2023 Shore Sports Network Baseball Preview: Class A North
There are good programs across all six divisions of the Shore Conference, but over the last several years, Class A North has been, hands-down, the best and deepest division in the conference and it will be as deep as ever in 2023.
With Colts Neck replacing Long Branch in the eight-team field, the division is now home to seven teams that have played in an NJSIAA sectional final in the last three seasons (2019, 2021 and 2022) and the one team that has not made it that far in the postseason (Freehold Township) won the regular-season division championship in 2021. Even before you consider that five of the teams have won sectional titles since 2019 and three (Middletown North, Middletown South and Howell) have won overall state championships in the last two years alone, that is an incredible track record of success for the division.
Last year, for the second straight year, a fifth-place team from Class A North went on to win a state championship, with Middletown North winning the Group III title after going 6-8 in the division – just as crosstown rival Middletown South did in 2021 before making a run to the Group IV championship. Although the Lions, Eagles and Howell coming back as recent champions, overcoming the gauntlet division schedule will be a major obstacle while pursuing postseason positioning.
There is not a single team in Class A North that should be considered rebuilding, but there is bound to be at least one that has a rough season as the last-place team in the field. With some crafty scheduling, it might even be possible for the division to sneak all eight teams into the Shore Conference Tournament and it would be a surprise if one of them failed to qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament. The division is just that talented and the drama of the division race will only grow in intensity from week to week.
In predicted order of finish
A year after winning the Group IV championship in 2021, Middletown South followed with a 21-win season that included a Monmouth County Tournament championship while fifth-year senior Joe Stanzione slugged his way into the Shore Conference record books with a single-season record 15 home runs. On the heels of winning 43 games in two years – more than every Shore Conference team except Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven (44 each) – came the surprising news that three years after being hired as head coach, Chris LeMore would not have his contract renewed.
In steps Jeff Karpell, who spent seven seasons as head coach at Shore Regional and led the Blue Devils to the Group II championship game in 2009. It has been 12 years since Karpell has been a high-school head coach, but he has lived with one of the best coaches in New Jersey during that time: his wife, Dawn Karpell, is the head coach of the St. John Vianney girls basketball powerhouse.
Jeff will try to add another championship ring to the family collection this season with an Eagles team that is set up to deliver one thanks to the return of senior-right hander Ben Schild, who has been one of the state’s best pitchers in each of the last two seasons. As a sophomore, Schild pitched a two-hit shutout in the Group IV championship game and a year ago, the UConn commit struck out 95 in only 49 1/3 innings, including a win in the MCT championship game. After competing with the likes of Shane Panzini, Zach Crotchfelt, Anthony Gubitosi and Cam Leiter for the title of “Best Pitcher in the Shore Conference” Schild enters his senior year as the heavy favorite to finish the season with that distinction.
Schild is part of what should be a deep pitching staff for the Eagles, with junior left-hander Brevin Bezick following him in the No. 2 spot in the rotation after a breakthrough sophomore campaign. Right-hander Brendan Roche is back for another season after providing the Eagles 26 solid innings a year ago, while Will Christopher will double as a middle-of-the-order bat and versatile arm who can start of pitch in high-leverage relief. Throw in experienced juniors Mason Christopher and Jake Czwakiel and Middletown South will have plenty of pitching to navigate an arduous schedule and still make it to the late stages of the postseason tournaments.
If the pitchers need some support, they should get it in the form of a strong defense and pesky lineup. Losing Stanzione’s big bat will take a considerable amount of thunder out of the middle of the order, but there remains a core of dependable hitters – led by Will Christopher, Schild, Bezick, junior centerfielder Lou D’Alessio and senior second baseman Matt Sliva. Sliva and his sophomore brother, Brendan, make up one of the stronger double-play tandems in the conference and Brendan has grown enough in size that a breakout at the plate appears in the works as well.
Roche and senior Danny Corcoran will see more at-bats this season after playing part-time in 2022, with Corcoran showing some pop with a homer and a double in his 26 at-bats as a junior. Middletown South is also replacing a senior tandem behind the plate with junior transfer Andrew Marquis, the son of 16-year Major League pitcher Jason Marquis, who won a World Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals rotation in 2006.
Middletown South won’t have the Stanzione hammer in the middle of the lineup to change the game with one swing like he did so many times in 2022, but the Eagles will make up for it with a balanced, experienced lineup and a deep pitching staff that will be once again be led by one of the state’s top aces.
Head Coach: Jeff Karpell, first season (seventh overall)
2022 Record: 21-10 (10-4, tied second in Class A North)
Key Losses: Joe Stanzione (1B), Evan Wood (3B/RHP), Ryan St. Clair (OF), Rob Cangelosi (C), Ben Cacoilo (C), Steven Boguszewski (INF), Joe Bartos (INF)
Middletown South Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Andrew Marquis, Jr. – Transfer from St. Joseph by the Sea (N.Y.); Luigi Massagli, Sr.
First Base: Will Christopher, Sr. (.324/.454/.479, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 12 R, 18 RBI, 10 SB); Brevin Bezick, Jr.
Second Base: Matt Sliva, Sr. (.364/.461/.432, 3 2B, 11 R, 8 RBI, 8 SB)
Shortstop: Brendan Sliva, So. (.306/.407/.306, 9 R, 5 RBI, 7 SB)
Third Base: Danny Corcoran, Sr. (.192/.323/.346 , 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI, 3 SB); Will Christopher, Sr.
Leftfield: Ben Schild, Sr (.341/.418/.388, 4 2B, 19 R, 18 RBI, 5 SB).; Aaron Szitanko, Sr. (3-for-3, 2 RBI)
Centerfield: Louis D’Alessio, Jr. (.289/.372/.434, 7 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 26 R, 22 RBI, 10 SB)
Rightfield: Brendan Roche, Sr. (5-for-15, 1 2B, 3 R, 3 RBI, 4 SB)
DH: Brevin Bezick, Jr. (.274/.479/.292, 1 2B, 14 R, 6 RBI, 9 SB); Ben Schild, Sr.; Dante Farrel-Brown, Sr. (3B/1B); Will Christopher, Sr.
Roman Concordia, Sr., OF (4-for-5, 3 R, 5 RBI)
Jake Czwakiel, Jr., OF (4-for-8, 3 R, 2 RBI)
John Chiusano Sr., 1B/C/DH (1-for-11, 2 RBI)
Ben Schild, Sr., RHP (49.1 IP, 7-0, 0.86 ERA, 21 H, 17 BB, 95 K)
Brevin Bezick, Jr., LHP (37 IP, 3-4, 3.03 ERA, 19 H, 28 BB, 51 K)
Brendan Roche, Fifth-Year Sr., RHP (26 IP, 2-0, 2.15 ERA, 23 H, 8 BB, 18 K)
Mason Christopher, Jr., LHP (12.1 IP, 1-0, 3.47 ERA, 11 H, 7 BB, 9 K)
Will Christopher, Sr., RHP (25.2 IP, 3-3, 2.78 ERA, 21 H, 22 BB, 26 K)
Jake Czwakiel Jr. RHP (6.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 6 BB, 10 K)
Reid Tully Sr. LHP
Chris Thompson Sr. LHP
Ben Schild – University of Connecticut
Will Christopher – Stonehill College
Danny Corcoran – Montclair State University
Brendan Roche – Montclair State University
Aaron Szitanko – Nicholls College
John Chiusano – Kean University
Christian Brothers Academy
Year after year, CBA heads into the season with the unapologetic expectation to add another “ball on the wall,” which is to say a circular panel on its outfield wall commemorating a championship – of which there are many already in place. Last season, the Colts failed to win a championship of any kind, but came painstakingly close on three occasions. They did not get past the round of 16 in the Monmouth County Tournament, but they did lose to 2021 champion Red Bank Catholic in extra innings.
CBA’s bid for a Class A North division championship, meanwhile, came up short as Howell kicked off its dream season by winning a division title over the Colts and Middletown South, who both finished tied for second place. That left the state tournament and CBA nearly pulled off a dream run of its own. The Colts scored road wins over RBC and St. Joseph of Metuchen before losing to six-time champion St. Augustine in the NJSIAA South Non-Public A sectional final.
All that is the backdrop to this season, in which CBA enters with a quality collection of position-player talent but lacking in experience on the mound. Coach Marty Kenney Jr. will have a deep stable of options on the mound, but none with more than eight innings of work a year ago. That is because two top returners – Maryland commit Luke Rocessano and left-hander Tony DeJohn – are both projected to miss the season due to injury, which leaves returnees Chris Levonas, Nick Harnisch and Brennan O’Keefe to pick up the slack. Levonas is a junior Wake Forest commit who flashed dominance a year ago and has the makings of a staff ace, while Harnisch and O’Keefe are both prepared for larger roles. The rest of the staff is also talented-but-inexperienced, with a sophomores Will Fahey and Jack Difficy joining a deep freshman group that hopes to make an impact.
While there is some uncertainty in the pitching staff, the lineup brings back three All-Shore-caliber bats that should spearhead one of the better hitting attacks in the Shore Conference. Wofford commit and senior shortstop Harrison Campi is coming off an impressive offensive season and is regarded as one of the top defenders in the conference, while St. John’s commit Zaine Toneske and Gettysburg commit Hunter Del Guercio are major home run threats in the middle of the order.
The rest of the lineup is not as proven, but has some real upside. The Colts should be solid at both second and third base, with Scanton commit James Nitti taking over at second and Monmouth commit Wyatt Hunt taking over at third base full-time this season after earning playing time at the end of his junior season. Senior Matt DiFeo lines up in centerfield, while classmates Jack Mocik, Jake Petro and Parker Beyum figure to chip in at the plate and in the outfield.
Sophomore Justin Fuerbacher – already a two-year starter on the basketball court – is an x-factor at several positions, although a hand injury is likely to sideline him during the early part of the schedule. The Colts have another sophomore behind the plate in Danny Tsimbinos, who will likely open the season as the most prominent sophomore in a class that should make an impact this season and might have to for CBA to get where it wants to go.
Head Coach: Marty Kenney Jr., third season
2022 Record: 18-10 (10-4, tied second in Class A North)
Key Losses: Colin Reilly (RHP), Jack Frankovic (CF/RHP), Joe Figliolino (C), Alexey Stoudt (2B), Gavin Kus (RF), George Kruse (3B), Liam Sweeney (OF)
CBA Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Danny Tsimbinos, So.; Justin Fuerbacher, So.
First Base: Zaine Toneske, Sr. (.386/.485/.639, 9 2B, 4 HR, 20 R, 24 RBI); Justin Fuerbacher, So.
Second Base: James Nitti, Sr.
Shortstop: Harrison Campi, Sr. (.386/.465/.648, 11 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 29 R, 14 RBI, 3 SB)
Third Base: Wyatt Hunt, Sr. (.257/.435/.429, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 7 R, 7 RBI)
Leftfield: Jack Mocik, Sr.
Centerfield: Matt DiFeo, Sr.
Rightfield: Hunter Del Guercio, Sr. (.360/.402/.616, 5 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 18 R, 38 RBI, 2 SB)
DH: Nick Harnisch, Sr. (.171/.293/.200, 1 2B, 6 R, 3 RBI, 3 SB); Justin Fuerbacher, So.
Parker Beyum, Sr., OF
Jake Petro, Sr., OF
Will Fahey, So., OF
Jack Dufficy, So., OF
Chris Levonas, Jr., RHP (5 IP, 1-0, 1.40 ERA, 2 H, 5 BB, 9 K)
Nick Harnisch, Sr., RHP (1.1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 2 BB, 2 K)
Brennan O’Keefe, Sr., RHP (8 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 1 BB, 14 K)
Zaine Toneske, Sr., RHP (1 IP, 0-1, 3 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 K)
Will Fahey, So., RHP
Jack Difficy, So., RHP
Danny DiTullio, Fr., LHP
Dylan Iwanyk, Fr., RHP
Dan Pardini, Fr., LHP
Sean Loggie, Fr., LHP
Jared Matejicka, Fr., LHP
Luke Rocessano, Sr., RHP – Injured
Tony DeJohn, Sr., RHP – Injured
Harrison Campi – Wofford University
Zaine Toneske – St. John’s University
Hunter Del Guercio – Gettysburg College
Nick Harnisch – College of the Holy Cross
Wyatt Hunt – Monmouth University
James Nitti – University of Scranton
Brennan O’Keefe – Catholic University
Chris Levonas – Wake Forest University
A year after reaching the 2021 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game, Marlboro had to scratch and claw its way to make it to .500 in 2022. With that being said, the season was not without its highlights: Marlboro made a run to the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals that was part of a seven-game winning streak that directly followed a six-game losing streak. The Mustangs also got used to playing down-to-the-wire games, going 3-6 in games decide by one run.
The Mustangs will forge ahead into 2023 looking to replace four key offensive players, a staff ace and another dependable innings-eater in the rotation. The prospects for doing all that appear promising and it all starts with pitching. After splitting time between starting and closing, Seton-Hall-bound senior right-hander Alex D’Ambrosio is set to lead the rotation this season as the staff ace. After last year’s No. 1 starter, Tyler Villa, Marlboro coach Craig Helfgott split the innings up fairly evenly and could do so again with three key pieces back in Chris Collina, Lawrence Elinson and Alex Frank. All three of those players, plus D’Ambrosio, pitched between 17 and 24 innings, with each posting an ERA no worse than 2.59 and striking out no fewer than 18.
Marlboro will complement its balanced pitching staff with a lineup that also brings back four key contributors from last year’s group. Just as he will for the pitching staff, D’Ambrosio will anchor the offense after putting up impressive raw numbers that are even more impressive when you consider he went 10-for-19 with four triples, a homer and 11 RBI in Marlboro’s seven tournament games. D’Ambrosio is expected to play more first base this season to take some of the pressure off his arm after playing shortstop the last two seasons, which leaves shortstop open for junior Nick Scaff. He will pair with senior second baseman Andrew Li up the middle, while senior Anthony Martino and junior Joe Santos figure into the mix on the corners of the infield.
A trio of experienced outfielders will join D’Ambrosio near the top of the batting order, with junior Paul Santos manning centerfield this season. Seniors Mike Kansky and Daniel Talarico will patrol the corners, with Kansky providing a lift during the second half of 2022 and Talarico offering a combination of hitting ability and speed. Although he did not log a lot of at-bats, sophomore catcher Gavin McCarthy is also back behind the plate after earning the job over the course of his freshman season. Red Bank Catholic transfer Michael Consolazio could also factor in behind the plate, as well as at DH.
In each of the past two seasons, a public school team stepped up to surprise the field and win the outright division title (Freehold Township in 2021 and Howell in 2022), while a fifth-place team from the division won an overall state championship (Middletown South in 2021 and Middletown North in 2022). That is quite the track record for the Shore’s deepest division and with a deep pitching staff and just enough hitting back to feel hopeful, Marlboro has the look of a team that could do big things coming out of Class A North.
Head Coach: Craig Helfgott, fourth season
2022 Record: 13-13 (5-9, seventh in Class A North)
Key Losses: Julien Umanzor (2B), Tyler Villa (RHP), Julian Buchman (CF), Nick Gomolka (3B), Josh Mack (1B/RHP), Jake Kalfayan (LHP), Shawn McNiff (OF)
Marlboro Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Gavin McCarthy, So. (.107/.194/.107); Michael Consolazio, Jr. (Transfer from Red Bank Catholic)
First Base: Alex D’Ambrosio, Sr. (.342/.489/.589, 2 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 12 R, 17 RBI); Anthony Martino, Sr. (Transfer from CBA)
Second Base: Andrew Li, Sr. (1-for-2, RBI); Nick Scaff, Jr.; Alex Frank, Sr. (1-for-8)
Shortstop: Nick Scaff, Jr.; Alex Frank, Sr.
Third Base: Joe Santos, Jr.; Justin Capell, Sr.
Leftfield: Daniel Talarico, Sr. (.242/.386/.352, 1 2B, 2 3B, 16 R, 12 RBI, 10 SB)
Centerfield: Paul Santos, Jr. (.314/.337/.395, 5 2B, 1 3B, 15 R, 14 RBI)
Rightfield: Mike Kansky, Sr. (.366/.480/.463, 2 2B, 1 3B, 11 R, 14 RBI); Anthony Martino, Sr.
DH: Anthony Martino, Sr.; Michael Consolazio, Jr.
Michael Diver, Sr., OF (2-for-4, RBI)
Alex D’Ambrosio, Sr., RHP (24.1 IP, 1-1, 3 SV, 2.59 ERA, 18 H, 12 BB, 32 K)
Chris Collina, Sr., RHP (19.1 IP, 3-1, 2.53 ERA, 17 H, 10 BB, 18 K)
Lawrence Elinson, Sr., RHP (16 IP, 2-0, 1.31 ERA, 13 H, 3 BB, 26 K)
Alex Frank, Sr., RHP (17.2 IP, 2-1, 2.38 ERA, 13 H, 8 BB, 18 K)
Daniel Trentacosta, Jr., RHP
Andrew Li, Sr., RHP
Jacob Glick, Sr., RHP
Matthew Padalec, Jr., RHP
Alex D’Ambrosio – Seton Hall University
Chris Collina – Wagner College
Alex Frank – Hobart College
Coming off the best season in program history, the Rebels will try to ride the momentum of a 2022 season that that included a school-record win total, an outright Class A North championship and the first ever NJSIAA Group IV championship, Shore No. 1 ranking and state top-five ranking. If that momentum is available, Howell could definitely use the help given it lost the vast majority of its innings, plus five key spots in the batting order and around the diamond.
While replacing key offensive producers like Thomas Strauch and Nick Gomes will be a tall order, Howell does return three hitters who were – at times – capable of carrying the offense. Senior Russell Halvorsen did it throughout his First-Team-All-Shore junior campaign, while third baseman Joe Zito and first baseman Braden Walsh (30 RBI) combined for 49 RBI as sophomores at the corner infield spots and caught fire at different points during the season.
It remains to be seen how the new group of starters will handle the challenge of playing for a defending state championship team, but coach Eric Johnson is optimistic that the Rebels will have a strong defensive group. Senior Luke Devita is taking over the shortstop duties for Strauch, who led with his offense. The Rebels will now lean on a defense-first senior at the position, while a pair of sophomores – Aaron Wojenski and Vinny Agnello – work in at second base.
The outfield should be especially dynamic, with a pair of athletic corner outfielders in Nick Lennon and Jack Gartenstein flanking Halvorsen. Gartenstein is a football standout who dealt with an injury last spring, while Lennon is a strong-armed junior who should provide a spark as well. While that group covers the defense, sophomore Logan Koeppel will provide a boost at the plate as the designated hitter who could potentially get reps at first base as well.
One of the unheralded aspects of Howell’s 2022 team was its senior catching tandem of Jeremy Wojenski and Nick Todisco – both of whom played in big games and swapped time between catcher and DH. Brody Loch is a talented sophomore with a bright future and the tools to deliver immediately, but replacing senior leadership behind the plate is never easy. That is especially true with all the pitching Howell lost.
On the subject of pitching, seniors Luke Bearse and Aiden Bauer will be the leaders of the staff after both were contributors to Howell’s deep staff of interchangeable and effective pitchers – albeit with two standouts at the top in Danny Furlong and Nick Gomes. That being said, both Gomes and Furlong were injured during the last two rounds of the state tournament and Howell’s staff still stepped up as a unit to beat both Cherokee and Hunterdon Central, with the Cherokee win coming in extra innings, no less. Still, that was a senior-heavy group from top-to-bottom, and it will take big debuts from Koeppel, sophomore Jake Jensen and junior Rohan Shah for Howell to make a serious run at another Class A North title.
Head Coach: Eric Johnson, 13th season
2022 Record: 25-6 (12-2, first in Class A North)
Key Losses: Dan Furlong (RHP/2B), Thomas Strauch (SS), Nick Gomes (LHP/OF), Devon Smith (CF), Nick Todisco (C), Jeremy Wojenski (C), Nick Gallo (2B/3B), Ryan Bilello (LHP/OF), Jason Pace (RHP), Stephen Jardim (RHP), Nick Baracato (RHP)
Howell Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Brody Loch, So.
First Base: Braden Walsh, Jr. (.295/.429/.462, 5 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 20 R, 30 RBI, 3 SB)
Second Base: Aaron Wojenski, So.; Vinny Agnello, So.
Shortstop: Luke Devita, Sr.
Third Base: Joe Zito, Jr. (.326/.438/.500, 9 2B, 2 HR, 25 R, 19 RBI, 3 SB)
Leftfield: Nick Lennon, Jr.
Centerfield: Russell Halvorsen, Sr. (.434/.552/.783, 9 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 33 R, 19 RBI, 11 SB)
Rightfield: Jack Gartenstein, Sr.
DH: Logan Koeppel, So. (1B)
Luke Bearse Sr. RHP (11 IP, 1-1, 7.00 ERA, 15 H, 10 BB, 8 K)
Aiden Bauer Sr. RHP (11.2 IP, 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 13 H, 10 BB, 7 K)
Rohan Shah Jr. RHP
Logan Koeppel, So., RHP
Jake Jensen, So., LHP
Russell Halvorsen – Stockton University
Luke Devita – Thomas Jefferson University
Aiden Bauer – Drew University
Jack Snowden – Elmira College
Over the last decade-and-a-half under Brian Boyce, Manalapan has been one of the Shore Conference’s most successful public-school teams. With that being said, the Braves got lost in the A North sauce to a degree last season, finishing in the middle of a tough division while going out relatively quietly in all of the tournaments and finishing below .500 for the first time since 2016. The Braves had a legitimate ace in Tyler Kane, but were done in by inconsistencies on offense, defense and within the rest of the pitching staff.
Even without Kane and fellow 2023 graduate Aidan Tumbleson this season, Manalapan should head into the season feeling good about the pitching staff. Right-hander Dylan Shaffer turned in a promising sophomore campaign and is poised for a big step forward as a junior, while seniors Danny Burns and A.J. Tanico got a taste of big innings last year and will back Shaffer in the rotation. A trio of sophomores – Leon Vitale, Cristian Ptasienski and Kevin Rusinak will also be important contributors on the mound.
As much as the rotation got a shakeup over the last year, the lineup has undergone even more of a makeover after much of last year’s senior-heavy crew moved on. Fortunately for Manalapan, two of its best position players are returning seniors: St. John’s recruit and centerfielder Cristian Bernardini and senior catcher Christian D’Angelo. In Bernardini, Manalapan will boast one of the Shore’s best outfielders on both sides of the ball and D’Angelo brings critical experience and ability behind the plate to an otherwise inexperienced group.
With the exception of Tanico getting at-bats at DH, the rest of Manalapan’s lineup with be sprinkled with juniors and sophomores. First baseman Joe Varvaro, second baseman John Pecoraro, shortstop Chris Silva and third baseman Kevin Rusinak would form an all-junior infield if they are all in the opening-day lineup, although senior Christian Zabotka could also factor in as a solid defender with experience at second base and shortstop.
Rusniak and junior Chris Liegi are the two likely corner outfield starters alongside Bernardini, with Ptasienski also in the mix for playing time as a third baseman and DH. Like a number of the teams in Class A North this year, Manalapan has a good number of holes to plug, but a very sturdy foundation of proven talent that should help the Braves make a successful transition back into contention in 2023.
Head Coach: Brian Boyce, 16th season
2022 Record: 12-13 (7-7, fourth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Tyler Kane (RHP), Aidan Tumbleson (RHP), Max Graime (1B/3B), Liam Martin (1B/OF), Dylan Reiner (OF), Christian Vento (2B), Lenny Masucci (OF), Brandon Caputo (INF/DH)
Manalapan Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Christian D’Angelo, Sr. (.267/.433/.333, 4 2B, 3 R, 10 RBI)
First Base: Joe Varvaro, Jr.
Second Base: John Pecoraro, Jr.; Christian Zabotka, Sr. (.088/.220/.118, 1 2B, 5 R, 4 RBI)
Shortstop: Chris Silva, Jr.
Third Base: Joe Dionisio, Jr.
Leftfield: Kevin Rusinak, So.
Centerfield: Cristian Bernardini, Sr. (.380/.470/.634, 9 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 16 R, 24 RBI, 3 SB)
Rightfield: Chris Liegi, Jr.
DH: A.J. Tanico, Sr. (1B); Cristian Ptasienski, So. (3B)
Dylan Shaffer, Jr., RHP (23.1 IP, 3-2, 2.40 ERA, 20 H, 9 BB, 23 K)
Danny Burns, Sr., RHP (10.1 IP, 1-2, 8.13 ERA, 10 H, 12 BB, 8 K)
A.J. Tanico, Sr., LHP (8.2 IP, 0-0, 3.23 ERA, 12 H, 4 BB, 9 K)
Leo Vitale, So., RHP
Cristian Ptasienski, So., RHP
Kevin Rusinak, So., RHP
The depth of Class A North has been something to behold over the last two seasons and no team exhibited that depth more than the 2022 Middletown North Lions. After struggling during April, Middletown North rallied to the brink of qualifying for the Shore Conference Tournament, only to lose a win-and-in game vs. Red Bank that ultimately left the Lions out of the tournament. From there, Middletown North regrouped and proceeded to win its last 12 games, including six in the NJSIAA Tournament to capture the Group III championship for first time in program history.
To win its first state title, Middletown North rode the strong right arm of fifth-year senior Colin Dowlen, who started four of the six games in the state tournament, winning the first three. The Lions also got clutch pitching performances from 2023 graduates Mike Weinbel and Matt Adamson, leaving this year’s team without its three top pitchers from last year’s championship club. Throw in the graduation of clutch slugger Andrew Lombardi, plus the considerable offensive production Dowlen, Weinbel and Adamson provided during the run, and Middletown North has plenty of work to do in replacing the senior leadership that helped drive the Lions to their first championship.
It is going to sound like a broken record in this division, but despite the losses to graduation, Middletown North is another team that has some serious talent. Seton Hall commit Ryan Frontera was an All-Shore shortstop a year ago and has had some pitching success in his high-school career, although his role as a pitcher was significantly scaled back a season ago. Frontera was one of Middletown North’s core players last year and many of the returning players came up big as role players a year ago. Returning first baseman Zach Hampton hit .420 as a freshman, while outfielders Dylan Briggs and Jason Quardt emerged as sophomores who figure to be even better now that they are a year older. Senior Colby McMahon also caught fire for the stretch run to lengthen a Middletown North lineup that went from stale to splendid once the calendar flipped to May.
May could be a big month for Middletown North again, as Lions coach Ryan McCabe is hoping to get senior slugger R.J. Kernan back for this year’s stretch run. Kernan suffered a torn ACL that robbed him of a chance to play during the state tournament run and the Montclair State commit is hoping to get back in time to contribute to another one this year. In the meantime, there will be a group of newcomers trying to hold down the fort in the lineup: sophomore catcher Michael Hallard, outfielders Connor Walsh, Gabe Alemeyer and Ian McGoldrick and sophomore third baseman Aldo Casale.
If Middletown North is going to make more noise this season, its pitching will have to get caught up in a hurry. The Lions will be leaning on their group of sophomores to fill in a lot of openings, particularly on the mound. Hampton returns with the most experience after serving as the No. 3 starter for most of the year until Adamson came on strong to end the season and ease the burden on the freshman. That burden will be even heavier as Hampton looks to take over the No. 1 spot on what looks to be the least experienced staff in the division.
Considering Dowlen’s role during the tournament run and the job Weinbel and Adamson did on days Dowlen could not pitch, it is hard to see a team with a staff this green navigating its way to a top-three finish in A North and back to a sectional final. Then again, Middletown North’s offense was unstoppable for the final 12 games of 2022 and there is enough back within that lineup to believe in the Lions again in 2023.
Head Coach: Ryan McCabe, fourth season
2022 Record: 21-10 (6-8, tied fifth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Colin Dowlen (RHP/1B), Mike Weinbel (RHP/3B/2B/OF), Andrew Lombardi (DH), Matt Adamson (CF/LHP), Aidan Sheehan (C)
Middletown North Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Michael Hallard, So.
First Base: Zach Hampton, So. (.420/.506/.493, 5 2B, 13 R, 12 RBI); Gabe Ahlemeyer, So.
Second Base: Colby McMahon, Sr. (.317/.411/.450, 6 2B, 1 3B, 13 R, 12 RBI, 3 SB)
Shortstop: Ryan Frontera, Sr. (.379/.464/.632, 7 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 29 R, 21 RBI, 10 SB)
Third Base: Aldo Casale, So.
Leftfield: Jason Quardt, Jr. (.291/.333/.302, 1 2B, 16 R, 8 RBI, 6 SB)
Centerfield: Dylan Briggs, Jr. (.255/.368/.489, 3 2B, 4 3B, 18 R, 9 RBI, 6 SB)
Rightfield: Connor Walsh, Jr.; Gabe Ahlemeyer, So.; Ian McGoldrick, So.
DH: Joey Wall, Jr.; Jack Jensen, So.; Gabe Ahlemeyer, So.; Ian McGoldrick, So.; Eddie Patrick, Sr.
R.J. Kernan, Sr., OF (Injured)
Zach Hampton, So., RHP
Eddie Patrick, Sr., RHP
Jason Quardt, Jr., RHP
Connor Walsh, Jr., RHP
Gabe Ahlemeyer, So., LHP
Alipo Figueroa, So., RHP
Ryan Thal, So., RHP
Seamus McCabe, So., RHP
Ian McGoldrick, So., RHP
Joe Tucci, So., RHP
Ryan Clark, Fr., RHP
Ryan Frontera – Seton Hall University
Colby McMahon – St. Elizabeth University
R.J. Kernan – Montclair State University
Coming off consecutive trips to the Central Jersey Group III championship game, Colts Neck has established itself as a program that has to be in the conversation as a sectional-title contender every year. With a 2021 championship to boast and a 2022 loss to Middletown North to serve as motivation, the Cougars will have plenty of big-game experience upon which to draw over the course of 2023.
Several of the players that made Colts Neck a championship contender over the past two seasons have moved on to graduation, most notably All-Shore ace Anthony Gubitosi. While the lights-out left-hander is the most noteworthy loss, Colts Neck will also sorely miss catcher Joe Cilea, who was one of the Shore’s top defenders behind the dish, and clutch hitters Dave Cohen and Brad Salamone. Losing five starters (Christian Rice is the fifth) is not a devastating number to overcome, but the impact that group had on Colts Neck’s success over the last two years was immense.
That leaves coach Mike Yorke’s crew to attack with a deep lineup of players who should excel putting the ball in play on offense and provide solid defense in the other half-innings. Seniors Ryan Tan and Tyler Spencer will be a polished double-play duo up the middle, with Dan serving as a constant while Spencer doubles as a top starter on the mound as well. Juniors Chris Scully (third base) and Tom Diffley (first) were dependable players as freshmen and look ready to emerge into greater roles, with Scully coming off a 16-RBI campaign.
The outfield also boasts experienced juniors, with Tosh Mancini moving into a full-time centerfield role after part-time work as a sophomore. Casey Gardiner also came up by as a sophomore down the stretch and will play rightfield while a group of upperclassmen and sophomores battle for the open spots at leftfield and designated hitter. The other spot up for grabs is at catcher, with Max Friedman coming in as the senior option ahead of a pair of juniors.
Spencer has been a rotation workhorse in each of the past two seasons and was an All-Shore performer as a sophomore before getting knocked around a bit more a season ago. If Colts Neck gets results from Spencer that more resemble what he produced as a sophomore, it would set the tone for a staff that boasts two more promising options in senior Vinny Zaffarese and Diffley – both of whom pitched in key spots in 2022. Senior J.D. Graziano joins Diffley as a left-hander ticketed for key innings, while sophomores Nick Hardy and Nick Hayden are potential impact underclassmen. With juniors in several key spots around the diamond, Colts Neck has a chance to see a jump in performance from several established players, but the Cougars’ season will likely come down to the performance of their senior pitchers, as well as their ability to make up for everything Cilea provided behind the plate in 2021 and 2022.
Head Coach: Mike Yorke, 23rd season
2022 Record: 17-8-1 (11-2-1, first in Class B North)
Key Losses: Anthony Gubitosi (LHP), Joe Cilea (C), Dave Cohen (1B/DH), Brad Salamone (LF), Christian Rice (1B/RHP)
Returning Starters in Bold
Colts Neck Around the Diamond
Catcher: Max Friedman, Sr.; Sal Ranauro, Jr.; Walter Perski, Jr.
First Base: Tom Diffley, Jr. (.274/.413/.392, 2 2B, 2 3B, 12 R, 8 RBI, 3 SB)
Second Base: Ryan Tan, Sr. (.361/.465/.417, 2 2B, 1 3B, 21 R, 8 RBI, 4 SB)
Shortstop: Tyler Spencer, Sr. (.242/.324/.379, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 R, 12 RBI); Anthony Vallaro, Jr.
Third Base: Chris Scully, Jr. (.351/.402/.419, 2 2B, 1 HR, 13 R, 16 RBI, 5 SB)
Leftfield: John O’Connor, Sr.; Dylan Neves, Jr.; Nick Hayden, So.; Nick Hardy, So.
Centerfield: Tosh Mancini, Jr. (.260/.309/.280, 1 2B, 13 R, 6 RBI, 1 SB)
Rightfield: Casey Gardiner, Jr. (.311/.411/.361, 3 2B, 15 R, 12 RBI, 4 SB)
DH: Kyle McCarthy, Jr. (3B); John O’Connor, Sr.; Dylan Neves, Jr.; Nick Hayden, So.; Nick Hardy, So.
Tyler Spencer, Sr., RHP (49.2 IP, 5-4, 5.21 ERA, 68 H, 15 BB, 48 K)
Vinnie Zaffarese, Sr., RHP (23 IP, 1-0, 3.65 ERA, 34 H, 10 BB, 24 K)
Tommy Diffley, Jr., LHP (10.1 IP, 2-2, 4.06 ERA, 15 H, 3 BB, 11 IP)
J.D. Graziano, Sr.,LHP
Gio Gagliano, Sr., RHP
Dylan Neves, Jr., RHP
Nick Hardy, So., RHP
Nick Hayden, So., RHP
College Commitments (Graziano)
Tyler Spencer – Brookdale Community College
Vinny Zaffarese – Brookdale
Ryan Tan – Lycoming College
J.D. Graziano – Albright College
First, the offseason swept away Freehold Township’s best potential returning player. Then, the preseason knocked out one of its most dependable returnees. Talented junior and All-Shore two-way player Ryan Costello transferred to Ranney for the start of the current school year, taking a middle-of-the-order power threat and a top pitching option off the roster. Then, with the current team ready to rally around a still-solid roster, senior infielder and pitcher James Wortman suffered a wrist injury that coach Todd Smith said is likely to cost him regular-season time.
If last year is any indication, Freehold Township will be scrappy in the face of adversity. The Patriots lost most of their 2021 Class A North championship team and still spent time in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 while turning in a respectable showing in a grueling schedule – not only against the loaded Class A North division but also against non-divisional competition.
For any team trying to overcome some questions around the diamond, it helps to be solid at catcher and Freehold Township is all that and then some. Ryan Kopf was an all-division selection as a junior and is the most accomplished high-school backstop returning to the Class A North division this season. The Patriots will also run out an experienced junior at shortstop in Mike Avino and another talented junior in C.J. Svboda in centerfield, giving Freehold Township some quality up the middle – which would have been even more settled had Wortman made it to opening day healthy.
Sophomore Christian Borromeo is slated to step in at second base, with fellow sophomores Jon Boylan, Matt Nuccio and Mike Santise looking to make an impact at corner positions – Boyan at first base and Nuccio and Santise in the outfield. Smith will also have some varsity experience to turn to in the corner outfield spots with Robert Havens and returning outfielder Lex Nelsen, while senior Lucas Dixon is back at DH after emerging as one of Freehold Township’s better hitters a year ago.
While the pitching staff took a hit with the loss of Wortman, there is still considerable upside there. Svoboda led the Patriots in innings (40 2/3) last season while pitching to a 3.27 ERA and Nelsen was third with 28 innings. Freshman right-hander Jackson Redmond is tracking as a regular starter for Freehold Township as well and sophomore southpaw Jack Henry could also get big innings for the Patriots. It was, for sure, a rough offseason that has carried into the preseason, but with some promising underclass talent to go with a dependable catcher in Kopf, Freehold Township is still in the fight.
Head Coach: Todd Smith, 13th season
2022 Record: 14-13 (6-8, tied fifth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Ryan Keegan (SS/RHP), Sean Keegan (2B/RHP), Giacomo Calamita (CF), Jayme Montanez (OF), Ryan Costello (Jr., OF/LHP; transferred to Ranney)
Freehold Twp. Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Ryan Kopf, Sr. (.375/.489/.417, 3 2B, 18 R, 16 RBI, 2 SB)
First Base: Jon Boylan, So.
Second Base: Christian Borromeo, So.
Shortstop: Mike Avino, Jr. (.218/.358/.356, 3 2B, 14 R, 4 RBI, 9 SB)
Third Base: Aidan Galvanek, Jr.
Leftfield: Robert Havens, Sr.; Matt Nuccio, So.; Jake Zak, Sr.
Centerfield: C.J. Svoboda, Jr.
Rightfield: Lex Nelsen, Jr.; Michael Santise, So.; Max Druckman, Sr.
DH: Lucas Dixon, Sr. (.274/.338/.342, 5 2B, 11 R, 11 RBI)
James Wortman, Sr., 2B (Injured)
C.J. Svoboda, Jr., RHP (40.2 IP, 2-3, 3.27 ERA, 36 H, 22 BB, 19 K)
Lex Nelsen, Jr., RHP (28 IP, 2-3, 4.00 ERA, 25 H, 21 BB, 18 K)
Jackson Redmond, Fr., RHP
Jack Henry, So., LHP
Mike Avino, Jr., RHP
Justin Singer, Sr., LHP
Aiden Galvanek, Jr., RHP
Robert Havens, Sr., RHP
Evan White, Sr., RHP
Christian Borromeo, So., RHP
Matt Nuccio, So., LHP
Michael Santise, So., RHP
James Wortman, Sr., RHP (18.1 IP, 1-1, 2.67 ERA, 16 H, 11 BB, 11 K)
Ryan Kopf – Alvernia University
Robert Havens – Pennsylvania College of Technology
Class A North Lineup
Ryan Kopf, Sr., C, Freehold Twp.
Zaine Toneske, Sr., 1B, CBA
Harrison Campi, Sr., SS, CBA
Ryan Frontera, Sr., SS, Middletown North
Joe Zito, Jr., 3B, Howell
Russell Halvorsen, Sr., CF, Howell
Cristian Bernardini, Sr., CF, Manalapan
Hunter Del Guercio, Sr., RF, CBA
Will Christopher, Sr., 1B/3B/RHP, Middletown South
Class A North Rotation
Ben Schild, Sr., RHP, Middletown South
Alex D’Ambrosio, Sr., RHP, Marlboro
Brevin Bezick, Jr., LHP, Middletown South
Dylan Shaffer, Jr., RHP, Manalapan
Tyler Spencer, Sr., RHP, Colts Neck
Class A North Breakouts to Watch
Chris Levonas, Jr., RHP, CBA
Zach Hampton, So., 1B/RHP, Middletown North
Wyatt Hunt, Sr., 3B, CBA
Chris Sculley, Jr., 3B, Colts Neck
Mike Kansky, Sr., OF, Marlboro
Brendan Sliva, So., SS, Middletown South
Vinny Zaffarese, Sr., RHP, Colts Neck
C.J. Svoboda, Sr., RHP/OF, Freehold Twp.
Logan Koeppel, So., 1B/RHP, Howell
A.J. Tanico, Sr., 1B/LHP, Manalapan