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Baseball – SSN Preseason Top 10

The Shore Conference baseball season begins on Sunday afternoon with a high-profile match-up in Toms River – the first game in a two-month sprint to the conference and state title games. As it turns out, Sunday’s game will feature the No. 1 team in N.J. in St. Joseph Montvale against the team that begins the year as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. As is usually the case in baseball, there has been some measure of parity among the Shore’s top teams in recent years, so these rankings are likely to be an afterthought sooner rather than later.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 teams as the season finally gets underway.

 

With 2016 record and final Shore Sports Network ranking

1. Toms River North (17-9) 2016 Rank: 3

The Mariners return their entire pitching staff, which helped them win the Ocean County Tournament last year. Toms River North and Red Bank Catholic are the two leading candidates for the No. 1 spot and Toms River North has owned the head-to-head edge in recent years. That mastery plus the five returning pitchers make the Mariners the frontrunner, if only by a slight margin.

2. Red Bank Catholic (22-8) 2016 Rank: 4

The Caseys were inches away from beating Luca Dalatri and CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, which could have changed a lot for the Caseys. Instead of playing Middletown South for a Shore Conference title, RBC had a letdown against Camden Catholic in the South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals and lost, 1-0, in extra innings. This year’s team will be on a mission and has the offensive firepower to win a championship or two this year, but the Caseys need a big year from a pitching staff filled with relatively unproven pitchers at the varsity level.

3. Toms River South (22-9) 2016 Rank: 5

The defending Class A South champions should be considered on the level of the top two teams based on the return of Justin Fall and T.J. Scuderi to the rotation. The Indians also bring back an all-senior infield to go with Scuderi in right field, although the catcher position is up in the air. The Indians have a wealth of arms that will help them navigate the rough waters of A South and the bats should be potent as well to complete a balanced attack.

4. Middletown South (23-6) 2016 Rank: 2

After a shocking loss to Wall ended Middletown South’s stay in the Central Jersey Group III playoffs and a loss to CBA in the Shore Conference final ended the season, the Eagles return with a number of key pieces from a 2016 team that was probably the most complete team in the Shore Conference. Middletown South’s depth won’t be what it was last year and the pitching beyond ace John Martin is unproven, but the Eagles’ returning bats are among the best at the Shore.

5. Marlboro (13-10) 2016 Rank: Not ranked

Marlboro has had some years in which the Mustangs start slow and finish strong and other in which they start fast and fade in May, but they have not quite been able to combine the two. This year’s team might be a little less established in the pitching department than some Marlboro teams of recent vintage, but it has a chance to be a deep, balanced staff to go with another strong defensive unit and a lineup that has the potential to be Marlboro’s best in the last decade or so – at least in the top half of the order.

6. Freehold Boro (14-12) 2016 Rank: Not ranked

Although the Colonials lost some quantity from their 2016 lineup, they return some serious quality. No. 1 starter Dan Chiusano and dual threat Tom Holdorf joins him in the rotation. Chris Cassandra is also back at shortstop, giving Freehold Boro a trio that can carry them to another good showing. For the Colonials to be a more consistent team than they have been over the past two years, they’ll need a supporting group around those three to emerge.

7. Middletown North (14-11) 2016 Rank: 10

The Lions finished the 2016 season in the top 10, which was the first time that happened in more than a decade. They’ll have a great chance to do it again this year, but Middletown North does have some offense to replace from last year’s club. The good news is the bulk of the pitching is back, including the three best performers on the club last year. Junior Tyler Ras is committed to Alabama after an All-Shore season as a sophomore and will be one of the best two-way threats in the state.

8. Brick (15-11) 2016 Rank: 9

Brick’s all-left-handed starting staff caught fire in May and helped the Green Dragons reach the semifinals of both the Ocean County Tournament and NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament, which included a win over top-seeded Steinert in the CJ III quarterfinals. Only one of those pitchers is back (senior Mike Soldo), but the Green Dragons return most of their starting lineup in the field and have some quality arms ready to step into the open rotation spots.

9. Manasquan (13-7) 2016 Rank: Not ranked

The Warriors won Class A Central with a very young, inexperienced group of position players around standout pitchers Tommy and Jack Sheehan last year and now Tommy Sheehan returns with a proven supporting cast around him. Moving to Class B North will be a challenge for a group that still consists of mostly juniors, but having the senior left-hander and Notre Dame recruit at the top of the rotation will give the Warriors a shot against any opponent.

10. St. Rose (19-7) 2016 Rank: Not ranked

The Purple Roses won 19 games last year and began to re-establish themselves as a team that can beat quality opponents outside Class B Central, which St. Rose dominated last year. St. Rose returns all but one starter from a year ago as well as No. 1 starter Brandon Mology, so 20 wins and some more postseason success will be the goal for the Purple Roses this time around.

 

Unranked Teams to Watch

Christian Brothers Academy – The Colts young, inexperienced lineup has talent, but getting over the graduation of Luca Dalatri and Brandon Martorano is not going to happen overnight.

Manalapan – Last year was a disappointment for the senior-laden Braves, but a strong junior class should keep Manalapan in the mix for a Class A North title.

Lacey – The Lions move out of Class A South and into Class B South right as their talented pitchers all become seniors.

Jackson Memorial – The Jaguars hope last year’s 9-14 season was just an aberration and it very well may be with some of the offense that returns this year.

Monmouth – With an experienced pitching staff and at least three very good varsity hitters, the Falcons are going to be a handful in a very good Class B North division.

Toms River East – Offense is a question mark, but the Raiders have a pitching trio that can match up with pretty much any team in the Shore Conference.

Howell – Pitching depth should be less of an issue for Howell this year and the Rebels have always found a way to put runs on the board.

Ocean – The Spartans have a lot to replace, but have some very good, proven young players to go with a senior one-two punch of Phil DeMaro and Alec Keezer at the top of the rotation.

Colts Neck – Despite only returning three starters and a few backend arms in the rotation and bullpen, Colts Neck remains a factor based on a track record or development at the lower levels.

Wall – Like Colts Neck, Wall is lean on returning talent while playing in a very tough division, but the Crimson Knights have a good collection of young talent that will help them knock off a few big teams and set the program up for a nice run in the next couple of years.

 

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