Baseball – Shore Conference Top 10, April 28
After some stability at the No. 1 spot to open the season, the top 10 welcomes its third different No. 1 in the last three weeks. The rest of the top 10 has a similar feel, with two teams coming in (and two dropping out) and another climbing four spots from last week.
Through it all, the top five teams from last week are all still in the top five this week, so some serious favorites are emerging.
1. Jackson Memorial (10-3, 8-2) Last Week: 3
A non-division loss to Jackson Liberty did not hurt the Jaguars all that much last week and unlike most other A South teams that have played Brick Memorial, Jackson Memorial twice played the Mustangs with star center fielder Kyle Cala in the Brick Memorial lineup and earned a series split. First place in A South right now might as well be the top of the Shore Conference food chain.
2. Freehold Township (9-3, 5-3) Last Week: 4
The Patriots were playing well enough to be a top-three team last week, but with three early losses, they just needed to prove it for another week. Freehold Township delivered in that regard, squeaking by Howell and Middletown North in division play before beating Red Bank and Red Bank Catholic in the Monmouth County Tournament.
3. Wall (11-1, 8-0) Last Week: 2
Some other teams below Wall have slightly beefier schedules, but the Crimson Knights continue to take out all challengers and the one exception was this week’s No. 2 team in a game that went 15 innings. Losing lead-off hitter Nick Martinez (wrist) for the season is a significant blow to the lineup, so Wall could be a team to watch over the next two weeks leading up to the postseason.
4. Toms River East (9-3, 7-3) Last Week: 1
After putting together three weeks of solid baseball combining strong pitching and defense, Toms River East finally played a bad defensive game in a loss to Toms River North on Friday. The Raiders bounced back with a win on Saturday against Ferris of Jersey City, but the next two games against Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial should tell a lot more about where Toms River East is heading into the Ocean County Tournament.
5. Christian Brothers Academy (8-2, 7-2) Last Week: 5
The Colts leaned heavily on sophomore pitcher Luca Dalatri at the start of the season and then found a strong No. 2 option in Mike Garvey to back him up. This past week, they found a way to win without either on the mound in an extra-innings win over St. Rose in the Monmouth County Tournament and now have both pitchers ready for a big week of games against Freehold Township, Howell and Marlboro in A North and Wall in the Monmouth County Tournament.
6. Colts Neck (9-2, 7-2) Last Week: 10
Somehow, some way, Colts Neck continues to find ways to win. The Cougars have won eight of their nine games by three runs or fewer and are 5-1 in one-run games. The most recent nail-biter was a 4-3 win over Manalapan in which Colts Neck scored three runs over the final two innings to pull out the victory over the Braves and keep pace with CBA in the Class A North race.
7. Barnegat (8-3, 6-3) Last Week: 6
Central rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh against Barnegat ace Jason Groome to pick up a big B South win, but the Bengals keep their top 10 spot as the top team in Class B South, at least for now. A win over Jackson Liberty and quality wins over St. John Vianney and Toms River North to go with a 6-3 division record are still top-10 worthy.
8. Jackson Liberty (8-4, 6-3) Last Week: Not ranked
The 2014 season quickly turned from an apparent rebuilding year to another season of contention in Ocean County for the Lions. Since starting the season 1-4, the Lions have won seven games in a row and have scored key wins over Central and Jackson Memorial to climb back into the top-10 picture. A loss to Barnegat keeps them one spot behind the Bengals, but that could change if the Lions can beat Barnegat on Tuesday.
9. Middletown South (6-5, 4-5) Last Week: Not ranked
While Class A North teams have beaten each other up so far, three teams have stood out – CBA, Freehold Township and Colts Neck. Middletown South has a win over Freehold Township, two losses to CBA and its top two pitchers, and a loss to Colts Neck on a walk-off balk. Throw in a win over No. 10 St. John Vianney on Saturday in the Monmouth County Tournament, and the Eagles résumé edges out that of Middletown North, even though the Lions have a head-to-head win. The two rivals will meet twice this week, including in a Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinal.
10. St. John Vianney (8-5, 7-2) Last Week: 7
While the week ended on a sour note for Vianney in the form of a 1-0 loss to Middletown South in the Monmouth County Tournament first round, the Lancers actually had a decent week. With a 3-1 win over Red Bank Catholic on Thursday, St. John Vianney moved back into first place in the Class A Central race. Prior to losing to Middletown South, the Lancers beat Long Branch 16-4 in a game that saw senior catcher Anthony Santoro record his 100th career hit on a grand slam.
Shore (6-6, 4-5) Last Week: 8 – The Blue Devils have dropped five straight since a 6-1 start and will look to get straightened out in time for the state tournament.
Red Bank Catholic (9-4, 7-3) Last Week: 9 – The losses are not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the Caseys’ résumé currently lacks many strong wins, although non-conference victories over North Hunterdon and Randolph should be commended.
On the Bubble
Toms River South (9-4, 6-4) – Losses to Brick Memorial and Southern have kept the Indians out of the top 10 in each of the past two weeks, but Toms River South still has enough quality wins that it is only a win or two away from getting back.
Middletown North (5-5, 3-5) – The Lions have wins over CBA, Middletown South and Shore over the last two weeks, so if they can pile up some wins and inch comfortably above .500, they will be hard to turn away.
Central (6-5, 5-4) – After dealing with a rough patch in the middle of their schedule, the Golden Eagles look like they could be rounding into form after beating Barnegat ace Jason Groome this week.