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With Opening Day in Shore Conference baseball coming tomorrow (allegedly, given the weather forecast), it's time to take a look at some storylines heading into this season.

Who is No. 1? 

Matt Manley will have his answer to this on the site with the initial rankings leading up to tomorrow's games, but this could be dependent on who's on the mound that day. When Luca Dalatri is pitching, anyone Christian Brothers Academy is facing is the underdog. There's also Class A South powers like defending Group IV champion Jackson Memorial, one of the deepest and most complete teams in the Shore, plus a loaded Toms River North team with good depth in the pitching department and some big-time bats led by Oklahoma State recruit Joey Rose. There's also a talented Wall team with a host of returners that should be a factor. Those are the teams that initially jump out at me, so we'll see who surprises early in the season.

Can any of last year's state champs repeat?

After bringing home a conference-record three Group champions last season, the best bet for a repeat looks to be Jackson Memorial. The pitcher the Jaguars rode to glory last season, Brandon Janofsky, is back in the fold along with some key offensive parts.

Meanwhile, Shore Regional and St. John Vianney have a lot of great players to replace from graduation. Shore seems to consistently make noise in Group I, so I think by the time the playoffs roll around and the new guys behind Monmouth University recruit James Kelly are acclimated, the Blue Devils should once again be a factor.

Jackson Memorial is hoping to end the season with another celebratory pile-on in June. (Photo by Scott Stump)

As for St. John Vianney, the hope is that there were just other talented players stuck behind All-Shore-level starters last season and the wins will keep coming. The difference is that Non-Public A is the hardest bracket in the state. It's not easy for any team to repeat in that bracket given the gauntlet that has to be run to take the title. St. John Vianney did it last season and ended up No. 1 in the state, so it shows the respect that is given to the champion of that Group.

The last Shore team to win back-to-back Group titles was Manalapan, which brought home the Group IV crown in 2011-12.

Can CBA junior ace Luca Dalatri repeat an incredible season? 

The numbers were straight PlayStation for the North Carolina recruit last season in earning SSN Pitcher of the Year honors: 11-0, 0.39 ERA, 90 Ks in 72.1 innings and only 37 hits. It's hard to ask anyone to duplicate something like that, which goes down as one of the great pitching seasons of any player in Shore Conference history. I still think it's going to be awfully hard for anyone to pin a loss on him this season. The best hope is to run his pitch count up and take your chances against CBA's bullpen, but that's much easier said than done because he pounds the strike zone.

Is Barnegat more than a one-man team? 

Potential first-round MLB draft pick Jason Groome is now at IMG Academy in Florida, and the Bengals are out to show that they will still be a factor in Class B South and the postseason without him. They won 14 games where he didn't pitch last season, so they will play with confidence, and they have a good 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with John Corbett and Seamus Brazill. The big X-factor for them is offense. Can they score runs when one of their big guns on the mound is dueling the other team's ace? That will determine whether they can get back to a sectional final and finish the job after coming up one win short of school history last year.

Is Rumson's Morgan Maguire the best all-around player in the Shore? 

He earned first-team All-Shore honors last season with a monstrous year at the plate, leading the Shore with a .600 average and a .702 on-base percentage and was second with an .883 slugging percentage that is the best of any returning player in the Shore. The Old Dominion recruit also went 7-3 with a 1.45 ERA on the mound for the Bulldogs. I would put him right there as an early Player of the Year candidate depending on how the Bulldogs do as a team compared to the big guns at places like CBA, Toms River North, Jackson Memorial and others.

If you haven't check it out yet, Matt has the Class B Central preview posted, where, surprise, surprise, defending champion St. Rose is the favorite once again. The main question with the Purple Roses is always how will they fare outside the division. They are under new coach Chris LeMore, so we'll see if they can make noise on a bigger scale this season after coming up short in the tournaments last year.

Also, a collection of Shore talent has received some preseason recognition from Perfect Game USA. Dalatri and his battery-mate, junior catcher Brandon Martorano, have been named preseason underclassmen second-team All-Americans, and Toms River North's Joey Rose was selected a third-team All-American.

Toms River East senior shortstop Jon Meola, a Virginia recruit, was honored by Perfect Game USA among Northeast Region talent. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

Colts Neck outfielder Mike Antico, Manalapan third baseman Chris Rodriguez, and Manasquan left-hander Tommy Sheehan earned high honorable mention honors. Red Bank Catholic shortstop Aaron Ahn, catcher Doug Facendo, infielder Evan Madigan and third baseman Anthony DeRosa, CBA pitchers Kenny Campbell and Ronnie Meehan, Middletown North third baseman Kyle Capo, Long Branch pitcher Travis Carroll, St. John Vianney catcher Ciaran Devenney, Marlboro pitcher Jeremy Dyzenhaus, Lacey shortstop Anthony Elefante, Holmdel shortstop Tyler Fischer, Freehold Township pitcher Ralph Gambino, Manalapan outfielder Stephen Hansen and pitchers Jake Sadowitz and Tyler Stafflinger, Point Boro third baseman Mark Leyble, Brick Memorial first baseman Brian Markoski, Red Bank pitcher Nick Massa, Wall pitcher Mike Nocchi, Toms River North pitcher Brandon Ryan, and Toms River South outfielder Trevor Wagner all received honorable mention honors.

As for the senior class from the Shore, no one earned any preseason All-American honors at the national level, but several were recognized by Perfect Game as Northeast Region selections. Toms River East shortstop Jon Meola was a first-team Northeast Region selection, while Toms River North senior outfielder Kevin Blum, catcher Michael Tiplady and pitchers Brett Hyers, Doug Molnar and Ryan Larsen, Howell infielder Connor Boyle, Barnegat pitcher Seamus Brazill, St. Rose outfielder Travis Cloney, CBA shortstop Matt D'Angelo, outfielder Will Morgan and third baseman James Miller, Manalapan shortstop John Diana, Central pitcher Jacob Dominguez, Manasquan pitcher Marc Galvan and shortstop Max Hawkins, St. John Vianney outfielder Daniel Gesior, Rumson shortstop Max Goione, Jackson Memorial pitcher/shortstop Brandon Janofsky, pitcher Ryan Takacs and outfielder Rich Rountree, Manalapan pitcher Nick Marotta, Colts Neck first baseman Tyler Kapuscinski, pitcher Chris Murphy and outfielder Tyler Kay, Shore Regional pitcher James Kelly, Rumson pitcher Morgan Maguire, Brick first baseman Nick Moglia, Marlboro pitcher Andrew Nardi, Wall pitcher Ryan Orender and catcher Dan Wondrack, St. John Vianney pitcher Dan Schirmacher, Jackson Liberty pitcher Howard Taylor, Middletown South outfielder Joe Timmins, and Middletown North pitcher Conor Youncofski all earned Northeast Region honorable mention.


Some more of the Shore Conference's top seniors have made their college choices. Wall guard Trent Mitchell, a 1,000-point scorer and four-year varsity player, is headed to Catholic University, while Colts Neck guard Chris O'Reilly, also a 1,000-point scorer and four-year varsity player, has committed to Division II Molloy College. Also, Middletown North senior Dylan Frawley will continue his career at Bard College.


The inaugural Shore Sports Network Top 10 rankings for boys lacrosse by Bob Badders are out. Before this week is even over, we'll have a clear No. 1, as the top two teams meet on Saturday when Southern travels to Rumson-Fair Haven for a huge nondivisional game.

More on Tuesday:

On tap for today: More boys lacrosse action today before baseball (hopefully) gets underway tomorrow barring any fields getting messed up by today's expected weather.

I'll end with the highlights from last night's dunk contest in advance of the McDonald's All-American game.