Baseball – 2017 Preview: Class B Central
Class B Central has traditionally been St. Rose’s division to lose and while the Purple Roses have usually made good on those expectations, there have been some teams to spoil the party over the years. Point Beach has been that team and Mater Dei most recently won the title in 2015. Those two teams hope to knock off St. Rose again, as does Keyport, which has joined the upper echelon of B Central over the past two years. With four teams possibly chasing the title, the B Central seasons should have plenty of twists and turns, but given the roster St. Rose returns, the destination appears to be a familiar one.
In predicted order of finish
Head Coach: Rich Lanko, first season
2016 Record: 19-7 (13-1, first in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Brandon Mology (Sr., RHP), Brian DiPasquale (Sr., RHP), John Crowley (Jr., RHP), Riley Maypother (Jr., RHP), Brendan Hueth (Sr., LHP), Andrew Baier (Sr., RHP), Will Gannon (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Brendan Hueth (Sr., OF), Joe Volpe (Sr., SS), Brody Maypother (Jr., C), Riley Maypother (Jr., 3B), Will Gannon (Jr., INF), John Crowley (Jr., OF), Brandon Mology (2B), Tommy Blaes (Sr., OF), Adam Cohrs (Sr., C),
Key Losses: Mike Gowen (OF)
Key Newcomers: Kevin Fay (Sr., 1B/RHP), Nick Schmidt (Jr., RHP), Mike Thompson (Sr., OF), Dan Rose (Jr., OF), Sammy Sestito (Jr., 1B/RHP), Frank Bellezza (So., 2B/SS/RHP), Evan Peeke (Sr., 3B/OF/RHP)
Last year was all about redemption for the St. Rose players who played on the 2015 team that came in second place in B Central behind Mater Dei. Winning Class B Central is something of a birthright for St. Rose baseball players and after missing out in 2015, the Purple Roses climbed back to the top by dominating the divisional schedule and winning 19 games. In three consecutive games, they beat Manalapan, Point Pleasant Boro and Ocean, which gives this year’s team some momentum as it tries to go from dominant B Central team to one that competes for tournament titles.
St. Rose and first-year head coach Rich Lanko can feel good about its chances because just about the entire 2016 team is back. The Roses return every starter in the field except Mike Gowen, including all of their top pitchers. Brandon Mology ran a 1.43 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP in 49 innings as the St. Rose ace last year, which included a victory over Manalapan. Senior right-hander Brian DiPasquale was a dependable No. 2 and junior John Crowley returns after settling into the No. 3 slot, with senior Brendan Hueth and junior Will Gannon picking up some cleanup innings as well.
Hueth – a center fielder who is committed to St. Joseph’s University – is among the offensive leaders who returns this year after leading the Shore Conference with 14 doubles in 2016. Senior Joe Volpe and juniors Riley Maypother and Will Gannon are all back on the infield, with Volpe manning shortstop, Maypother at third and Gannon shuffling between second and first depending whether or not Mology –who plays second base – is pitching. Junior Brody Maypother returns behind the plate after a big sophomore season with the bat and Crowley will also play his second season as a starter as an outfielder. It’s a deep, capable lineup that has some key players entering their junior seasons, so there is plenty of room for St. Rose to grow coming off a 19-win season.
Point Pleasant Beach
Head Coach: Angelo Fiore, fourth season
2016 Record: 12-13 (8-6, tied fourth in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Kevin Donnelly (Sr., LHP), John Nista (Jr., RHP), Chris Russo (Jr., RHP), Kenny MacPherson (Jr., RHP), Jude Lovegren (Jr., RHP), Josh Yates (Jr., RHP), Connor Prima (Sr., LHP)
Returning Position Players: Kevin Donnelly (Sr., 1B), John Nista (Jr., INF), Kenny MacPherson (Jr., SS), Jude Lovegren (Jr., INF), Vincent Storino (Jr., C), Josh Yates (Jr., 2B), Chris Russo (Jr., OF), Connor Prima (Sr., OF), Jean Verrier (Jr., OF/P)
Key Losses: John VanSchoick (RHP/3B), Joe DelGrippo (1B/OF), Ryan Franzoni (C/OF), Tanner Smith (OF)
Key Newcomers: Roddy Rupp (Sr., OF), Ryan Craig (Sr., OF), Mihalis Hrisanfinis (So., OF), George Bersin Daly (Jr., OF), Nick Melito (Jr., OF), Will Thorn (Jr., 1B), Max Allia (So., 1B/OF), Luke Frauenheim (Jr., OF), Phil Antoniotti (Fr., INF/RHP), Aidan Conway (Fr., OF), Joey Favato (Fr., OF)
The Garnet Gulls hoped to compete for a Class B Central title with a young roster and appeared poised to do that with a six-game winning streak to open the season. They also knocked off Jackson Memorial in the Ocean County Tournament first round on April 30, but the season went downhill in May on the way to a finish under .500. Point Beach’s pitching never found enough consistency and getting to that point as a pitching staff will be the Gulls’ first priority heading into 2017. Senior left-hander Kevin Donnelly had some good moments on the mound as a junior, as did John Nista and Chris Russo. Those three, plus junior Jude Lovegren and Josh Yates will make an impact on the mound this year and could hold the key to Point Beach returning to the top of the division.
Offensively, the Gulls are a junior-laden team with a lot of potential. Yates, Nista, shortstop Kenny MacPherson and catcher Vinny Storino all return to the lineup as juniors and Donnelly will anchor the lineup after putting up the fourth best OPS in the division last year at 1.169. Russo will also see a bigger offensive role this year, giving the Gulls a complete lineup that they hope complements an improved pitching staff.
Head Coach: Kyle Keelen, sixth season
2016 Record: 13-11 (10-4, third in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Christian Smith (Sr., RHP), Shane Chandler (Sr., RHP), Kyle Johnson (Sr., RHP), Colin Fernandez (Jr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Christian Smith (Sr., SS), Shane Chandler (Sr., CF), Kyle Johnson (Sr., 3B), Jackson Aumack (Sr., 2B), Alex Staats (Sr., 1B), Colin Fernandez (Jr., OF)
Key Losses: Kyle Mitchell (C), Steven Chandler (SS/RHP), Kenny Harrigan (RHP), Evan Smutz (OF), Mike Russo (3B)
Key Newcomers: Justin Young (So., OF/RHP), Matt Russo (Fr., C), Roan Maxwell (Fr., C), William Odom (Sr., 2B), Chris Shevlin (Jr., 2B)
The 2016 season was a memorable one for Keyport. The Red Raiders beat St. Rose during the regular season and later made a run to the Central Jersey Group I final, which they lost to South River, 5-0. The next step for Keyport is to overtake St. Rose for the division crown and finish a the job in the Central Jersey Group I bracket, which the Red Raiders will have a shot to do this year thanks to an experienced core of returnees. Senior right-hander Christian Smith was an all-division starter in 2016 and won a pair of games in the state tournament. Smith will also play shortstop, which gives Keyport two dual-threat players at the top of the rotation.
Senior Shane Chandler is the other established all-around player for Keyport, particularly at the plate and in the field. Chandler slugged .727 last year and stole 17 bases while playing a strong center field last year and will also be a bigger cog in the pitching staff this season. Senior Kyle Johnson and junior Colin Fernandez are also poised for more innings this year, while Johnson and senior Jackson Aumack both return to the starting lineup in the field. Johnson will play third base this season and Aumack returns to second base after a solid junior season. Keyport will have to account for losing four key starters in Kyle Mitchell, Steven Chandler, Kenny Harrigan and Evan Smutz, but the experience – particularly on the mound, will keep the Red Raiders a contender in B Central and Central Jersey Group I.
Mater Dei Prep
Head Coach: Pat Riddell, 13th season
2016 Record: 12-12 (11-3, second in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Vinny Stanziale (Sr., RHP), Matt Carrigy (Jr., RHP), Kevin Olaussen (Sr., RHP), Rob Lynch (Sr., LHP)
Returning Position Players: Kyle Dowlen (Sr., SS), Vinny Stanziale (Sr., 3B), Ryan Turner (Jr., OF), Matt Carrigy (Jr., OF), Kevin Olaussen (Sr., 1B), Mike Dunne (Jr., C/OF), Joe Profaci (Jr., OF)
Key Losses: Joe Ruth (RHP/1B/3B), Cole Hardy (2B), Nick Massaro (C), Matt Paciulli (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Greg Bender (Jr., 3B/RHP), Chase Hardy (So., 2B), Sean Turner (Fr., SS/2B/RHP), Patrick Masto (Fr.)
Although Mater Dei could not repeat as Class B Central champions last year, the Seraphs stayed in the race thanks to a potent lineup. That lineup took a sizable hit due to graduation, with Cole Hardy and Joe Ruth serving as the one-two punch in the heart of the order as seniors last year. Senior Kyle Dowlen and junior Ryan Turner are the top returners from a year ago, with Turner knocking in 15 runs and boasting a .417 on-base percentage and Dowlen belting a pair of homers and driving in 16. Junior Mike Dunne, senior Kevin Olaussen and junior Joe Profaci also have experience at the plate that should lengthen Mater Dei’s lineup.
Mater Dei’s pitching will be the key to contention, with senior Vinny Stanziale looking to have a bounceback season that closer resembles his sophomore season. Junior Matt Carrigy was a dependable arm and Olaussen will also help as a senior hurler. Freshmen Sean Turner and Patrick Masto will get playing time right away as the next generation of talent, but two years removed from an outright division title, Mater Dei won’t give up this year so easy.
Head Coach: Ryan Lillis, first season
2016 Record: 8-11 (8-6, tied fourth in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Matt Gibney (Sr., RHP), Paul Eckleberry (Jr., RHP), Liam Riecks (So., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Matt Gibney (Sr., INF), Hunter Gorski (Sr., OF), Justin Alessi (Jr., SS), Paul Eckleberry (Jr., OF), Joe Osterbye (Jr., C), Liam Meyer (So., CF), Liam Riecks (So., INF/OF)
Key Losses: Ian Terry (INF/RHP), Austin Blum (1B/LHP), Gannon Meyer (SS)
Key Newcomers: Alex Agostini (Sr., OF/1B/RHP), Cristian Borrageiros (Sr., INF), David Clayton (Sr., INF/RHP), Kevin Rogers (Sr., OF/RHP), Dylan Ryan (Sr., 1B), Gabe Torres (So., INF/RHP), Brandon Rizzi (Fr., OF)
The Titans will feature a new look this season, most notably with Ryan Lillis replacing longtime skipper Brian Kmak, who stepped down after last season. Lillis is a former CBA standout and Rutgers pitcher who guided North Brunswick to the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals as a No. 16 seed in 2016. He takes over a program that will have to replace three significant contributors from a year ago but has some talent still in place.
Senior Matt Gibney will give Keansburg a steady senior on the mound as the team’s No. 1 starter and can also contribute at the plate. Junior shortstop Justin Alessi had a productive sophomore season in the plate and in the field, while sophomore Liam Meyer is coming off an impressive season as a freshman center fielder. The Titans should be a factor at the top of the B Central race before long and there that could happen as soon as this year.
Head Coach: Matt Hall, second season
2016 Record: 4-11 (4-10, sixth in B Central)
Returning Position Players: Kiran Shah (Jr., OF), Ryan Batista (So., C/INF), Jacob Field (So., OF/1B), Ethan Gavin (So., INF/P), Ben Kraushaar (So., INF), Cole Redman (So., OF)
Key Losses: Corey Natofsky (3B/RHP), James Geraghty (SS/RHP), Scott Zhu (INF), Max Godek (OF), Chris Weiland (1B), Jerome Cohen (OF)
Key Newcomers: Nate Aquino (Fr., C/OF), Kyle Lubin (Sr., OF), Alan Li (So., OF)
While they only won four games last year, the Panthers had a collection of players in Corey Natofsky, James Geraghty, Scott Zhu and Ryan Batista who put up some good numbers on offense. Natofsky finished second in the Shore in batting at .537, but is one of three offensive standouts who does not return this season. The one who does is Batista, who was a run producer as a freshman and figures to be one again this year as his varsity career gains momentum. Junior Kiran Shah is also an experienced varsity player in the outfield and will set the table for the middle of the order.
Sophomores Jacob Field, Ethan Gaving, Ben Krashaar and Cole Redman will all see more prominent roles and give Ranney a chance to close the gap between itself and the top of the division over these next three seasons. The pitching is still a question mark and the team is younger than it was a year ago, so this will likely end up being a developmental year for an interesting young roster.
Head Coach: Matt Mancini, first season
2016 Record: 1-15 (1-13, tied seventh in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Brendan Carlstrom (Sr., LHP), Ryan Doegler (Sr., RHP), Liam Hagan (So., RHP), Matt Payne (So., LHP)
Returning Position Players: Brendan Carlstrom (Sr., 1B/CF), Tom Colantino (Sr., C/OF), Ryan Doegler (Sr., SS), Jack Slocumb (Sr., OF), Liam Hagan (So., 1B), Tim Farrell (So., 2B/SS)
Key Losses: Steve Stockton (C)
Key Newcomers: Mike Mohr (Fr., 3B/RHP), Grady Hendrickson (Fr., SS/OF/RHP), Mike Hoey (Fr., OF), Casey Haupt (Fr., OF), Blaise Cauvin (Fr., 2B/OF)
Off a one-win season, Henry Hudson will have to replace an all-division catcher in Steve Stockton, but returns just about all of the roster besides the backstop. Senior left-hander Brendan Carlstrom has essentially been the team’s No. 1 starter on the mound since his freshman year and is back for one more year. He and the rest of the Admirals hope there will be more support in the field and at the plate and it will be up to seniors Tom Colantino, Ryan Doegler and Jack Slocumb to lead the way. Colantino will move behind the plate and Doegler will play shortstop and take up one of the spots in the pitching rotation.
Henry Hudson will also play five freshmen this year to fill out the roster, so there will be developing the core of the next future while trying to give this senior group a sendoff that includes some more Class B Central wins.
Head Coach: Johnny Grasso, 11th season
2016 Record: 1-14 (1-13, tied seventh in B Central)
Returning Pitchers: Henry McGee (Sr., RHP), Christian Bragg (Sr., RHP)
Returning Position Players: Devin Nash-McGee (Jr., SS), Henry McGee (Sr., CF), Christian Bragg (Sr., 3B), Luis Rodriguez (Jr., C)
Key Losses: Casey McGinness (RHP/2B), Jahmel Dixon (C/1B)
Key Newcomers: Alex Peavey (So., 2B), Kavon Robinson (Jr., LF)
Like a number of the teams in B Central, Asbury Park could not round up enough effective pitching to have the year it wanted to have last year. The Blue Bishops did have a few good offensive seasons at the plate, particularly junior catcher Luis Rodriguez. The backstop hit .364 with a .500 on-base percentage, while fellow junior Devin Nash-McGhee hit .310 as a sophomore. Those two, plus senior Christian Bragg will anchor the offense for Asbury Park.
As the projected No. 1 pitcher, senior right-hander Henry McGee could be the key to the season. McGhee pitched just one third of an inning last year, but has impressed enough in the preseason to get the ball for the Blue Bishops while also doubling as the team’s center fielder. If McGhee can help make Asbury Park the B Central team that markedly improves its pitching staff, the Blue Bishops could potentially jump Henry Hudson and a young Ranney team.
Brody Maypother, Jr., Catcher, St. Rose
Kevin Donnelly, Sr., 1B/LHP, Point Beach
Josh Yates, Jr., 2B/3B, Point Beach
Joe Volpe, Sr., Shortstop, St. Rose
Riley Maypother, Jr., Third Base, St. Rose
Brendan Hueth, Sr., Outfield, St. Rose
Shane Chandler, Sr., Outfield, Keyport
Liam Meyer, So., Outfield, Keansburg
John Nista, Jr., 3B/RHP, Point Beach
Brandon Mology, Sr., RHP/2B, St. Rose
Christian Smith, Sr., RHP/SS, Keyport
Brian DiPasquale, Sr., RHP, St. Rose
Matt Gibney, Sr., RHP, Keansburg
John Crowley, Jr., RHP, St. Rose
Breakout Players to Watch
Ryan Turner, Jr., Outfield, Mater Dei Prep
Jude Lovegren, Jr., INF/RHP, Point Beach
Kyle Johnson, Sr., 3B, Keyport
Henry McGhee, Sr., RHP, Asbury Park
Ryan Batista, So., Catcher, Ranney