Baseball – A Look at the Week Ahead for the Top 10
We are only one day into the Shore Conference baseball season, so it’s still very early as far as seeing which Top 10 teams will stick and which ones may be in for a turbulent season.
Top-ranked Christian Brothers Academy started off the season with the best victory of any team by topping No. 5 Colts Neck, 5-2, for a quality win early in the Colts’ Class A North schedule. Meanwhile, No. 6 Manalapan fell to unranked Freehold Township thanks to the late-inning heroics of junior Chris Talbott. Since there has only been one day of games, we will wait until the week shakes out before making any changes to the rankings.
Here is a look at what to watch among Top 10 teams this week as the season gets into swing and several ranked teams receive stern tests right off the bat.
- Christian Brothers Academy (1-0)
Heading into the season, CBA’s strength clearly appeared to be its deep pitching rotation and that showed in an impressive 5-2 win over one of the top offensive teams in the Shore, Colts Neck, in the season opener on Monday. Senior John McCarren, a Wake Forest recruit, allowed two runs on four hits, striking out six, in five innings to get the win, and Pittsburgh recruit Matt Pidich, another senior, pitched a pair of hitless innings to nail down the win. Second baseman Mike Caputo led the offense by going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI in the win. Next up in Class A North is Middletown North on Wednesday with North Carolina recruit Joe Dudek on the mound and then defending Class A North champion Middletown South on Friday with Pidich getting the start.
2. Red Bank Catholic (0-0)
The Caseys kick off their season on Tuesday with a Class A Central game against Monmouth Regional, followed by another divisional game at Rumson-Fair Haven on Wednesday. While RBC is the heavy favorite to win those first two games, another one to keep an eye on is Friday at 10 a.m. at Count Basie Field. RBC will christen its new field, which is the first artificial turf baseball field in the Shore Conference, by playing old rival St. John Vianney in a pivotal Class A Central game. Maryland-bound senior ace Mike Rescigno will most likely take the mound against a tough St. John Vianney lineup that put 13 runs on Rumson in the Lancers’ season opener Monday.
3. Jackson Memorial (0-0)
The Jaguars will not get to ease into the season at all, as they will be tested immediately with their Class A South schedule. They could see Brick Memorial senior ace Brian Cottrell in their opener on Tuesday and then will face either Toms River North senior star Ron Marinaccio or Duke-bound senior Karl Blum in a big early-season game on Thursday against the No. 4 Mariners.
4. Toms River North (0-0)
The Mariners had their season opener against Barnegat on Monday postponed thanks to poor field conditions from Sunday’s rain, so they will get things started with a Class A South game against Lacey on Tuesday. That will be followed by a crucial divisional game against No. 3 Jackson Memorial on Thursday that could be pivotal in the division race down the line. The Mariners follow that by facing another tough team from Jackson, No. 8 Jackson Liberty, in a nondivisional game on Friday.
5. Colts Neck (0-1)
The Cougars were dealt a 5-2 loss by No. 1 CBA in their opener, but look to be a factor in the Class A North race all season. They battled against a pair of ACC recruits, getting both of their runs on a two-run blast by one of their Division I recruits, West Virginia-bound catcher Matt Kleinstein. They will look to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole when they face another strong Class A North contender in Marlboro on Wednesday, followed by a home game against Howell on Friday. One of Colts Neck’s unknowns coming into the season was pitching depth, so this week should give a glimpse into the number of quality arms the Cougars can roll out in playing three games in five days.
6. Manalapan (0-1)
The Braves were on the wrong end of the biggest upset of opening day when they fell 4-3 to Class A North rival Freehold Township after the Patriots’ Chris Talbott hit a two-out grand slam in the top of the seventh inning for the winning margin. While the loss certainly stings the two-time defending NJSIAA Group IV champions early on, this is clearly a team that is not going to panic over one setback. They muddled through a nondescript regular season last spring and then caught fire to win Group IV again, so this is a group that has dealt with adversity and kept plugging away. There is no time to dwell on the opening loss considering this is a tough week with defending Class A North champion Middletown South on Wednesday and then a home game against a tough Marlboro team on Friday.
7. Toms River South (0-0)
The Indians make their season debut with a home game against rival Toms River East on Thursday as the Frank brothers and their combined nine million wins renew acquaintances. Toms River South lost some key talent to graduation but always seems to find a way to reload, while Toms River East is looking to become a factor in the division race again for the first time in several years, so this is an early glimpse into how things may turn out. Toms River South will then take on Lacey on Thursday followed by a nondivisional game against Red Bank Regional on Saturday at Central as part of the “Strike Out Autism’’ event.
8. Jackson Liberty (0-0)
The Lions will kick off their season with a Class B South game against Pinelands on Tuesday in a division where they are the heavy favorite to take the crown after being realigned from the now-defunct Class C Central. They follow that with another divisional game against Central on Thursday and then a chance to make an early-season statement with a nondivisional game against No. 4 Toms River North on Friday.
9. Freehold (0-0)
The Colonials take on Red Bank Regional on Tuesday in a bid to get their chase for the Class B North crown off to a positive start, then take on perennial power Wall on Wednesday followed by a divisional game against Matawan on Friday. The Colonials could see Red Bank ace Brian Wikoff, a Navy recruit, on Tuesday and then face a Wall team eager to show everyone that it will not miss a beat despite heavy graduation losses in an important early game in Class B North. Freehold will counter with its tandem of pitching standouts, Mike Bolton and Jake Yanez, to try to make an early statement in the divisional race.
10. Brick Memorial (0-0)
While many are looking ahead to the Toms River North-Jackson Memorial showdown on Thursday, the Mustangs are hoping to steal the show by beating Jackson Memorial in their season opener on Tuesday. Ace Brian Cottrell will most likely be taking the mound against the Jaguars as Brick Memorial tries to show it will be a factor in the Class A South race. They will then be at Southern on Thursday, followed by a solid nondivisional test against Wall on the road Saturday.
On the bubble
Marlboro (1-0): The Mustangs roared out of the gate with a 10-1 win over Howell thanks to ace Adam Ashenfarb and a strong offensive showing. This week is a chance to show they will be right in the hunt in Class A North with No. 5 Colts Neck on Wednesday and No. 6 Manalapan on Friday.
St. John Vianney (1-0): The Lancers rolled to a 13-2 win over Rumson-Fair Haven to kick off their season in impressive fashion. Junior Joe Rotelli belted a three-run homer and looks to be one of the top power hitters in the Shore this season. He forms a fearsome middle of the order with catcher Anthony Santoro and outfielder Evan Pietronico that will look to open some eyes when St. John Vianney takes on No. 2 Red Bank Catholic on Friday morning in a key Class A Central game.
Freehold Township (1-0): The Patriots started the season in resounding fashion with a 4-3 win over No. 6 Manalapan in Class A North thanks to a two-out grand slam by emerging star Chris Talbott in the top of the seventh inning. They now hope to carry that momentum into divisional games against Howell on Wednesday and Middletown North on Friday.
Middletown South (1-0): The Eagles outlasted rival Middletown North 5-1 in eight innings as ace Perry Kulaga threw all eight for Middletown South to outlast Lions ace and Maine recruit Chris Stark. It doesn’t get any easier this week, as they have No. 6 Manalapan on Wednesday and No. 5 Colts Neck on Friday to show that they are ready to defend their Class A North crown.
St. Rose (0-0): The Purple Roses start their season by facing old rival Mater Dei Prep on Wednesday in an important early Class B Central game and then follow that a day later with a game against Keansburg.