Cole Weingarten and Jack Brennan are among the seniors who will have a chance to help out the Panthers in their quest to build another winner. Plenty of new juniors and sophomores will be part of the mix as well, with twins Cole and Sam Young looking like potential starters in the outfield. There will be a lot of moving parts heading into the year, but there has been plenty of competition during the preseason and the Panthers are likely to come up with a lineup that resembles a contender.

 

Manchester

Head Coach: Dave Beauchemin, third season
2017 Record: 11-12 (8-6, tied third in B South)
Key Returners: Jack Felipe (Jr., C), Jimmy Johns (So., CF/LHP), Derek Schmidt (Sr., 1B), Jagger Karaksa (Sr., P), James Cuber (Sr., P), Jacob Roberts (Jr., P)
Key Losses: Gavin Pabst (RHP/3B), Patrick Carney (SS/RHP), Kirk Montanye (OF), Steven Rodriguez (2B), Joe Felipe (LHP), Matt Migliaccio (CF)
Key Newcomers: John Simonini (Sr., 2B), Markel Hourigan (Jr., 3B), Alex Hunsinger (Jr., OF), Evan Scala (So., LF), Ryan Costello (Fr., RF/P)

In his first two seasons as the head coach at Manchester, Dave Beauchemin – who has also won two NJSIAA sectional championships as head coach of the Hawks girls basketball team – has led his team to a 16-12 record within B South behind 8-6 records each year. That’s a noteworthy accomplishment in a division that has been very competitive in recent years and it happened thanks, in part, to a pretty strong collection of players. Six of those players graduated after last season, which included a trip to the Ocean County Tournament semifinals on top of the 8-6 division record.

With those six key players gone, it will be a blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen looking to keep the upward trend going under the third-year skipper. The most prominent returnees are junior catcher Jack Felipe and sophomore centerfielder Jimmy Johns, who broke onto the scene as a freshman both with the bat and with his arm on the mound. Felipe hit .317 with five doubles while Johns profiles perfectly at the top of the lineup with a .309 average, 11 runs scored and 10 stolen bases a year ago.

Senior Derek Schmidt is also back at first base to give the Hawks another experienced hitter with Felipe and Johns, while Jagger Karaksa, James Kuber and Jacob Roberts will add to the rotation after getting some work last year. Among the newcomers are promising underclassmen Evan Scala and Ryan Costello. Scala is a sophomore outfielder and Costello will help out in the outfield and on the mound, much like Johns did as a freshman last year. The young guys are getting thrown into the fire, but they are playing with a couple of returning standouts who have successfully followed the blueprint.

 

Donovan Catholic

Head Coach: Bill Beining, third season
2017 Record: 6-14 (5-9, tied sixth in B South)
Key Returners: Matt Morro (Jr., SS/CF), Ryan Miller (Sr., 1B/P), Eian Gilroy (Jr., OF/P), Ross Artale (Sr., OF), Sawyer Conrad (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Zack Mann (RHP/3B), Bart Goble (RHP/1B/3B), Ryan O’Sullivan (2B), Gerard Russo (SS), Nick DeMaio (Sr., C) – transferred to Toms River North; Jonathan Poplawski (Sr., LHP) – transferred to Toms River North
Key Newcomers: Christian Cmur (Jr., OF), Andrew Connallon (Jr., P), Brandon DuPont (Jr., C), Liam Leonard (So., C/OF), Christian McElroy (So., 3B/1B/SS), J.T. Murphy (Jr., 2B/P), Anthony Stefanelli (Jr., OF), Matt Weeden (So., P), Frankie Dominici (Fr., 3B), Sam Gates (Fr., OF), Nick Marchetta (Fr., SS/2B), Jarek Vargas (Fr., 1B/P)

Last year, Donovan Catholic upheld its reputation as a team that can shut teams down with the top of its rotation. Behind Zach Mann and Jonathan Poplawski, the Griffins had two pitchers who gave the Griffins a chance to win throughout the season. The problem for Donovan Catholic was that it could rarely score enough to make those outings count. The Griffins scored a division-low 63 runs in 20 games and their 3.15 runs per game was the lowest average in the Shore Conference in 2017.

For Donovan Catholic to have a chance at competing in B South, the offense will have to make significant strides and that is even more of a necessity with Mann gone to graduation and Poplawski now at Toms River North. Along with Mann and graduated slugger Bart Goble, current junior Matt Morro was Donovan Catholic’s best hitter last year and will be the driving force in the lineup again as the leadoff hitter. Morro played centerfield last year and could see action at shortstop. Seniors Ryan Miller, Ross Artale and Sawyer Conrad will all be contributors in the lineup, with Artale and Conrad in the outfield and Miller in the cleanup spot as the first baseman.

Pitching will be the key again for Donovan Catholic, which has junior Andrew Connallon, Miller, sophomore Liam Leonard, sophomore Christian McElroy and sophomore Matt Weeden lined up for innings. The staff will throw to junior catcher Brandon DuPont, another first-year starter. Coming off a rough offensive season in 2017, Donovan Catholic will have to replace the top-end pitching from a year ago or transform themselves as a lineup in order to compete at the top of the division.

 

Lakewood (Information not submitted)

Head Coach: Gene Drumright, 14th season
2017 Record: 4-14 (2-12, eighth in B South)

 

Division Lineup (With 2017 Stats)

David Melfi, Jr., Catcher, Jackson Liberty (.376/.416/.645, 15 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 18 R, 27 RBI)

Sean O’Rourke, Sr., 1B, Pinelands (.358/.436/.433, 3 2B, 1 3B, 8 R, 11 RBI)

Daniel Sofield, Jr., SS, Jackson Liberty (.318/.430/.348, 2 2B, 20 R, 13 RBI)

Anthony Diaz, Jr., 3B, Pinelands (.376/.407/.388, 1 2B, 15 R, 7 RBI, 9 SB)

Shane Hickey, So., 3B, Jackson Liberty (.448/.500/.597, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 18 R, 17 RBI)

Matt Morro, Jr., CF/SS, Donovan Catholic (.333/.391/.397, 1 2B, 1 HR, 13 R, 8 RBI, 8 SB)

James Johns, So., OF, Manchester (.309/.390/.397, 2 2B, 2 3B, 11 R, 9 RBI, 10 SB)

Lucas Torres, So., OF, Barnegat (.254/.367/.343, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 R, 10 RBI, 13 SB)

Jorden Jurkiewicz, Jr., C, Lacey (.298/.398/.452, 4 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 20 R, 9 RBI)

 

Division Rotation (With 2017 Stats)

Matt Pickus, Sr., RHP, Jackson Liberty (6-3, 54 IP, 43 H, 8 BB, 41 K, 1.56 ERA)

Joey Ventresca, Jr., RHP, Pinelands (4-3, 42 IP, 28 H, 17 BB, 47 K, 1.50 ERA)

Noah Dean, Jr., LHP, Pinelands (5-3, 46.1 IP, 33 H, 29 BB, 62 K, 1.99 ERA)

Tyler Suydam, Jr., RHP, Barnegat (3-2, 36.1 IP, 27 H, 11 BB, 29 K, 3.47 ERA)

Peter Hammond, Jr., RHP, Pinelands (2-2, 24.2 IP, 14 H, 13 BB, 23 K, 2.55 ERA)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Keith Apostolos, Sr., SS, Lacey

Nick Guzzi, So., RHP/3B, Point Boro

Evan Scala, So., LF, Manchester

Nick DeCarlo, Jr., RHP, Jackson Liberty

Ryan Bush, Sr., RHP, Barnegat

 

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