Baseball – SSN Top 10, May 1
The postseason tournaments will really hit their stride at the end of the upcoming week, but for the moment, the Monmouth County Tournament has given the Top 10 clarity in some spots and created a mess in others. St. Rose suffered its first loss, Wall, Monmouth, Middletown North and Manasquan all felt cold water poured on great runs in recent weeks, and Red Bank Catholic played like the team that was ranked among the top 10 in N.J. to open the year.
Ocean County’s turn in this coming weekend, when the Ocean County Tournament gets underway. In the meantime, here is how the top 10 looks following the bulk of the MCT.
1. Toms River South (10-1, 8-1) Last Week: 1
A loss to Jackson Memorial on Monday was Toms River South’s first hiccup, but all-in-all, the last seven days were a success. The Indians scratched out wins over Toms River North and Brick and snapped out of a brief offensive slump with a 10-3 win over an 11-win Bayonne team. While the teams in Monmouth County continue to beat each other up, Toms River South is still head and shoulders above the rest of Ocean County at the moment.
2. Red Bank Catholic (10-4, 6-4) Last Week: 9
The Caseys opened the season as the No. 2 team at the Shore and didn’t wear the bulls-eye as well as they would have liked in starting 4-4. Since getting shut out by Middletown North, however, RBC is 6-0 with wins over Delbarton, Wall, Colts Neck and Monmouth. With the exception of St. Rose, no Shore Conference team has put up more runs or runs per game than the Caseys, and the pitching is starting to take shape around an improving defense.
3. Wall (10-4, 6-3) Last Week: 2
Wall has, remarkably, played only two games this season that was decided by more than two runs and one of those games was decided by three. The Crimson Knights have won twice as many as they have lost in those games decided by two runs or fewer thanks to a reliable defense and a lineup that has relished the two-out scoring opportunity.
4. Manasquan (9-5, 8-2) Last Week: 6
The Warriors are a game-and-a-half up on Wall in the B North race, but lost to the Crimson Knights and have already played the bottom two teams in the division – Long Branch and Ocean – twice each. That means the strength of schedule will be ratcheted up this week, when Manasquan will have to play Monmouth, Wall and Red Bank Catholic – which happens to be a collection of the three teams right behind Manasquan in the division standings.
5. Lacey (12-1, 8-1) Last Week: Not ranked
After a quick visit to the top 10 early in the year, Lacey is back on the strength of a nine-game winning streak that has the Lions on the brink of clinching a Class B South championship. Lacey’s lone loss is to Pinelands and the Lions avenged that loss last week. The next step to take their dominant pitching staff and fast-improving lineup to the postseason and when the Lions get there – whether the Ocean County, Shore Conference or South Jersey Group III Tournament – there should be a high seed waiting.
6. Monmouth (10-4, 6-3) Last Week: 3
The Falcons are still in position to win the B North title with a strong finish to the division slate, but they struggled at the end of the week, particularly in keeping runs off the board. Monmouth did come from behind to beat Middletown North on Saturday in the MCT round of 16 behind a couple of big hits by Josh Jackson, but the Falcons gave up 23 runs in the last three games of the week. The again, when you week begins with a perfect game – thrown by Paul Birzin against Holmdel – there is nowhere to go but down.
7. Christian Brothers Academy (10-4, 5-4) Last Week: 7
The Colts lost three out of four games heading into the Monmouth County Tournament and trailed Matawan 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning before hanging up a six spot. The win over Huskies, followed by a 3-0 win over Howell on Sunday pushed CBA into the MCT semifinals, although some questions about the offense still remain. The Colts are averaging an even three runs per game over their last nine after putting up 7.33 per game during their 6-0 start.
8. Manalapan (12-3, 7-1) Last Week: 10
Manalapan’s 11-game winning streak came to an end in a close loss at Wall on Saturday, which gives Manalapan losses to three top-10 teams – RBC, Wall and CBA. The Braves are still three games ahead of CBA in the loss column when it comes to the A North title, although that one loss is to CBA.
9. Freehold Boro (9-4, 6-3) Last Week: Not ranked
After earning a trip to the MCT semifinals by handing St. Rose its first loss, the Colonials return to the top 10 as one of the contenders to emerge as the A North champion. Tom Holdorf and Dan Chiusano were back in top form over the weekend, when the two left-handers combined to allow two runs over 12 innings in their respective starts against Manasquan and St. Rose.
10. Toms River North (6-4, 5-4) Last Week: 4
Two losses to Southern make the Mariner a candidate to fall out of the rankings, but they still have resounding wins over Middletown North and Brick. At some point, though inconsistencies could catch up with the Mariners, who have not hit as much as last year’s team while the pitching has been about the same. The division title is probably no longer in play, but the Mariners will still be a top contender in the Ocean County Tournament, which they won last year
St. Rose (12-1, 8-0) Last Week: 5 – St. Rose was impressive against Marlboro, but could not stay with Freehold Boro a day later. The Purple Roses are still very much in the top 10 mix, but their chances to get difference-making wins before the Shore Conference Tournament cutoff will be limited.
Middletown North (8-6, 6-4) Last Week: 8 – It took two heartbreaking losses to Manasquan and Monmouth at the end of the week to halt the Lions’ six-game winning streak.
Top 10 Watchlist
Colts Neck (7-5, 5-3) – With two wins over CBA and a tight game with RBC in the MCT, the Cougars are playing well heading into a stretch during which they could seriously bolster their chances at an A North title.
Matawan (9-4, 7-1) – The Huskies weren’t far from knocking off CBA in the MCT round of 16 on Saturday and should have plenty of confidence heading into the stretch run in A Central.
Brick (8-3, 5-2) – A come-from-behind win over Jackson Memorial Saturday was a nice bounceback for the Green Dragons after a tough loss at Toms River South on Friday night.
Southern (6-4, 5-4) – Two wins over Toms River North, some late-inning heroics, and consistent pitching warrants serious consideration for the Rams as a top-10 team in the conference and a top-five team in Ocean County.
Freehold Twp. (6-5, 5-3) – The Patriots find themselves very much alive in the A North race thanks to wins over CBA and Colts Neck. This week includes games against Manalapan, Freehold Boro, Howell and Colts Neck on consecutive days.
Jackson Liberty (7-5, 6-4) – The Lions have a sophomore-heavy nucleus that has led to some ebbs and flows in performance, but Jackson Liberty looks to be peaking at the right time heading into a big game at Lacey on Tuesday.