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Baseball – SSN Top 10, April 10

As is often the case with baseball at any level, the first week of the season had plenty of surprises, unless you are of the proper mindset that nothing in the first week should be surprising. With the possible exception of Class B North, every Shore Conference division has hinted at a parity-filled season and Colts Neck, Ocean and Red Bank Catholic still look like they are ready to bring some excitement to the B North race.

Just like the preseason rankings, the rankings after the first week mean little. Pitching matchups dictate a lot of the results and there are still a whole lot of head-to-head division games yet to happen – especially with some inclement weather. With the Monmouth County Tournament seeding set to be released on Monday and some marquee matchups coming up over the next six days, next week should start to reveal the top contenders in each division, if not the postseason favorites.

 

1. Christian Brothers Academy (6-1, 3-0) Last Week: 1

Since returning from Florida, the Colts have hardly dominated the competition, but they are winning games with lineup that has only four returning starters. Brandon Martorano has not taken off just yet but he has driven in seven runs over the last two games anyway. Luca Dalatri, meanwhile, has stormed out of the gate with two shutouts – one in a six-inning game – and 25 strikeouts in 13 innings without issuing a single walk.

2. Red Bank Catholic (3-0, 3-0) Last Week: 2

The Caseys have eased into their schedule this season with matchups against three teams that are long shots to compete for the Class B North crown – Matawan, Neptune and Red Bank. In the most recent game against the crosstown rival Bucs, RBC struggled to score but again got a sparkling performance from senior John Poccia. The right-hander has thrown 13 scoreless innings to open the year and has emerged as the clear No. 1 on the staff dating back to his postseason performance in 2015.

3. Marlboro (4-0, 3-0) Last Week: Not ranked

Although last year ended with a bit of a fizzle, it is worth remembering that Marlboro stormed out of the gate in 2015 thanks to its balanced pitching staff led by Andrew Nardi. By the end of the year, they relied disproportionately on the senior left-hander, but despite his graduation, Marlboro has returned with a pitching staff that looks every bit as good as it was last year thanks to hot starts by Jeremy Dyzenhaus and the now-healthy Donnie Alfano. A big reason for that is a standout infield defense led by junior shortstop Will Trochiano, as well as the hot-hitting of junior catcher Gene Napolitano (nine RBI in four games).

Marlboro junior Gene Napolitano has driven in nine runs during his team's 4-0 start. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Marlboro junior catcher Gene Napolitano has driven in nine runs during his team’s 4-0 start. (Photo by Matt Manley)

4. Middletown South (3-1, 3-1) Last Week: 3

After scoring 26 runs in its first two games, Middletown South has cooled off at the plate with three runs in its next but has still been stellar on the mound. Senior left-hander Ian Scheuer was fifth among Middletown South’s top five pitchers in innings and ERA last year, but he earned an opening-day start against Freehold Township and just shut out Middletown North in a 2-0 Eagles win on Friday. Middletown South will get its first crack at CBA on Tuesday and is likely to face Dalatri.

5. Colts Neck (4-0, 3-0) Last Week: 6

The Cougars returned a pair of All-Shore players in center fielder Mike Antico and left-handed starter Mario Ferraioli and while those two have been excellent out of the gate, the supporting players from last year as well as some newcomers have kept the Cougars among the Shore’s elite. Infielders Nick Umbro, Tim Cavrak and Brendan Clarke are off to fast starts, senior right-hander Mike D’Attavio has slotted into the top of the rotation with Ferraioli, and newcomers Jonathan Weitzman and sophomore Anthony Galason have both stepped up at the plate and on the mound.

6. Howell (4-0, 4-0) Last Week: Not ranked

Like they have most seasons under coach Eric Johnson, the Rebels have swung the bats right out of the gate. Where Howell appears to have made major strides is in the pitching staff, which has allowed just five runs in the team’s first four games. St. John’s recruit Brian Chaballa has thrown 10 solid innings between 2-1 wins over Manalapan and Freehold Township, while Donovan O’Malley and Matt Furlong have each turned in strong five-inning outings. Senior Troy Miller has also thrown 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief on the back end. The Rebels will host Marlboro on Monday in a battle of hot-starting teams.

7. Jackson Memorial (1-0, 1-0) Last Week: 7

Officially, Jackson Memorial has played only one game and it is a win over Toms River South. The Jaguars rallied from a 7-1 deficit against Toms River North and pushed the game into the 10th inning, but the game was called due to darkness immediately following the ninth. Jackson Memorial’s new cast of starters around the diamond have contributed in their 16 innings so far this year, while seniors Chris Hawryluk and Kyle Johnson have again led the way. Hawryluk pitched the Jaguars to victory on opening day and blasted a three-run homer to spark the rally against Toms River North.

8. Barnegat (2-1, 2-1) Last Week: 4

The Bengals suffered their first slip-up of the season on the road Friday against a Manchester team that has some ability and depth in its lineup. Barnegat is going to be the hardest team to rank all season because every third game or so, the Bengals will overwhelm teams by trotting out the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft, while on other days, they will have to scrap like most everybody else. Jason Groome goes back to the mound on Monday at home against Central after a wild scene during his first start, then will take the ball against No. 2 Red Bank Catholic on Saturday in the Strike Out Autism Challenge at Count Basie Park.

9. Brick Memorial (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

The Mustangs haven’t taken on the other usual A South contenders like the Toms Rivers and Jackson Memorial yet, but they have handled their business while flexing their offensive muscles. The senior-laden lineup gave CBA all it could handle on Saturday before the state’s No. 1 team rallied for four late, tie-breaking runs. Dave Clark has been a breakout player on both sides for Brick Memorial and his work on the mound could be a particular key for the Mustangs going forward.

10. Ocean (5-1, 1-1) Last Week: Not ranked

The Spartans lost a tough nine-inning decision at home against Colts Neck and while that loss puts them at an early disadvantage in the B North race, coach Cip Apicelli has to be thrilled with his team’s offense. Ocean’s offense was wildly inconsistent last season but so far this year, that offense is averaging more than 10 runs per game through the first six games. While returnees Brian Olesen, Brian Kochenash, Mark Chernin, Kenny Pickett, Tyler Rossback and Jake Talarico have all been part of the improvement, new starters Jake D’Auria, Anthony Tedesco and Alec Keezer have all swung the bats as well.

 

Dropped Out

Manalapan (2-3, 1-3) Last Week: 5 – The Braves have been shaky on defense in the early going, committing eight errors in a 14-4 loss to Middletown South and five more in a loss to Marlboro.

Toms River North (0-1, 0-1) Last Week: 8 – The Mariners scored five runs in the first inning of the season in that suspended game against Jackson, then were no-hit by Toms River South’s Trevor Wagner in their first official game.

Freehold Boro (1-3, 1-3) Last Week: 9 – After an opening-day win over Middletown North, the Colonials lost a close game against Marlboro and ran into the Howell buzz saw. They should plenty of fight in a 9-7 loss at CBA and should benefit from a kinder schedule once they get past a game against Colts Neck on Monday.

Toms River South (2-2, 2-1) Last Week: 10 – A loss to Central on Saturday drops Toms River South from the ranks for now, but the Indians had good showings earlier in the week against Jackson Memorial (4-3 loss), Toms River East and Toms River North to keep them hanging around the fringes of the top 10.

 

On the Bubble

Point Pleasant Boro (2-1, 2-1) – The only thing that has slowed down the Point Boro offense so far was Jason Groome and the Panthers had a chance to beat Barnegat in that game after surviving Groome’s four innings. With 10-0 drubbings of Manchester and Central and that close loss to Groome and the Bengals, the Panthers looks legitimate.

Shore (2-0, 2-0) – Class A Central figures to be a wild division again this year and Shore gained an early edge with wins over Rumson and a 1-0 win over a Raritan team that appears to have a breakout pitching staff.

Southern (3-0, 3-0) – Two wins over Toms River East and one over Brick have the Rams off to a perfect start. That start will be put to the test this week with games scheduled against Jackson Memorial, Toms River South, Lacey, Toms River North and Middletown South.

Manchester (2-1, 2-1) – After taking a 10-0 beating at the hands of Point Boro on opening day, the Hawks rallied for a convincing win over Jackson Liberty and back-and-forth win over preseason No. 4 Barnegat.

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