Although the theme of the 2013 season to this point has been the depth of the two large-school divisions – Class A North and Class A South – this week’s top 10 recognizes the strong starts of two teams outside of those two divisions. As a matter of fact, Class A North does not have a team in this week’s top 10 ranked higher than No. 5, while Class B North makes its first appearance in the top three this season.

Despite the top-four slight, Class A North is represented by five teams in these rankings, the most for any division this season. With all of the teams in the division no better than 4-2 and no worse than 2-4, it is hard to separate them all. When one considers that the two teams with 2-4 records are the defending Group IV champion (Manalapan) and Monmouth County Tournament champion (Freehold Township) it becomes even harder to figure out.

That does not mean one can’t give it a shot.

 

1. Red Bank Catholic (7-1, 6-0) Last Week: 1

The Caseys got their first major test of the season on Saturday and lived up to their No. 1 ranking by beating Christian Brothers Academy and Pittsburgh-bound right-hander Matt Pidich. Red Bank Catholic then nearly suffered a letdown against Manasquan, but the Casey overcame an early 5-0 hole and won 10-9. While Manasquan is better than its 0-5 record, that is the game the Caseys should win based on their lofty postseason aspirations and the fact that they found a way to win despite a slow start more a positive than a negative.

Junior right-hander Evan Lobato and Brick crack the top five this week for the first time this season. (Photo by Matt Manley)

2. Jackson Memorial (5-1, 5-0) Last Week: 2

Like Red Bank Catholic, Jackson Memorial’s only blemish this season came on the road, outside the Shore Conference in a low-scoring game. The Jaguars lost their first game of the season Sunday against Immaculata at Diamond Nation and bounced back with a huge Class A South win over previously unbeaten Brick in a wild game. Once again, the Jaguars appear to be the clear favorite in Class A South and with a strong second-half of the season, they look primed for a fourth division title in the last five years.

3. Wall (7-0, 5-0) Last Week: 5

Many of the Class A North teams have more experienced rosters and have played superior competition, but Wall has something that none of those A North teams have: a perfect record. The Crimson Knights just continue to win, beating Long Branch right-hander Ashwin Mudiraj and then toppling Matawan Monday to move into sole possession of first place in Class B North.  Wall has now won 16 straight divisional games dating back to the 2011 season, the first of two seasons in Class C Central before moving back to B North this year.

4. Brick (4-1, 3-1) Last Week: 6

Moral victories do not count toward a top-10 resume, but the Green Dragons showed their toughness in a 7-6 road loss to Jackson Memorial on Tuesday. Brick outhit the Jaguars, rallied from a three-run deficit and nearly did it again later in the game before coming up short. Brick showed a spotty defense behind ace Evan Lobato on Monday, but the lineup is deep and the pitching is good, which means the Green Dragons have a chance to hang around in the Class A South race. They will deal with a hungry Toms River North team on Tuesday.

5. Howell (4-2, 4-2) Last Week: Not ranked

The Rebels finally met their match in a 5-3 loss to Maine-bound right-hander Chris Stark and Middletown North on Monday, snapping Howell’s four-game winning streak. Despite the loss to a quality pitcher, the Rebels remain the top-ranked Class A North team thanks to a win Friday over CBA to go along with wins over Colts Neck, Manalapan and Freehold Township. Every win in Class A North is a quality victory and considering we picked Howell to finish last in the division, the Rebels have to be feeling pretty good about their first turn through the division as they host Middletown South on Wednesday.

6. Christian Brothers Academy (4-3, 4-2) Last Week: 4

The Colts continue what will be a run of Class A North teams in the top 10. It is so hard to separate one A North team from the next to this point, so the easiest way to rank them is by record and the Colts are right there with Howell for the division lead. On sheer dominance, CBA has been the best team in the division with a plus-20 run differential, 12 runs better than Howell, the next-best team in that category. The CBA bats woke from a mini-slump in a 12-0 win over Marlboro, but that was hardly necessary as right-hander John McCarren tossed a six-inning no-hitter, retiring the final 18 batters he faced.

7. Colts Neck (4-3, 3-3) Last Week: Not ranked

Manalapan was bound to snap out of their early-season lull and Colts Neck was the unfortunate team to catch them on the wrong day. The Cougars have been as consistent as any other team in the division to this point and it shows in the score of their games. All six of Colts Neck’s games have been decided by three runs or fewer, including a 17-14 loss to Howell. While the Cougars are undoubtedly looking forward to a second meeting with CBA on Friday, they must be careful not to overlook Middletown North, which enters Wednesday’s game with a two-game winning streak after beating Manalapan and Howell.

8. Middletown South (3-3, 3-3) Last Week: 3

Anyone looking to watch a close high school baseball game should bookmark Middletown South’s season schedule. All six of the Eagles’ games have been decided by three runs or fewer and two of those games have gone into extra innings. With no more than five runs in any game, the offense has not been overly dynamic, but Middletown South’s pitching has been its strength once again. The Eagles are still trying to string two wins together, but they have at least demonstrated that they have a team that will eventually do so.

9. Brick Memorial (3-2, 3-1) Last Week: Not ranked

The Mustangs are back in the top 10 thanks to a resounding 11-1 win over Toms River East with ace Brian Cottrell on the mound. Brick Memorial originally dropped out of the rankings because of a lopsided loss to Wall, but the Crimson Knights are making that defeat seem more and more forgivable with each passing day. The Mustangs also took Jackson Memorial to extra innings on opening day, so the potential is there to challenge top teams. Brick Memorial will host Toms River South on Tuesday as it plays an Indians team that is close to breaking back into the top 10 as well.

10. Marlboro (4-3, 3-3) Last Week: 8

The Mustangs are behind the other Mustangs because their blowout loss came against a lower-ranked team (CBA) and because Brick Memorial’s only two losses are to top-three teams. On the other hand, Marlboro routed Howell 10-1 and also has quality wins over Matawan, Manalapan and Middletown North. The CBA rout notwithstanding, Marlboro’s pitching has been tremendous but the offense has to be a bit of a concern. Since scoring 10 runs on opening day against Howell, Marlboro has managed only 12 runs in six games.

 

Dropped Out

Toms River East: (3-3, 3-3) Last Week: 7 – A top 10 with no Toms River representation seems wrong, but East and North both stumbled to the finish at the end of this week.

Toms River North (3-3, 2-3) Last Week: 9 – The division title may be slipping away for the Mariners, who can calm any doubts about this team with a win over a tough Brick squad on Tuesday.

Jackson Liberty (3-2, 3-1) Last Week: 10 – A loss to Barnegat last week drops the Lions from the rankings and it appears Class B South will be much tougher on Jackson Liberty than expected.

 

On the Bubble

St. Rose (4-0, 4-0) – The Purple Roses were supposed to get a crack at Wall on Saturday and at this point, they are just waiting for a chance to show what they can do outside of Class B Central.

Toms River South (5-2, 3-2) – The Indians appeared to be a club that was picking on lesser teams for wins, but a dramatic win over Toms River North on Monday could mean that things are coming together at South.

Matawan (4-2, 4-1) – The Huskies missed a chance at a big splash in losing to Wall, but Matawan can still hang around in the division race.

Middletown North (3-3, 3-3) – Any team that is .500 in Class A North is in the mix for a top 10 spot to some degree.

St. John Vianney (5-2, 4-2) – The Lancers have won four straight and have made a 16-4 loss to Shore look like a bad day more than the sign of future struggles.