The 2018 high school baseball season is at the doorstep and before we let the teams go out and actually show who his good by playing real games, it is essential (or not) that we guess who is good first.

The Shore Conference had a solid showing in the NJSIAA Tournament last year with an overall group champion (Manasquan), a sectional champion (Southern) and two more sectional finalists (Freehold Boro and St. Rose). Of those four teams three were ranked prior to last season, but none were ranked in the top five and Southern was not ranked at all.

With that in mind, take a good look at the SSN preseason top 10. With so many teams boasting top-10 caliber rosters in this field, this is likely to be the only top 10 that looks anything like this.

 

With 2017 Record and Final Ranking

1. Toms River North (20-7, 9-5 in A South) Final Rank: 1

With four top pitchers back, two of which are middle-of-the-order hitters, the Mariners will have every opportunity to repeat as Ocean County Tournament and Shore Conference Tournament champions. There will be some unproven spots in the lineup, but seniors Craig Larsen and Jared Bellissimo are as good of a one-two punch of two-way players as there is in the conference.

2. Christian Brothers Academy (18-10, 10-4 in A North) Final Rank: Not ranked

The Colts ended last season outside the top 10, but catapult to No. 2 to open 2018 on the strength of a roster that is loaded with experience, particularly in the starting rotation and the infield. Nick Hohenstein will be a Player of the Year candidate as both on of the Shore’s best pitchers and hitters, while left-hander Blaise Venancio and shortstop Tommy DiTullio are coming off breakout 2017 seasons.

3. Middletown North (14-10, 8-6 in B North) Final Rank: Not ranked

Although Toms River North has the best collection of pitchers from top-to-bottom, it’s hard to match the Lions’ trio – all three of whom were Shore Sports Network All-Shore selections a year ago. Tyler Ras is a pro prospect and University of Alabama commit, Garrett French is a Rutgers commit and Chris Price is a knuckleballer who came through in big game after big game last year. If the offense can be just solid, Middletown North is primed for a big year.

4. Wall (19-7, 10-4 in B North) Final Rank: 5

Not only does Wall return most of its team from 2017, but most of those returnees are juniors. It’s nice to have seniors, but any team that wins 19 games with as many sophomore starters as Wall had makes for a special group. While fortune can sometimes turn the wrong way for a team in Wall’s situation, the Crimson Knights have plenty of room to improve on offense - as long as the pitching is good again, Wall should be even better this year.

5. Manalapan (17-10, 8-6 in A North) Final Rank: Not ranked

The Braves had a junior-loaded team last year and performed well, but this year, the expectations are much higher. With seniors all over the field and in the pitching staff, Manalapan has its sights set on winning Class A North and challenging for tournament championships come May. Pitching was an inconsistent part of the team last year so if that unit can progress, the bats and gloves can take care of the rest.

6. Jackson Liberty (17-10, 10-4 in B South) Final Rank: Not ranked

Yet another team that has a stacked class of players, Jackson Liberty returns heavy on junior talent, which helped the Lions reach the Central Jersey Group III semifinals a year ago. All-Shore catcher David Melfi leads that class and sophomore Shane Hickey put up big numbers at the plate as a freshman, while All-Shore right-hander Matt Pickus represents the senior class atop the rotation.

7. Red Bank Catholic (21-9, 7-7 in B North) Final Rank: 2

The Caseys lost almost their entire lineup, but bring back nearly all of their pitching. Offense has almost never been an issue for RBC and the Caseys will have plenty of bats to step up and contribute. With All-Shore right-hander Austin Nappi, St. John’s commit Vincent Bianchi and senior Blaise Panzini back in the staff, it will not take an onslaught of runs for RBC to win games.

8. Freehold Township (12-12, 8-6 in A North) Final Rank: Not ranked

The Patriots came on strong at the end of last season despite battling injuries and a lack of a powerful lineup. The offense will again rely on speedsters and contact hitters, but the pitching should be just as good as a year ago thanks to the return of Bryan Reed, Ryan Ford and emerging junior and Notre Dame commit Liam Simon. If Ford can regain the stroke he showed at the plate as a sophomore, that could be the run-producing bat Freehold Township needs to get over the top.

9. Freehold Boro (18-9, 10-4 in A North) Final Rank: 7

After coming painfully close to winning a Central Jersey Group IV championship, Freehold Boro will have a different roster makeup than a year ago. Instead of three-dominant left-handed pitchers, the Colonials are down to one in senior Dane Della Valle, but they bring back a handful of top-of-the-order hitters that measure up against most others around the Shore Conference. With some good fortune on the pitching side, Freehold Boro will be a constant in the top 10 and could climb higher.

10. Colts Neck (14-12, 7-7 in A North) Final Rank: Not ranked

The Cougars make five A North teams in the top five and while they don’t have one part of their team that stands out, they will do everything well. Colts Neck has a pair of quality senior pitchers in Anthony Galason and Anthony Sasso, with Galason also leading a deep, dangerous lineup that has some athleticism to go with its pop. It’s really hard for a division to keep five teams in the top 10 throughout the season, but by the end of the year, A North should once again be well-represented.

 

Top 10 Waiting List

St. Rose – When senior Riley Maypother is on the mound, the Purple Roses will be awfully dangerous. The rest of the staff will roll through B Central, but still has to prove itself against the rest of the schedule.

Jackson Memorial – With an experienced pitching staff and a talented group of incoming sophomores to fill out he lineup, 2018 should be a bounceback year for the Jaguars.

Toms River South – T.J. Scuderi is the only returning starter for the Indians, but he might be the best player in the Shore Conference. To no one’s surprise, Toms River South has talent waiting in the wings and will be squarely in the top 10 discussion all year.

Pinelands – If a handful of role players emerge to take the pressure off co-aces Joey Ventresca and Noah Dean, it will look silly that Pinelands was ever left out of the top 10.

Monmouth – With All-Shore centerfielder Justin Scotto, a couple of key pitchers, and experience on the infield back, the Falcons have a great shot at defending their Class B North crown.

Middletown South – Pitching remains a question mark after a down year in 2017, but the Eagle lineup remains loaded despite graduating some heavy hitters.

Raritan – The Rockets return three of their top four pitchers and all of their big boppers from a Class A Central championship team.

 

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