Baseball – Group Finals Preview
Group IV Championship
At Toms River North High School, 11 a.m.
Jackson Memorial vs. Roxbury
Jackson Memorial (19-7)
Group Final Appearances: 1972 (Group III), 2002, 2010
Group Championships: 1972 (Group III)
Probable Starting Pitcher: Brandon Janofsky (6-0, 1.05 ERA, 40 IP, 37 H, 9 BB, 39 K)
Key Pitcher(s) Available: Matt Guarino (8-1, 2.22 ERA, 60 IP, 46 H, 11 BB, 56 K)
Group Final Appearances: None
Group Championships: None
Probable Starting Pitcher: Timmy Pilrun (9-1, 1.21 ERA, 69.1 IP, 7 BB, 50 K)
Key Pitcher(s) Available: Nick Busby (8-0, 2.61 ERA, 51 IP 17 BB, 40 K)
This game has the potential for two senior left-handed aces to square off, but there’s just one problem: Jackson Memorial junior right-hander Brandon Janofsky has been one of the hottest pitchers in the postseason. The junior right-hander threw a six-hit complete-game in his last outing – a 6-2 win over Monroe in the Central Jersey Group IV final – and that win followed a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Howell in which Janofsky struck out a career-high 13. The Jaguars can go into the game knowing they have senior left-hander Matt Guarino at their disposal for, essentially, unlimited use if things get weird, but with the southpaw throwing just four days earlier, they don’t have to push him.
Roxbury is in a similar situation with ace Timmy Pilrun, who also threw a complete game four days ago in the Gaels’ win over Millburn. That start also came on three-day’s rest and it took Pilrun fewer than 80 pitches to finish off a quality Millburn team. The Muhlenberg College recruit has walked only seven batters all season and threw a perfect game in the Morris County Tournament final. With 51 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings, he is not overpowering, but with a deep lineup and a solid defense backing him up, he has not needed to be.
Statistically speaking, Roxbury is the superior offensive team between the two Saturday opponents. The Jaguars have only one player hitting better than .350 in a significant sample of at-bats and that player – senior center fielder Nick Dabrio (.391) – has not played in two-plus weeks because of a hamstring injury. Roxbury, meanwhile, boasts five players who are hitting .369 or better with an on-base percentage north of .400. Senior outfielder Joe Magueri leads the Gaels with a .406 average, two home runs, nine doubles, two triples, 36 runs scored and 27 RBI, while catcher Andrew Baltz (.378), outfielder Kevin Hernandez (.394), shortstop Shawn Leydon (.369) and outfielder Kyle Macrae (.378) are all hitting north of .350.
While the offensive body of work favors Roxbury, Jackson Memorial has come on strong with the bats of late. Before its sectional semifinal win over East Brunswick, the Jaguars had only two home runs as a team. Since that game, Jackson Memorial has slugged seven long balls, including five in that 16-4 win over the Bears. Janofsky, Guarino, Nick Babin, and Kyle Johnson have all swung hot bats and junior Rich Rountree has come up with key at-bats filling in as a starter in place of Dabrio.
Jackson last made this run to the final in 2010, so this will be a first for the seniors like Guarino, who is a four-year varsity letter-winner. That game ended in an 8-2 loss to Randolph, so a continuation of the Jaguars success on the mound and in the field would go a long way toward making sure this year’s result is more favorable.
Group I Championship
At Toms River South High School, 11 a.m.
Shore vs. Ridgefield
Group Final Appearances: 1985, 1993, 2009 (All in Group II)
Group Championships: 1993 (Group II)
Probable Starting Pitcher: Matt Cosentino (7-1, 2.00 ERA, 56 IP, 23 BB, 50 K)
Key Pitcher(s) Available: Andrew Schulz (7-1, 1.62 ERA, 47 1/3 IP, 18 BB, 45 K), James Kelly (2-4, 2.54 ERA, 45 2/3 IP, 48 K, 14 BB)
Group Final Appearances: None
Group Championships: None
Probable Starting Pitcher: Eamon Catherina (7-1, 2.90 ERA, 59 2/3 IP, 29 BB, 67 K)
Key Pitcher(s) Available: Vin Cumella (3-3, 3.50 ERA), Gavin Salazar
Ridgefield has not appeared in an overall state championship, but the Royals have won two sectional titles in the last three years and won North Jersey I, Group I titles in 1962 and 1970, before the NJSIAA Tournament advanced beyond the sectional final round. This year, the Royals have made their first run to a group championship game a memorable one by winning its last two games in the bottom of the seventh inning. Ridgefield knocked off Cedar Grove, 2-1, with an infield single in the bottom of the seventh and then beat Dayton, 6-5, in similar fashion.
Shore has a built-in advantage Saturday because of the schedules of each team. While Shore played its semifinal game on Tuesday, Ridgefield beat Dayton on Wednesday, meaning any pitcher who pitched past a fifth inning of work is ineligible and any pitcher who threw up to five innings is limited to 10 cumulative innings during the stretch. On the plus side for Ridgefield, senior ace Eamon Catherina threw only 3 1/3 innings, which means he is eligible for six innings on Saturday.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, can turn to its hot hand, senior left-hander Matt Cosentino. The four-year standout is fresh off a shutout of South Jersey Group I juggernaut Pennsville, which followed a win over defending Group I champion Middlesex in the Central Jersey Group I semifinal. Junior James Kelly – who won the sectional final against New Egypt – and senior Andrew Schulz (team-best 7-1 record, 1.62 ERA) give Shore two great options if Cosentino encounters any trouble pitching with three days of rest.
On the offensive side, Shore owns a clear edge over a Ridgefield team that has averaged four runs per game over the five-game tournament and beat Cedar Grove without the benefit of a hit out of the infield. Shore, meanwhile, has enjoyed plenty of offense, particularly from Andrew Schulz over the last two games. The senior second baseman hit his first varsity home run and drove in all three runs in the 3-2 win over New Egypt and smacked an RBI triple to open the scoring against Pennsville.
Shore was last in a state final in 2009, when Pequannock shut them out behind then-North Carolina recruit and current UConn right-hander Jordan Tabakman, a junior at the time. There is not standout like that on this Ridgefield team, which means the Blue Devils should fare better as they seek their first Group title since 1993.
Non-Public A Championship
At Toms River East High School, 2 p.m.
St. John Vianney vs. St. Joseph of Montvale
St. John Vianney (19-7)
Group Final Appearances: 1976, 1977, 1979 (all in Non-Public B), 1981 (Non-Public A)
Group Championships: 1981
Probable Starting Pitcher: Justin Chin (9-0, 1.61 ERA, 60 2/3 IP, 57 H, 11 BB, 45 K)
Key Pitcher(s) Available: Dan Schirmacher (3-2, 2.56 ERA, 38 1/3 IP, 34 H, 12 BB, 30 K), Chris Morris (3-0, 3.00 ERA, 21 IP, 21 H, 12 BB, 27 K)
St. Joseph, Montvale (24-5-1)
Group Final Appearances: 1974, 1990, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2004
Group Championships: 1993, 1998, 2004
Probable Starting Pitcher: Austin Bodrato (7-0, 0.70 ERA)
Key Pitcher(s) Available: Devin Ortiz, (6-0, 1.24 ERA)
Unavailable: Mike Warren
Although the Non-Public A championship game will be a match-up of youth vs. senior experience, both teams could claim to be living by the “Better late than never” credo. St. John Vianney has a senior class of players who made an impact right away but had not any tournament success prior to the start of this NJSIAA Tournament. St. Joseph, meanwhile, appeared to have a golden opportunity to win its first state title in nine years last year when it had current St. Louis Cardinals left-handed pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky as its ace, but lost to Seton Hall Prep in the sectional final before it could get Kaminsky back on the mound for the championship game.
That ship has not completely sailed, however, as the Green Knights have a chance to win their first title since 2004 with a relatively young group that could win the first of multiple championships. Senior Mike Warren delivered a four-hit shutout in Wednesday’s sectional final win over Bergen Catholic, giving the Green Knights a chance to throw either of its underclass standouts on the mound. With a 7-0 record and an ERA of 0.70, sophomore Austin Bodrato has been the team’s top pitcher and in his last outing, he threw six strong innings in a sectional semifinal win over St. Peter’s Prep. Freshman Devin Ortiz pitched a complete-game in a first-round win over Union Catholic and is 6-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his rookie season. Both are rested and ready, and while Bodrato has the edge in numbers and experience, Ortiz could follow current Gloucester Catholic junior John Murphy, who pitched a complete-game victory in the Non-Public A Final as a freshman in 2012.
There would be a certain degree of irony in the Lacers losing to a freshman pitcher after they just beat Murphy, the last pitcher to win the state final as a freshman. So the ultimate goal for St. John Vianney is to avoid any sort of irony in that regard and to do that, the Lancers just have to keep doing what they have been doing. Left-hander Justin Chin has pitched consecutive gems against top-seeded Bishop Eustace and four-time defending champion Gloucester Catholic and will be fully available on three days of rest to try to beat another Non-Public power to complete a 10-0 season.
After averaging 12 runs over the first three games of the tournament, St. John Vianney’s offense did not score a double-digit number of runs against Gloucester Catholic. The Lancers did, however, collect three runs on seven hits and struck out only twice against one of the state’s best pitchers and likely draft pick in June of 2015. While St. Joseph will trot out a talented young arm on Saturday, it’s nothing the Lancers have not seen yet and if Bodrato or Ortiz is not on his game and they are facing the same offense that scored averaged 12 runs over the first three state tournament games, Vianney will likely slug their way to their first state title in 33 years.