Four Shore baseball teams gunning for NJSIAA titles
Four Shore Conference baseball teams are gunning for a sectional championship on Friday, including one looking to make school history with its first NJSIAA crown.
Brick Memorial, Wall, Monmouth Regional and Shore Regional are all on the road as the lower seeds in their respective brackets, and the Shore is represented in all four Central Jersey finals.
The two biggest Cinderellas of the bunch of 14th-seeded Brick Memorial in Central Jersey Group IV, and 11th-seeded Shore in Central Jersey Group I. Brick Memorial stunned second-seeded Jackson Memorial 2-0 in the semifinals behind senior ace Brian Cottrell’s four-hit shutout to end a 13-game losing streak against the Jaguars. Now it will be up to junior starter Anthony Assante to do his best Cottrell impression against a tough lineup when the Mustangs travel to ninth-seeded Hunterdon Central for their first sectional final appearance since 1996.
Brick Memorial (15-12) has never won a sectional title, and the Mustangs are hoping for some of the magic similar to Manalapan’s run to the Group IV title last year. The Braves entered the state tournament just over .500 but caught fire and won the whole thing. Brick Memorial is facing a Hunterdon Central program that has been there and done that, winning overall Group IV titles in 2008 and 2009 and winning 23 games last season.
Assante will have to find a way to keep a fierce Hunterdon Central lineup at bay that includes second baseman Jeremy Ake, a University of Delaware recruit, along with centerfielder and Navy recruit Geggie Russomagno and catcher Brett Mele. Matt Toke is another threat who went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles in an 11-1 rout of Marlboro in the semifinals. The other bad news for Brick Memorial is that Hunterdon Central has Iona-bound ace Billy Maier ready to go for the final.
The good news for the Mustangs is that they have scored 20 runs in three state playoff games in an offensive awakening led by junior centerfielder Kyle Cala, a Carpenter Cup selection who has been unconscious for the past two weeks, including a 7-for-10 showing last week and an RBI double in the win over Jackson Memorial. Leadoff hitter Kyle Skoog and the catcher/designated hitter combo of Mike Martone and Ryan Melia have also been linchpins of the attack.
As for Shore Regional, the Blue Devils also have a formidable obstacle in their way in top-seeded Middlesex. Shore (11-14) is playing with house money as the underdog and the rare sub-.500 team playing in a championship game. The Blue Devils have ripped off seven straight wins in their late-season surge and will have senior ace Mike Blaney on the mound Friday. They also have the option of bringing in junior standout Matt Cosentino, a George Washington recruit, if necessary thanks to a great effort by senior Chris Vaccaro in throwing a five-hitter to beat second-seeded New Egypt 5-1 in the semifinals.
Vaccaro, Blaney, Cosentino, senior shortstop T.J. Sempkowski, second baseman Andrew Schulz and third baseman James Kelly have been the core of an offense that has led a team that finished tied for last in Class A Central to the brink of its first sectional crown since reaching the Group II final in 2009.
Blaney will try to tame a strong Middlesex lineup that beat Point Beach 11-1 in five innings in the semifinals. First baseman Brennan Price, shortstop Tyler Heisch, catcher Kyle Dotey, and infielder Dan Berardi are all solid hitters along with centerfielder Tommy Marcinczyk. The 6-foot-8 Price has eight home runs, and third baseman Walter Bylecki is coming off a 4-for-4 game against Point Beach. Shore’s offense will also have to solve Marcinczyk, a Rutgers recruit and Middlesex’s ace on the mound.
Eighth-seeded Monmouth Regional is aiming for its first sectional title since 2005 when it travels to seventh-seeded Ewing in a bid to keep the Central Jersey Group II crown in the Shore Conference after Raritan won it last year. This is Monmouth’s second straight trip to a sectional final after losing to Freehold in CJ Group III last year, and their fourth appearance in the last nine seasons.
The Falcons will have their No. 2 starter, Brian Quinn, on the mound. He already stepped up once in the tournament by beating second-seeded Bordentown in the quarterfinals before undefeated senior ace Tom Broyles took care of A.L. Johnson in the semifinals.
The Falcons have a solid lineup led by Quinn, catcher Rich Burner, outfielder Jeff Farrah, junior Jon Bonczyk, and sophomore Matt Vincenti. Quinn homered in the win over A.L. Johnson and has been among the Shore leaders in batting average all season.
Ewing (10-12) isn’t even a .500 team but is hosting a state final, which is a rare occurrence. The last time the Blue Devils were in a sectional championship game was 1994, when they beat Monmouth 12-0 in CJ Group III. Ewing was 7-12 coming into the state playoffs before its current run, which has been fueled by junior ace Paul Sparano, who went 3-0 and threw all 19 innings of the three games. Monmouth avoids him today and will face either Evan Patrick or Mike Salvatore, so the Falcons are in a good spot to bring home the hardware.
Finally, second-seeded Wall heads to top-seeded Northern Burlington in the Central Jersey Group III final in search of its first sectional championship since 2008. The Crimson Knights will have junior standout Tyler Swiggart on the mound, a Carpenter Cup selection who has pitched two dominant games in the tournament thus far. For the season, he is 8-0 with a microscopic 0.46 ERA.
Wall has a deep lineup led by sophomore outfielder Nick Martinez and infielder Branden Biegert and a power-hitting presence in sophomore catcher Dan Wondrack.
They face a Northern Burlington team that has had the flair for the dramatic in the state tournament, beating Hightstown 6-5 on a walk-off homer and pulling out a 7-5 win over Lawrence in the semifinals. The last time the Greyhounds were in a sectional final was 1993, and they have never won one.