Baseball – 2016 Preview: Preseason Top 10
The Shore Conference baseball season is set to open on Friday morning and 2016 is shaping up to be a potentially historic one for baseball at the Shore. This year's Shore Conference is currently home to the reigning No. 1 team in N.J. as well as the projected No. 1 pick in this June's MLB Draft.
Of course, there is a wealth of talent outside of CBA and Barnegat, which makes the list of potential top-five and top-10 teams a long one. Here is a premature look at the Shore Conference as the real games are set to begin.
1. Christian Brothers Academy
The Colts will try to follow up quite a 2015 act. Last year, CBA won all five possible championships for a Shore Conference team – the division, county, conference, NJSIAA sectional and NJSIAA group championships – and the goal remains the same this year with this particular group of returnees. Senior Luca Dalatri is the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in N.J. and Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year and catcher Brandon Martorano is the reigning Shore Sports Network Player of the Year. Both are likely to hear the names called before the late rounds of the MLB Draft, but first, they will look to lead CBA to a second straight No. 1 finish in N.J.
2. Red Bank Catholic
After a strong finish to the 2015 season propelled them to the No. 2 ranking in the final top 10, the Caseys return as the No. 1 challenger to CBA to open the season. Red Bank Catholic returns six starters to its lineup and all three of its starting pitchers, which makes the Caseys arguably the most well-rounded team in the Shore Conference.
3. Middletown South
The Eagles not only return four of their top five starting pitchers and seven of their nine players from a team that won 20 straight games and put together a 14-game winning streak at one point, but they also boast as much depth on the varsity roster as any team in the conference. Middletown South has four viable starting pitchers, six quality infielders and two outfielders capable of playing quality defense in center field. They tied CBA for the A North title last year and have the makings of a team that can do it again.
On days that Jason Groome pitches, Barnegat might be the best team in the state. Over the long haul, the Bengals are still going to be a quality team when Groome is simply the designated hitter thanks to a all-Division I left-side of the infield and a solid collection of arms. The Bengals have come oh-so-close to finishing off a postseason title in each of the past two seasons and with the potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft at the top of the rotation, this could be the year they break through.
Manalapan was one of the five teams to beat CBA last year and the Braves return most of their potent offense, as well as their top pitcher from a year ago. Pitching will be the key for Manalapan, but the Braves have plenty of offense to get them through the season and an all-senior lineup that should take care of the little things game-in and game-out.
6. Colts Neck
Colts Neck went 20-1 in regular-season games last year behind its two-headed monster of left-handed pitchers. Only one of those heads remain, but Mario Ferraioli gives the Cougars a No. 1 pitcher to go with a solid collection of position player talent that is back from last year. While a repeat of a 14-0 division record is a long shot in a B North division with at least five quality teams, the Cougars will be in the hunt as they try to prepare for a better postseason showing this year.
7. Jackson Memorial
Although Jackson Memorial has a lot of production to replace from last year, the Jaguars have the top talent and the makeup to contend for every championship again this year. Even with two pitchers limited by arm trouble, the Jaguars won the Ocean County Tournament and reach the semifinals of both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Central jersey Group IV tournaments. With more luck on the health front, this year should bring more of the same for the perennial A South and Group IV contenders.
8. Toms River North
The Mariners’ pitching staff has been decimated by graduation and injuries to the experienced pitching that they did bring back. Despite that, Toms River North still boasts one of the most potent lineups in the Shore Conference and the return of junior shortstop Mike Nyisztor will shore up the defense behind the inexperienced-but-talented starting staff. If Toms River North can hit on some of the young pitching it has, the Mariners will be dangerous come tournament time.
9. Freehold Boro
Not only did Freehold Boro beat CBA last year, but the Colonials beat them twice. And not only did Colonials beat CBA twice, but they shut them out twice. Finally, not only did they shut them out twice, but they outscored them 12-0 in both games, including a 10-0 win in six innings. Freehold Boro returns most of its team from 2015, when the Colonials beat the No. 1 team in the state twice and also Monroe ace and North Carolina recruit Robbie Peto on the way to a Central Jersey Group IV semifinal appearance.
10. Toms River South
A season with fewer than 20 wins is considered a letdown by Toms River South standards, but by everyone else’s, it istop-10 caliber. Toms River South has a lot of offense to replace, but the Indians also have a solid foundation at the top of the rotation with right-handed Monmouth recruit Trevor Wagner and junior left-hander Justin Fall. There are going to be a hoard of teams clawing at this No. 10 spot, but Toms River South is always a safe bet to reside in the top 10 over the course of the year.
Keep an eye on…
Brick Memorial – The Mustangs return a loaded offense and if the pitching comes around, they will be among the favorites to win the Ocean County Tournament.
St. John Vianney – The defending Class A Central champs have experience around the diamond and enough returning pitching to hold down the fort in the division.
Manasquan – The opposite of Brick Memorial: If the Warriors get any offense to go with Jack and Tom Sheehan, they become the A Central favorites.
Wall – The Crimson Knights lost a lot of offense and a No. 1 pitcher, but have some depth and young talent that will help them contend in B North.
Ocean – If the Spartans hit, they have the pitching depth to take on the top teams in B North.
Point Pleasant Boro – This senior class came in with expectations to win a division championship and a state sectional title and if they stay healthy this year, the Panthers will have a shot to deliver.