2023 Shore Sports Network Baseball Preview: Class A South
The 2023 baseball season starts with the Shore Conference Class A South division in the grips of a dynasty. Jackson Memorial won a share of the Class A South championship in 2018 and has not given it up since. Even in the canceled 2020 season, the Jaguars were set to have, perhaps, their most talented team ever and more-or-less proved it in the summer while advancing to the Last Dance World Series championship game. So, in effect, Jackson Memorial has been a Class A South champion in five straight years and the outright champion in the last four.
While Jackson pulled away in the division race a season ago and Brick finished with two wins at the bottom of the standings, the rest of the field was as close as can be. Six teams finished with records between 8-5 and 6-8 and even in finishing multiple games out of first place, that group still managed to hang three losses on a Jackson Memorial team that won the Ocean County Tournament championship, lost in the Shore Conference Tournament championship and lost to the eventual Group IV champion by one run in the state tournament.
In short, the teams in Class A South have serious competitive chops, which makes this year a very interesting one in Ocean County. Jackson Memorial and Central Regional – another team coming off a memorable two-year run – each graduated dominant aces now pitching at high-level Division I programs in Zach Crotchfelt (Auburn) and Cam Leiter (Central Florida) and will have pitching staffs that look a little closer to the high school median.
Throw in strong returning groups throughout the division and the Class A South race is sure to deliver some major twists and turns throughout the year while still boasting several teams that can do damage come tournament time.
In predicted order of finish
When Jackson Memorial won the Central Jersey Group IV championship in 2018, it seemed to signal the start of a dominant run for the Jaguars, who were sophomore-heavy that year with a wave of talent about to flood into the program. They have won at least 18 games in each of the next three seasons and claimed three consecutive division titles, but there has been a helping of disappointment mixed in. After fizzling out in the tournaments during a 20-win season in 2019, Jackson Memorial missed out on the 2020 season with a loaded roster, then again came up empty in the 2021 postseason.
By the end of last year, the Jaguars were desperate to take home a tournament title and they delivered by dominating the Ocean County Tournament championship game against Central. They had just suffered a heartbreaking loss to Howell in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinal, which came after a Shore Conference Tournament championship loss to Red Bank Catholic, so getting over the championship disappointment in the final game of the season sent the Jaguars into the offseason on a high note.
Now that 2023 is here, Jackson Memorial will look to defend its Ocean County and Class A South championships, while making a run in the Shore Conference and Group IV tournaments – all while trying to replace some serious talent lost to graduation. That starts in the pitching staff, which bid farewell to Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year Zach Crotchfelt, all-division left-hander Zach McCabe and solid depth right-handers Sage Goeke and Trevin Rieger. One of last year’s seniors, however, is back, right-hander Dean Daddio coming back for a bridge year to slot behind senior left-hander Anthony Mehmet.
The Mehmet-Daddio duo will lead an otherwise-inexperienced rotation and while that aspect of Jackson Memorial’s team enters the season as an unknown, the offense should help compensate for whatever growing pains might arise for the pitchers. Charlie Meglio leads a lineup that returns five starters, plus two more young players in junior Nick Izzo and sophomore Jackson Osmond who got important at-bats at points during the season. Meglio – a Campbell commit who belted eight homers and 11 doubles as a junior – will move to third base this season after playing shortstop as a junior, while classmate Nick Mellino moves from second to short to make room for sophomore Tyler Huzzy. Brady Wendell is another sophomore who could factor into the infield playing time, giving coach Pat George some depth to go with the top-of-the-order production.
Senior Aidan O’Donnell is back behind the plate after slugging six extra-base hits, driving in 19 runs and handling a diverse pitching staff as a junior. His presence will help bring along the pitching staff and his bat should keep the Jackson Memorial offense churning. In the outfield, meanwhile, the Jaguars boast three more proven hitters, with seniors Matt Koblos and Mike Arent leading the way. Koblos was a clutch hitter in the bottom of the order, while Arent’s three homers in 2021 all came in consecutive games. Osmond is the other outfielder and after getting a shot at DH at-bats late in his freshman year, the sophomore is now ready for a bigger role.
There are enough questions on Jackson Memorial’s pitching staff that the Jaguars’ run of four straight division titles could be in some jeopardy this season. The division has enough depth that the defending champs are likely to stub their toe on occasion, but the deep lineup with Meglio bringing the power keep Jackson Memorial as the clear favorite.
Jackson Memorial at a Glance
Head Coach: Pat George, third season
2022 Record: 22-9 (11-3, first in Class A South)
Key Losses: Zach Crotchfelt (LHP/1B), Zach McCabe (LHP), Tommy Kendrick (RF), J.R. Osmond (3B), Chris Cartnick (2B), Sage Goeke (RHP), Andrew Patire (OF), Trevin Rieger (RHP)
Jackson Memorial Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Aidan O’Donnell, Sr. (.325/.398/.458, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 R, 19 RBI)
First Base: Nick Izzo, Jr. (2-for-12, 2 R, 1 RBI)
Second Base: Tyler Huzzy, So. (0-for-10)
Shortstop: Nick Mellino, Sr. (.250/.426/.306, 4 2B, 18 R, 12 RBI, 4 SB); Brady Wendell, So.
Third Base: Charlie Meglio, Sr. (.417/.525/.781, 11 2B, 8 HR, 30 R, 35 RBI)
Leftfield: Jackson Osmond, So. (.167/.286/.167, 11 R)
Centerfield: Matt Koblos, Sr. (.310/.368/.393, 4 2B, 1 HR, 19 R, 22 RBI, 4 SB)
Rightfield: Mike Arent, Sr. (.254/.403/.458, 3 2B, 3 HR, 16 R, 14 RBI)
DH: Julian Caruso, Jr. (OF/DH)
Jacob Soto, Jr., OF
Jovani Hallihan, Jr., 1B
Anthony Mehmet, Sr., LHP (32 IP, 2-1, 2.19 ERA, 25 H, 7 BB, 23 K)
Dean Daddio, Fifth-Year Sr., RHP (11 IP, 1-0, 1.91 ERA, 11 H, 3 BB, 16 K)
Nick Izzo, Jr., RHP
Danny Hutchinson, So., RHP
Jovani Hallihan, Jr., RHP
Collin McCarron, Jr., RHP
Devin Garvey, Jr., RHP
Nick Striano, Jr., RHP
Joe Zundritsch, Jr., LHP
Brady Wendell, So., RHP
Nick Mellino, Sr., RHP
Andy Osmond, Sr., LHP – Injured (8.2 IP, 1-0, 4.04 ERA, 12 H, 9 BB, 12 K)
Charlie Meglio – Campbell University
Matt Koblos – Widener University
Anthony Mehmet – Stockton University
Dean Daddio – Felician University
Andy Osmond – Misericordia University
In the midst of a baseball rejuvenation of sorts, Central is coming off back-to-back trips to the Ocean County Tournament final, including a championship victory in 2021. The Golden Eagles lost last year’s game, but still finished with 20 wins and made it to the quarterfinal round or deeper in every tournament, losing to Rumson in the SCT quarterfinals, Kingsway in the South Group IV semifinals and Jackson Memorial in the OCT final. It was about as good of a showing as a team could submit without winning a championship.
Although Central graduated Cam Leiter – a significant reason for the program resurgence – and fellow two-way standout Shane Sajewicz, it brings back a strong group of position players with a dependable ace for the top of the rotation. Junior catcher Cristian Soto and senior shortstop Dom Masino were All-Shore players in 2022 and while both put up numbers commensurate with that honor, both might be even better defenders than they are hitters.
With the holes in the lineup left by Leiter and Sajewicz, Central will be looking for a proven group of role players to step into even larger roles. Juniors Brayden Lowden and Mason Lisewski were consistent contributors at the plate, with Lowden settling in at second base and Lisewski in a corner outfield spot. Seniors Chase Pierce and Elijah Kiernan were starters for most of their respective junior seasons and Pierce returns to centerfield coming off a season in which he smacked five extra-base hits and produced 31 runs between the 17 he scored and the 14 he drove in. Senior Trevor Policastro and junior T.J. Marshall are the new starters and will man both the corner infield spots.
Senior left-hander Tyler Bell heads up the rotation after a breakthrough campaign as a junior that included him tossing a no-hitter in a win over Toms River East. Bell’s leadership in the staff will be key for a group that does not have any other varsity experience back, but will have a talented group of sophomores working in – including three more left-handers.
The dominance that Leiter brought to the mound and the batter’s box in winning the Shore Sports Network Player of the Year is unlikely to be an element that is present on this year’s Central team, but the Golden Eagles have not fallen behind in A South. The margin for error might be a little tighter, but in a balanced division, Central is among the teams with a great shot to win the division and battle for postseason accolades.
Central at a Glance
Head Coach: Jerry Frulio, 12th season
2022 Record: 20-11 (8-6, third in Class A South)
Key Losses: Cam Leiter (RHP/DH), Shane Sajewicz (1B/LHP), Anthony Musso (RHP/OF), Billy Sottilaire (LF/RHP), Dan Ashton (RHP), Alex Heinrich (3B)
Central Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Cristian Soto, Jr. (.313/.367/.485, 11 2B, 2 HR, 14 R, 19 RBI)
First Base: Trevor Policastro, Sr.
Second Base: Brayden Lowden, Jr. (.277/.356/.323, 3 2B, 18 R, 8 RBI, 3 SB)
Shortstop: Dom Masino, Sr. (.376/.453/.604, 8 2B, 5 HR, 37 R, 19 RBI, 21 SB)
Third Base: T.J. Marshall, Jr. (.045/.160/.045, 3 R)
Leftfield: Mason Lisewski, Jr. (.321/.429/.357, 1 2B, 7 R, 5 RBI)
Centerfield: Chase Pierce, Sr. (.241/.327/.333, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 17 R, 14 RBI, 4 SB)
Rightfield: Elijah Kiernan, Sr. (.312/.421/.344, 1 2B, 8 R, 8 RBI, 4 SB)
Alex Kirsch, Sr.
Mason Bednarz, Jr.
Joel German, Jr.
Ayden Delaney, Jr.
Gavin Arieno, Jr.
Robert Bolletino, So.
James Gentilcore, Jr.
Tommy Truzzolino, So.
Tyler Bell, Sr., LHP (43.2 IP, 4-2, 2.88 ERA, 35 H, 25 BB, 51 K)
Trevor Policastro, Sr., RHP
Anthony Billello, Sr., RHP
Blake Schlueter, Sr., RHP
Chase Newton, Jr., RHP
Joel German, Jr., RHP
Shawn Weyandt, Jr., RHP
Ayden Delaney, Jr., RHP
Vincent Berardi, So., LHP
Chase Macri, So., RHP
Luke Spidaletto, So., LHP
Michael Faella, So., RHP
Donovan Lange, So., RHP
Brayden Cimorelli, So., RHP
T.J. Snyder, So., LHP
Tyler Bell – Drew University
Dom Masino – Kean University
Chase Pierce – Alvernia University
Trevor Policastro – St. Elizabeth University
Elijah Kiernan – Eastern University
Blake Schlueter – Albright College
Cristian Soto – Lafayette College
T.J. Marshall – St. Elizabeth University
It has only been six years since Southern won the South Jersey Group IV championship, but the Rams endured some long seasons between then and the start of 2022. After three straight losing seasons, plus the canceled 2020 season mixed in, Southern got back to winning in 2022, finishing second in Class A South, upsetting third-seeded Middletown South to reach the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, and winning a game in the NJSIAA South Group IV Tournament.
The Rams will have a great opportunity to carry the winning into 2023 thanks to a roster that includes eight players who started around the diamond in 2022 and about half of their innings on the mound. Two of the three players on Southern who hit better than .300 are back and are both juniors, with high-energy outfielder Ray Mulhern back at the top of the order and breakout shortstop Brian Harper looking to follow up a sophomore season in which he hit well over .400 with an on-base percentage better than .500.
There is also plenty of potential for improvement among the rest of the returning group, with senior catcher Dom Miranda coming off a season in which he hammered six extra-base hits – including a homer in that win over Middletown South. Southern also has another solid option at catcher in Gabe Tomei, who showed he can handle the position and could factor into the lineup. Senior outfielders Brandon Brown and Mike Nasti both hit under .250, but each also contributed five extra-base hits – including three triples by the centerfielder Brown. Second baseman Kyle Serino is the other returning senior starter.
Strong-armed junior Brady Lesiak might be the most promising of the returning group after he flashed a dangerous bat, good defense at the hot corner and, most notably, took off on the mound late in the season. Lesiak and senior left-hander Steven Miller will be the one-two punch leading the pitching staff after both struck out better than a batter per inning with ERA’s of just over 3.00 in 2022. Senior left-hander Owen Durnien and Nasti will also be key members of the rotation after pitching in big spots a year ago, while senior Nico Diamantopoulos will add to a balanced rotation. Durnien and Diamantopoulos also figure to pitch in at the plate.
The race for second-place in Class A South was a wild one in 2022 and after Southern came out on top of that battle, the Rams are hoping to win a race for first this year. With Jackson Memorial and Central each losing high-level college pitching prospects, the gap has close and Southern has as good of a chance as any team in the A South field to capitalize.
Southern at a Glance
Head Coach: Ed Truitt, second season
2022 Record: 14-11 (8-5, second in Class A South)
Key Losses: Stephen Stafford (RHP/1B), Mike Nascimento (RHP), Curtis Olender (INF), Brenan Book (RHP
Southern Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Dom Miranda, Sr. (.238/.358/.397, 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 R, 12 RBI); Gabe Tomei, Jr. (.182/.387/.273, 2 2B, 5 R, 1 RBI)
First Base: Niko Diamantopoulos, Sr. (3-for-14, 1 2B, 3 RBI)
Second Base: Kyle Serino, Sr. (.231/.388/.282, 2 2B, 9 R, 2 RBI)
Shortstop: Brian Harper, Jr. (.413/.509/.478, 3 2B, 7 R, 9 RBI)
Third Base: Brady Lesniak, Jr. (.233/.343/.267, 2 2B, 8 R, 6 RBI)
Leftfield: Ray Mulhern, Jr. (.338/.463/.377, 1 2B, 1 3B, 21 R, 7 RBI)
Centerfield: Brandon Brown, Sr. (.237/.348/.342, 2 2B, 3 3B, 16 R, 12 RBI)
Rightfield: Mike Nasti, Sr. (.239/.379/.391, 4 2B, 1 HR, 8 R, 8 RBI); Steven Miller, Sr. (1-for-20, 1 R, 1 RBI)
DH: Owen Durnien, Sr. (1B/OF); Matt Desiderio (Jr., 1B); Blake Glory (Jr., UTIL)
Brady Lesiak, Jr., RHP (25.1 IP, 3-0, 3.32 ERA, 23 H, 15 BB, 30 K)
Steven Miller, Sr., LHP (27.1 IP, 2-2, 3.07 ERA, 24 H, 26 BB, 28 K)
Owen Durnian, Sr., LHP (16 IP, 0-1, 5.25 ERA, 20 H, 8 BB, 15 K)
Mike Nasti, Sr., RHP (12 IP, 2-0, 2.33 ERA, 9 H, 10 BB, 10 K)
Niko Diamontopoulos, Sr., RHP (1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K)
Roger Dreher, Jr., RHP
Dom Miranda – Manhattan College
Mike Nasti – Rowan University
Brandon Brown – American International
Steven Miller – Rutgers University-Newark
Coming off a fifth-place finish in Class A South a year ago, Brick Memorial has a lot of the challenges that the rest of the field has when it comes to replacing talent from around the roster. The Mustangs, however, have something that no other team in the division has: a returning, All-Shore ace.
Brady Leach put up big numbers on the mound and at the plate as a junior in 2022 and now, the senior leader of the Mustangs is hoping for an encore that is even better than the original, both for him and his team. The TCNJ commit is one of five returning starters in the batting order and one of three pitchers to log at least 25 innings for Brick Memorial in 2022, giving the Mustangs the foundation of a club that is ready to make a run at the A South title.
Beyond Leach, junior Nick Garbooshian and senior Cole Cook-Benson return as the option Nos. 2 and 3 in the rotation. Garbooshian proved with each performance during his sophomore year that he is ready for the challenge of pitching behind Leach as the second man in the rotation, while Cook-Benson showed his versatility pitching as a starter and a reliever. Seniors Declan Sheehan and Devante Noriega also threw a handful of varsity innings apiece and Point Pleasant Beach transfer Nate VanNorman will add some experience to the pitching staff as well.
Offensively, Leach is the clear top bat, with Sheehan the only other returning hitter to post a slugging percentage better than .300 in 20 or more plate appearances. Sheehan will man centerfield next to returning junior starter Nicco Maribo and Noriega in the corners, while catcher Joey Nolan and second baseman Joe Cordi give Brick Memorial two more experienced seniors at key positions.
The Mustangs will have some young talent to deploy over the course of the season, as well as some seniors ready to step into new starting roles. Seniors Mike Dayton and Dominic D’Erasmo are ready to take over on the left side of the infield, with Dayton at shortstop and D’Erasmo at third. Garboosian, meanwhile, will get at-bats at first base and DH, while his younger brother, Tyler – who is already committed to Rutgers – looks to make an immediate impact on the infield.
The lineup depth will be the primary question mark for Brick Memorial heading into opening day, but with Leach in the middle of the lineup and at the top of a deep, talented rotation, Brick Memorial will be in just about every game while the Mustangs make a push for the A South title.
Brick Memorial at a Glance
Head Coach: Evan Rizzitello, 13th season
2022 Record: 13-15 (7-7, fifth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Ryan Turner (OF), Anthony Martino (SS), Jack Flood (3B), Ryan Mulcahey (1B/LHP), Matt Mancini (RHP), Joe Lydon (RHP)
Brick Memorial Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Joey Nolan, Sr. (.240/.368/.293, 16 RBI)
First Base: Brady Leach, Sr. (.381/.491/.607, 7 2B, 4 HR, 25 R, 12 RBI); Nick Garbooshian, Jr.
Second Base: Joe Cordi, Sr. (.197/.372/.213, 1 2B, 6 R, 12 RBI)
Shortstop: Mike Dayton, Sr. (1-for-8)
Third Base: Dominic D’Erasmo, Sr. (1-for-8, 1 2B)
Leftfield: Nicco Maribo, Jr. (.225/.382/.254, 2 2B, 10 R, 12 RBI, 10 SB)
Centerfield: Declan Sheehan, Sr. (.197/.346/.303, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 15 R, 13 RBI, 9 SB); Billy Caruso, Sr. (0-for-3, 10 R, 9 SB)
Rightfield: Devante Noriega, Sr.
DH: Nick Garbooshian, Jr. (1-for-9)
Tyler Garbooshian, Fr., SS
Matt Cordi, So., INF
Frank Furth, Sr., OF
Jimi Popp, So., OF/C
Jaxon Figueroa, So., OF
Nate VanNorman, Sr., 2B – Transfer from Point Pleasant Beach
Mike Gioia, Jr., 3B
Luke Douglas, So., C/UTIL
Vinnie Martino, Jr., 2B
Aiden Luu, Sr., OF
Carso McCue, Jr., UTIL
Brady Leach, Sr., RHP (43.2 IP, 5-2, 2.56 ERA, 32 H, 18 BB, 72 K)
Nick Garbooshian, Jr., RHP (35 IP, 2-1, 3.00 ERA, 39 H, 16 BB, 29 K)
Cole Cook-Benson, Sr., RHP (26.2 IP, 2-0, 4.72 ERA, 30 H, 12 BB, 13 K)
Declan Sheehan, Sr., RHP (7 IP, 0-2, 8.00 ERA, 11 H, 4 BB, 2 K)
Devante Noriega, Sr., RHP (5.2 IP, 1-0, 0 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 2 K)
Mike Gioia, Jr., RHP
Nate Van Norman, Sr., RHP
Aiden Luu, Sr., RHP
Chase Cohen, Jr., RHP
Carson McCue, Jr., RHP
Jimi Popp, So., RHP
Brady Leach – The College of New Jersey
Joey Nolan – Montclair State University
Tyler Garbooshian – Rutgers University
Toms River South
In recent years, Toms River South has not had the flame-throwing aces and big-time sluggers that other top teams in the Shore Conference have had and like the Indians certainly had many times over during its rich history as a program. Make no mistake about it, though: the winning DNA is still very much a part of Ken Frank’s teams. Even during this “down” stretch for the program, Toms River South has still not had a losing season during that time – something that very few of the Shore’s best public schools have been able to avoid in the last decade, let alone during the course of a career. In fact, the only other public school in the Shore Conference without a losing season in the last decade is Wall.
While there is not a committed Division I upperclassmen on this year’s Toms River South team, the Indians are again set up to be a competitive Class A South team that should find its way to a winning record thanks to a balanced, versatile roster that will be prepared to compete. Five hitters return to the lineup and another returns as the workhorse at the top of the pitching staff – which is a collection of talent that should put Toms River South right in the mix competing for the top of the division.
All of Toms River South’s projected contributors on the mound can hit, so the versatility starts there. Returning starter Chris Hastings – who pitched as well as anyone on the team down the stretch of 2022 – is also going to swing the bat as an outfielder this season. The same goes for A.J. Pierson, Chris Clark, Rob Abetamarco and Ryan Schmidt, with Pierson, Clark and Schmidt all back as starting bats and Abetamarco the leading candidate to play third base when he is not on the mound. Junior newcomer Shaun Olcott is one pitcher without an obvious starting spot in the batting order, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander has the potential to pitch his way toward the top of the rotation.
Pierson has played catcher for a good portion of his varsity career, but could see more time at first base while junior Tyler Kopin catches. Junior Cooper Greitz and sophomore Donovan Wilkenson also figure into the first-base-DH picture, while Abetamarco and junior Billy Madigan can play third base on top of first base and DH. The corners could feature some mixing an matching, but up the middle, Clark will play shortstop and classmate Justin Diaz will play second base, giving the Indians a returning double-play combination.
In the outfield, Schmidt and fellow senior Mike Erli are back as starters, with Erli boasting a team-best .469 on-base percentage to complement six extra-base hits. Sophomore Anthony Johnson will also get time in right field, especially with Hastings looking to build on a 47-inning season as a junior. The mix of young contributors funneling into the starting lineup adds some potential to a core that has already been competitive and its hungry for more.
Toms River South at a Glance
Head Coach: Ken Frank, 44th season
2022 Record: 13-12 (7-6, fourth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Aidan Folsom (RHP/3B/1B), Jake Wilber (RHP/2B), Gavin Migliori (RF), Colin Raimann (1B), Brandon Elmendorf (C/DH)
Toms River South Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Tyler Kopin, Jr., C/OF; A.J. Pierson, Sr. (.200/.275/.265, 2 2B, 1 R, 5 RBI)
First Base: A.J. Pierson, Sr. (.200/.275/.265, 2 2B, 1 R, 5 RBI); Cooper Greitz, Jr., OF/1B; Donovan Wilkenson, So., 3B/1B
Second Base: Justin Diaz, Sr. (.288/.338/.288, 11 R, 4 RBI)
Shortstop: Chris Clark, Sr. (.269/.380/.403, 7 2B, 1 3B, 10 R, 12 RBI)
Third Base: Robert Abetamarco, Jr., 3B; Billy Madigan, Jr., 3B/1B
Leftfield: Mike Erli, Sr. (.366/.469/.444, 5 2B, 1 3B, 19 R, 8 RBI, 4 SB)
Centerfield: Ryan Schmidt, Sr. (.292/.386/.333, 3 2B, 9 R, 12 RBI)
Rightfield: Chris Hastings, Sr., OF; Anthony Johnson, So., OF/3B
DH: Cooper Greitz, Jr., OF/1B; Donovan Wilkenson, So., 3B/1B; Anthony Johnson, So., OF/3B
Matt Rosser, Sr., OF
Cooper Cavanaugh, Jr., 2B/SS
Shaun Olcott, Jr., 1B
Dennis Jones, So., OF
Aiden Lynch, So., OF
Chris Hastings, Sr., RHP (47 IP, 2-3, 2.68 ERA, 44 H, 28 BB, 43 K)
A.J. Pierson, Sr., RHP (5.2 IP, 1-0, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 7 K)
Robert Abetemarco, Jr., RHP (7.1 IP, 0.95 ERA, 1 H, 2 BB, 5 K)
Chris Clark, Sr., RHP (5.1 IP, 0-1, 5 ER, 12 H, 5 BB, 2 K)
Shaun Olcott, Jr., RHP
Ryan Schmidt, Sr., RHP (1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K)
Cooper Cavanaugh, Jr., RHP (9.2 IP, 7.24 ERA, 13 H, 3 BB, 3 K)
Cooper Greitz, Jr., RHP
Tyler Kopin, Jr., RHP
Anthony Johnson, So., RHP
Dennis Jones, So., RHP
Aiden Lynch, So., RHP
Toms River East
While rival Toms River South is allergic to losing seasons, since 2015, Toms River East has posted just one winning record in seven seasons, which was a 13-11 campaign in 2018. On the bright side, there have been some memorable postseason moments during that stretch, including a run to the Ocean County Tournament final and the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals in 2018, plus a run to the South Jersey Group III semifinal the following season.
In a Class A South division that doesn’t appear to have either a powerhouse team nor a hapless one, this could be the year Toms River East breaks through with not only a winning season but a championship-contending one. The Raiders return four hitters in the starting lineup and five experienced pitchers – including the one who emerged as the team’s top starter by the end of the year.
Of the returning position players, two of them have all-division selections on their respective résumés, with rightfielder Jake Verdon coming off an all-division selection a year ago and shortstop Bobby Sabatino two years removed from an all-division campaign as a sophomore. Senior Ryan Ushock is also a capable, proven varsity hitter at first base and sophomore second baseman Matt Ferrara held his own as a freshman. With Ushock, Ferrara and Sabatino from right-to-left on the infield, plus sophomore Dan Nafziger at third and senior Joe Rome behind the plate, the Toms River East infield looks like a strength.
Junior Ryan Koman moves from part-time duty to the starting centerfield job, with sophomore Gavin Toth completing the starting outfield along with Verdon. Senior Brandon Safoschnik is a leading DH candidate and a collection of sophomores and freshmen will be pushing for time early on and even more as the season progresses.
Safoschnik will lead a pitching staff that returns experience, but will be hoping to step up a level in performance. With an ERA 4.56 in 35 1/3 innings, Safoschnik was Toms River East’s top pitcher last season and he’ll be backed up by returnees Ushock, Sabatino and juniors left-handers Jack Mika and Brendon Lavin. Out of all the returning pitching staffs listed to this point of the preview, Toms River East has the longest to go from last year to be a division-winner, but the depth and upside are there to make the climb.
Toms River East at a Glance
Head Coach: Keith Smicklo, fifth season
2022 Record: 10-13 (6-8, tied sixth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Aidan Galipolli (LHP/OF), Akkash Santiago (C), Anthony Encarnacion (OF), Dante Carr (3B), Alex Valenti (RHP), Josiah Madera (UTIL)
Toms River East Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Joe Rome, Sr. (2-for-7, 1 2B, 1 R)
First Base: Ryan Ushock, Sr. (.254/.405/.317, 4 2B, 9 R, 8 RBI)
Second Base: Matt Ferrara, So. (.190/.284/.207, 1 2B, 5 R, 8 RBI)
Shortstop: Bobby Sabatino, Sr. (.243/.376/.286, 3 2B, 14 R, 5 RBI, 8 SB)
Third Base: Dan Nafziger, So. (0-for-3, 4 R)
Leftfield: Gavin Toth, So.
Centerfield: Ryan Koman, Jr. (3-for-16, 5 R, 2 RBI)
Rightfield: Jake Verdon, Sr. (.362/.516/.489, 6 2B, 12 R, 12 RBI, 3 SB)
DH: Brandon Safoschnik, Jr., OF (4-for-18, 5 R, 1 RBI)
Jack Mika, Jr., 1B (1-for-9, 3 R)
Jax Bautez, So., 2B
Mason Pentz, So., 2B
Michael Vaccarino, So., 2B/3B
Luke Bush, Fr., C
James Whalen, Fr., 3B
Lucas Melton, Fr., OF
Kyle Goglia, Jr., OF
Brandon Safoschnik, Jr., RHP (35.1 IP, 4-4, 4.56 ERA, 42 H, 20 BB, 25 K)
Ryan Ushock, Sr., RHP (18 IP, 1-3, 6.22 ERA, 28 H, 6 BB, 16 K)
Jack Mika, Jr., LHP (11 IP, 0-1, 4.45 ERA, 6 H, 17 BB, 10 K)
Bobby Sabatino, Sr., RHP (10.1 IP, 1-0, 3 Saves, 6.10 ERA, 14 H, 10 BB, 14 K)
Brendon Lavin, Jr., LHP (6.2 IP, 0-1, 7.35 ERA, 6 H, 8 BB, 8 K)
Daniel Nafziger, So., RHP
Brayden Diehl, Sr., RHP
D.J. Anema, Sr., RHP
Leo Bautista, Sr., RHP
Jax Buatez, So., RHP
Mason Pentz, So., RHP
Gavin Toth, So., RHP
Michael Vaccarino, So., RHP
Lucas Melton, Fr., LHP
James Whalen, Fr., RHP
Bobby Sabatino – Chestnut Hill College
Ryan Ushock – SUNY Polytechnic Institute
Toms River North
On the morning of April 21, 2022, Toms River North’s players woke up after pummeling a quality Southern team, 10-2, to improve to 6-2 and continue a serious challenge for the Class A South division title. A week later, they were swept by Toms River South to fall to .500 and a week after that, the Mariners fell under .500 for good. Toms River North went 2-15 to finish out the season and while the pitching during that stretch was mostly solid, it could not make up for an offense that had gone cold, along with some defensive miscues.
This year’s Mariners squad will try to alter the vibes and the pitching that returns will give Toms River North a chance to do so. Senior Brenden Lavallee and junior left-hander Kieran Mulholland both turned in solid seasons on the mound in 2022 and will be back looking to carry a staff that will be inexperienced beyond those two rotation-toppers.
For the work of the pitching staff to pay off this season, Toms River North will have to tap into an offensive approach that netted 5.4 runs per game during the 6-2 start – a number that plunged to 2.5 during the 17-game tailspin. Four starting hitters return to the lineup, including senior catcher A.J. Chesney – the team’s lone returning up-the-middle starter. Chesney’s return should help the pitching staff continue to perform and will also give the lineup some experience around which to structure an attack.
Lavallee was also one of Toms River North’s better hitters at the play and will play rightfield on his non-pitching days. The Mariners are also experience at the corner infield spots, with senior Evan Kwortnik manning third base and senior Ty Kazanowsky at first. Kazanowsky is the most dangerous of the hitters back for 2023 after collecting seven extra-base hits – including a home run – during his junior season.
Coach Andy Pagano is going with a young middle infield, which will be headlined by freshman Ian St. Luce at shortstop. Junior Dom Urso will join him in the double-play combination as the second baseman and his classmate, Elio Scarpa, will patrol centerfield as a first-year starter. Senior Paul Kupszta is slated to start in right with Mulholland potentially logging some at-bats at DH, but the freshman class could get involved at those positions as well. Nick Daniele is pushing for time in the outfield, Vin Vergona is doing the same on the infield, and the class goes even deeper onto the bench with Bryce Kazanowsky, Owen Stefan and D.J. Shouldice.
Coming off its worst season in ages, Toms River North will be eager to get back on the field and spit the bad taste out of their collective mouths. For as rough as last year was, the Mariners finished just two-and-a-half games out of second place and in races that tight, sometimes bad luck plays a part. The competition figures to be fierce again, but with a solid top-of-the-rotation and some young talent coming into the program to complement a five-man returning core, the Mariners have legitimate reasons to believe 2023 was a minor step back.
Toms River North at a Glance
Head Coach: Andy Pagano, ninth season
2022 Record: 8-17 (6-8, tied sixth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Ryan Baker (SS), Nate Obeng (RHP), Dominic Saldida (2B), Kevin McVicar (3B), Jeremiah Pruitt (Jr., OF), Kyle Tillotson (RHP)
Toms River North Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: A.J. Chesney, Sr. (.193/.296/.290, 6 2B, 4 R, 3 RBI); Logan Mullholland, Jr.
First Base: Ty Kazanowsky, Sr. (.271/.320/.400, 6 2B, 1 HR, 10 R, 6 RBI)
Second Base: Dom Usrso, Jr.
Shortstop: Ian St. Luce, Fr.
Third Base: Evan Kwortnik, Sr. (.213/.355/.246, 2 2B, 9 R, 6 RBI); Vin Vergona, Fr.
Leftfield: Paul Kupszta, Sr.; Nick Daniele, Fr.
Centerfield: Elio Scarpa, Jr.
Rightfield: Brenden Lavellee, Sr. (.246/.355/.338, 3 2B, 1 HR, 9 R, 7 RBI)
DH: Kieran Mulholland, Jr. (1B) (1-for-8, 1 R)
Colin Stefan, Sr., OF
Bryce Kazanowsky, Fr., OF
Owen Stefan, Fr., C
D.J. Shouldice, Fr., OF
Brenden Lavallee, Sr., RHP (48.1 IP, 2-6, 3.19 ERA, 50 H, 24 BB, 39 K)
Kieran Mulholland, Jr., LHP (36.1 IP, 2-4, 4.05 ERA, 46 H, 17 BB, 38 K)
Jon Loalbo, Sr., RHP
Ty Kazanowsky, Sr., RHP (5.1 IP, 1-0, 3 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 6 K)
Matt Petrocelli, Jr., RHP
Dom Urso, Jr., RHP
Ian St. Luce, Fr., RHP
Vin Vergona, Fr., RHP
Gavin Lynch, Sr., RHP
Ryan Rivera, So., RHP
Colin Stefan, Sr., RHP
With two division wins last season, Brick was the only Class A South team to win fewer than six games in divisional play, so in order for A South to truly be a top-to-bottom free-for-all in pursuit of the division championship, Brick is the team with the most work to do in order to make a serious run at the top spot. That challenge starts with a pitching staff led by a quality returning senior starter in right-hander Kyle Knowsley. During his junior campaign, Knowsley crossed the 40-inning threshold, leading the team in that category with 42 1/3, as well as with his 4.13 ERA.
While Knowsley’s performance was a strong one for a breakthrough campaign, it will have to be better if he is to be the best pitcher on a Brick team that contends for the division title. It would be even better for the Green Dragons for a wave of other pitchers to emerge alongside Knowsley and there are a pair of candidates with real varsity experience in senior Zak Carter (16 2/3 innings in 2022) and junior Dylan Rostek (10 1/3). Junior Luke Bilheimer also so a small helping of time on the mound and sophomores Sean Savannah and Peyton Horning are ready to contribute as well.
Knowsley, Bilheimer and Horning will also be key cogs in the lineup, with Knowsley returning as a starter at third base, while Bilheim and Horning take over as first-year starters at catcher and centerfield, respectively. Senior A.J. Grygiel was one of Brick’s top hitters in 2022 as a junior shortstop and will be one of the Green Dragons’ leaders along with Knowsley and returning rightfielder Will Meade. Junior John Mignosi is also in line for outfield at-bats, sophomores Brandon McBride and Chris Quick are in the running for starting infield spots, and freshmen Brayden Heater and Tyler Cavanaugh could see time right away.
Brick should also get a jolt to the lineup with the addition of Ranney transfer and junior first baseman Logan Semevolos, who started big games and delivered big hits a season ago during Ranney’s 26-win campaign and run to the Non-Public B championship. It will take more than just one big offensive addition to the lineup for Brick to close the gap between itself and the rest of the field, but Semevolos combined with an improved pitching staff would be a great starting point to a turnaround.
Brick at a Glance
Head Coach: Jason Groschel, 17th season
2022 Record: 5-16 (2-12, eighth in Class A South)
Key Losses: Nick Hoheb (C), Matt Kunzman (RHP/3B), R.J. Reinhold (CF/RHP), Joe Scamardella (OF), Vin Calderise (1B/DH), Brian Yacovchuk (1B/3B), Kevin Toye (OF)
Brick Around the Diamond
Returning Starters in Bold
Catcher: Peyton Horning, So.; Spencer Rodrick, Jr.; Tyler Cavanaugh, Fr.
First Base: Chris Quick, So.; Logan Semevolos, Jr. (Transfer from Ranney; 11-for-16, 3 2B, 1 HR, 9 R, 14 RBI)
Second Base: Brayden Heatter, Fr.
Shortstop: A.J. Grygiel, Sr. (.279/.366/.311, 2 2B, 14 R, 6 RBI, 7 SB)
Third Base: Kyle Knowsley, Sr. (.146/.239/.171, 1 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI)
Leftfield: John Mignosi, Jr.; Zak Carter, Sr. (2-for-7, 8 R, 1 RBI, 7 SB)
Centerfield: Luke Bilheimer, Jr. (1-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI)
Rightfield: Will Meade, Sr. (.231/.259/.308, 1 3B, 2 R, 2 RBI)
DH: Brannon McBride, So., 2B
Phil Ehlers, Sr., 1B (0-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI)
Jayden Espana, Jr., 2B
Eddie Acevedo, Fr., 2B
Vincent Baracia, Jr., SS
David Marcus, Jr., SS
Kyle Gerling, Jr., 3B
Kyle Knowsley, Sr., RHP (42.1 IP, 3-5, 4.13 ERA, 56 H, 21 BB, 29 K)
Zak Carter, Sr., RHP (16.2 IP, 1-1, 7.14 ERA, 19 H, 9 BB, 8 K)
Dylan Rostek, Jr., RHP (10.1 IP, 0-2, 9.48 ERA, 14 H, 12 BB, 6 K)
Sean Savannah, So., RHP
Peyton Horning, So., RHP
Jayden Espana, Jr., RHP
Vincent Baracia, Jr., RHP
John Mignosi, Jr., RHP
Luke Bilheimer, Jr., RHP (2.1 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 3 K)
David Marcus, Jr., RHP
Brayden Heatter, Fr., RHP
Robert Distlecamp, Jr., RHP
Class A South Lineup
Cristian Soto, Jr., Catcher, Central
Aidan O’Donnell, Sr., Catcher, Jackson Memorial
Dom Masino, Sr., Shortstop, Central
Brian Harper, Jr., Shortstop, Southern
Charlie Meglio, Sr., Third Base, Jackson Memorial
Mike Erli, Sr., Leftfield, Toms River South
Ray Mulhern, Jr., Leftfield, Southern
Matt Koblos, Sr., Centerfield, Jackson Memorial
Jake Verdon, Sr., Rightfield, Toms River East
Class A South Pitching Staff
Brady Leach, Sr., RHP, Brick Memorial
Tyler Bell, Sr., LHP, Central
Anthony Mehmet, Sr., LHP, Jackson Memorial
Chris Hastings, Sr., RHP, Toms River South
Brenden Lavallee, Sr., RHP, Toms River North
Class A South Breakouts to Watch
Brady Lesiak, Jr., RHP/Third Base, Southern
Mike Arent, Sr., Outfield, Jackson Memorial
Brayden Lowden, Jr., Second Base, Central
Nick Garboosian, Jr., RHP, Brick Memorial
A.J. Pierson, Sr., C/1B/RHP, Toms River South
Brandon Safoschnik, Jr., RHP/OF, Toms River East
Nicco Maribo, Jr., Outfield, Brick Memorial
Chase Pierce, Sr., Centerfield, Central
Kieran Mulholland, Jr., LHP, Toms River North
Kyle Knowsley, Sr., Second Base/RHP, Brick