Baseball – 2019 Preview: Class B South
Class B South may be Ocean County’s small-school division but this division should take a back seat to none other in the Shore Conference in 2019. Jackson Liberty returns one of the highest-scoring offenses in the state and has enough senior presence to make a serious challenge for every championship on the board, while Point Pleasant Boro is coming off a state tournament run that left them just a run short of winning a sectional championship as part of what wound up being an 18-win season. Both teams return just about everyone from those teams, plus Manchester and Pinelands return significant portions of their talent as well.
The bottom of the division might appear forgiving but both teams appear poised for improvement, making Class B South a collection of promising teams for the 2019 campaign.
Head Coach: Jim Rankin, 12th season
2018 Record: 20-5 (first in Class B South)
Returners: David Melfi (Sr., C), Connor Keenan (Sr., CF), Alex Torres (Sr., SS), Kevin Ritz (Sr., 1B/RHP), Nick DeCarlo (Sr., RHP/1B), Scott Wierciszewski (Sr., OF), Charlie Rudderow (Sr., OF), Shane Hickey (Jr., 3B), Brandon Kinsman (Jr., UTIL)
Key Losses: Matt Pickus (RHP), Rich Dordas (1B/LHP), Billy Hart (1B), Dan Dordas (RHP), Daniel Sofield (Sr., 2B/SS)
Key Newcomers: Cole Watanabe (Sr., INF), Tim Duffy (Jr., P), Ryan Gallacher (Jr., P), Gavin Maarberg (Jr., OF/C), Daniel Keenan (So., OF/RHP), Jake Hickman (So., INF), Carl Barth (So., OF/1B/LHP)
The 2019 Class has been one of the best in the short history of the Jackson Liberty program and the group of current seniors has their collective eye on what they hope will be the best season the Lions have had since 2008. Jackson Liberty reached the Central Jersey Group III semifinals each of the past two seasons and enters this year with a roster once again good enough to play deep into any of the three tournaments – Ocean County, Shore Conference and Group III.
While the Lions have a deep lineup that can give opposing pitchers fits one-through-nine, senior catcher David Melfi is the clear standout. His seven home runs were tied for second in the Shore Conference and his .889 slugging percentage was third while leading all catchers. Junior third baseman Shane Hickey is not far behind after posting two outstanding offensive seasons to begin his varsity career, the latest of which produced six home runs, 27 RBI and a batting average over .400 for the second straight year. Center fielder Connor Keenan, shortstop Alex Torres and corner outfielders Scott Wierciszewski and Charlie Rudderow all return as seniors after contributing on offense last year, with Keenan producing a .423 average and 10 extra-base hits and Wierciszewski knocking in a team high 31 RBI. Junior Brandon Kinsman was also a revelation for Jackson Liberty last year, slugging .657 in 46 plate appearances and, at one point, homering in three straight games.
If there is one area in which Jackson Liberty enters the season with some uncertainty it is in its pitching staff, which graduated workhorse right-hander Matt Pickus. The Lions relied heavily on three starters last year and will push forward with two of them back this season. Senior right-hander Nick DeCarlo is headed to Wagner with Melfi next year and with a fastball that creeps into the 90-mile-per-hour range and a hammer breaking ball, he figures to be the headliner. Senior Kevin Ritz also had a strong junior season with a 2.33 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 36 innings. Dan Keenan and Carl Barth could make an impact as sophomores while Tim Duffy and Ryan Gallacher look to step up as juniors. If one of those four can solidify a spot in the rotation behind DeCarlo and Ritz, Jackson Liberty will be positioned to challenge for multiple titles and even if they have to lean heavily on the top two, the Lions have an offense that will win them plenty of games as well.
Point Pleasant Boro
Head Coach: Dave Drew, ninth season
2018 Record: 18-9 (10-4, second in Class B South)
Returners: Sam Collins (Sr., SS/RHP), Nick Guzzi (Jr., RHP/3B), Christian Aurin (Sr., OF/RHP), Paul Franceschini (Sr., OF/C/RHP), Sam Young (Jr., OF/RHP), Dylan Kleinfeldt (Sr., OF/P), Ryan Jasaitis (Jr., C), Nick Zbikowski (Jr., 2B/SS/RHP), Connor Kennedy (Jr., INF), Cole Young (Jr., OF/RHP)
Key Losses: Ryan Sansone (3B/P/C/1B), Andrew Laspina (OF/P/1B), Trent LiVolsi (C/1B)
Key Newcomers: John Alfonso (Sr., 1B/P), Jack Bycsek (Sr., 2B/3B/RHP), Luke Severio (Jr., OF/P), Frankie Dominici (So., INF), Nick Tuzzolino (So., OF/P), Joey Picolli (So., OF/2B/RHP)
Ninth-year Point Boro coach Dave Drew could not have drawn up 2018 much better. The Panthers opened the season with a young team with inexperience in a number of spots and just kept getting better as the season wore on. Point Boro finished second in Class B South, upset CBA to reach the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament and made it all the way to the South Jersey Group II final. They came up just short of beating Toms River North in the SCT quarterfinal and Haddonfield in the championship but with almost an entire team back, those losses should serve the Panthers well.
Repeating success is never a guarantee but Point Boro’s one-two punch on the mound is an indicator that last year was no fluke. Junior right-hander Nick Guzzi committed to St. John’s earlier in the school year and is coming off a season in which he emerged as one of the Shore’s dominant pitchers in just his sophomore season. Senior right-hander Sam Collins does not have the eye-catching fastball of his junior teammate but his performance – seven walks, 49 strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA in 51 2/3 innings – put him in the same caliber. Senior right-hander Christian Aurin is also back after tossing 29 innings a year ago and junior Sam Young figures to take on a bigger role in the staff after solid work in spot duty.
Point Boro’s offense could get a boost this year with more of a senior presence, which could be what pushes Point Boro over the top against Jackson Liberty in the B South race. Senior outfielder Paul Franceschini is Point Boro’s top returning bat after hitting .380 with five doubles and two triples, while Collins and Guzzi both produced at the top of the lineup and played strong defense on the left side of the infield. Aurin, Young and junior Nick Zbikowski all got significant at-bats last year and junior catcher Ryan Jasaitis and senior Dylan Kleinfelt each performed well in more limited roles that are sure to expand this year. With Guzzi and Collins returning off All-Shore seasons, it won’t take a dramatic offensive improvement for Point Boro to be even better than it was during an 18-win 2018.
Head Coach: Justin Loomis, first season
2018 Record: 10-11 (8-6, tied fourth in Class B South)
Returners: Joey Ventresca (Sr., SS/RHP), Noah Dean (Sr., LHP/OF), Anthony Diaz (Sr., 3B/C), Pete Hammond (Sr., RHP/1B), Billy Crawford (Sr., 2B), Bobby LeFevre (Sr., OF), Bryce O’Rourke (Jr., INF/P), Pat Apgar (Jr., P/1B), Jake Sorbara (Sr., OF)
Key Losses: Sean O’Rourke (1B/OF), Nick Rapallo (2B), Danny Thomas (OF), Matt Ingold (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Michael Schaffer (So., P/INF), Matt Cox (Jr., INF/P), Cade Farmer (Jr., INF/P), Jack Lawrie (So., OF), Jon Levy (So., OF), Michael LoPiccolo (Sr., 2B), Ricky O’Brien (Sr., P/OF), Rian O’Rourke (Fr., INF/P), Robert Plant (So., OF), Alex Ulrich (So., C), Anthony Weedo (So., 1B)
If almost everything went right for Point Boro in 2018, the opposite can be said for Pinelands, which endured some close losses and a key injury out of the gate. Senior two-way standout and Monmouth commit Joey Ventresca injured his knee in the first week of the 2018 season, which derailed his follow-up to an All-Shore season as a sophomore. The good news is Ventresca and his talented classmates will get a shot at redemption under first-year head coach Justin Loomis.
Ventresca’s bat did not suffer after returning from injury, with the Wildcats shortstop hitting .485 in 40 plate appearances, but his pitching was not as sharp as it was during his sophomore year. A healthy Ventresca will pair with Old Dominion commit and senior left-hander Noah Dean to form a top-two that could emerge as the Shore’s best if everything clicks. Dean is also looking to improve off an up-and-down season that included 52 strikeouts in only 30 innings but came with 27 walks and a 3.73 ERA as well. One bright spot for Pinelands was the emergence of Peter Hammond as another top starting pitcher, which means the Wildcats enter the season with three proven options.
Ventresca and senior teammate Anthony Diaz will lead the offense, with Diaz returning as Pinelands’ most consistent hitter from a year ago. The other two starters will also be factors in the offense - Hammond hit above .300 for the Wildcats and Dean will patrol center field and hit in the top six of the order again this season. Second baseman Billy Crawford also had some good moments at the plate and will be an asset at the top of the order for the Wildcats. A deep group of sophomores will join the varsity group along with freshman Rian O’Rourke, which should fortify the depth behind the strong pitching staff. With a more potent lineup, a sharper team in the field and better luck on the injury front, Pinelands should be in line for a bounceback season.
Head Coach: Dave Beauchemin, fourth season
2018 Record: 9-11 (9-5, third in Class B South)
Returners: Evan Scala (Jr., RF), Jack Felipe (Sr., C), James Johns (Jr., CF), Mike Conger (Sr., UTIL), Markel Hourigan (Sr., 1B), Ryan Costello (So., LF), Nick Chippisi (Jr., 3B)
Key Losses: Derek Schmidt (Sr., 1B), John Simonini (Sr., 2B), Jagger Karaksa (Sr., P), James Cuber (Sr., P)
Key Newcomers: Jacob Roberts (Sr., RHP), Brandon Kiddie (Jr., UTIL), Conner Ferino (Jr., C), Chris Grille (So., UTIL), Jacob Tafrow (So., INF), Blake Warren (So., INF), Ryan Riccio (Sr., INF), Dominick Racioppi (Sr., OF), Jarek Vargas (So., 1B/LHP) – transfer from Donovan Catholic
As far as scoring runs goes, Manchester should keep pace with every team in Ocean County in 2019. The Hawks return a plethora of proven hitters from a year ago, when they scored 7.1 runs per game – good for fourth in the Shore Conference behind Jackson Liberty (9.5), Middletown South (7.8) and St. Rose (7.5). While the Hawks lost a pair of capable hitters to graduation in John Simonini and Derek Schmidt, they return their heavy-hitters. Senior Jack Felipe and juniors Evan Scala and James Johns all had big offensive seasons, with Felipe and Scala each hitting over .400 and slugging better than .600.
Sophomore Ryan Costello enjoyed a strong debut last year and should settle in as another regular producer for Manchester after hitting .286 with eight doubles last year. Junior Nick Chippisi is back in the starting lineup at third base, senior Markel Hourigan will be the starting first baseman and senior Mike Conger and junior Brandon Kiddie will reprise their roles as a utility players who can start at multiple positions.
For Manchester to make the leap to the top of the division, its pitching will have to develop enough to support the dangerous offense. Manchester graduated its two most reliable pitchers from a year ago but the Hawks welcome in some help in the form of sophomore Jarek Vargas. The left-hander was one of Donovan Catholic’s best pitchers as a freshman last season and he will be leaned on right away to pitch big innings, with Johns and Conger also chipping in on the mound. Manchester is not as imposing on the mound as the three teams ranked ahead of the Hawks but with a high-powered lineup, a marked improvement in the pitching would make Manchester a real contender in B South and beyond.
Head Coach: Adam Taha, first season
2018 Record: 11-12 (8-6, tied fourth in Class B South)
Returners: Jorden Jurkiewicz (Sr., C/INF), Miles Feaster (Sr., SS), Jimmy Roselli (Sr., OF), Sam Sramaty (Sr., RHP), Colin Trembly (Sr., OF/P), Garrett Reilly (Sr., 1B/3B), Nick Zarycki (So., RHP)
Key Losses: Keith Apostolos (SS), Anthony Tobia (CF), Evan Wallis (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Kevin Hayes (Sr., OF/P), Luke Mohr (Jr., 2B), Quint Kearns (Sr., OF), Matt Kaliske (So., C/1B), Brandon DeAngelo (So., C/OF), Jacob Bowles (So., RHP/1B/3B), Jahseh Fracasso (So., RHP/3B), Donnie Kirk (So., OF), Zach Zimmerman (Jr., OF)
While an 11-12 season might not seem all that noteworthy, it was a solid showing by a Lacey team that had to replace an entire pitching staff from a 21-win team in 2017. This year’s squad will also have some important pieces to replace but nothing like last year’s challenge. The Lions will build around returning all-division talents Jorden Jurkiewicz and Miles Feaster, with Jurkiewicz returning behind the plate and Feaster eyeing a move from second base to shortstop with the graduation of three-year starter Keith Apostolos. Jurkiewicz is a Maryland commit and one of the Shore’s top returning hitters after scorching nine doubles, five triples and a pair of homers last season.
Seniors Jimmy Roselli and Colin Trembly return in corner outfield spots from a year ago, with Roselli bringing some legitimate power to the middle of the order and Trembly also due to help on out the mound. Senior Garrett Reilly is also back at a corner infield post, playing either first base or third base. Lacey has to replace steady right-hander Evan Wallis on the mound but returns another reliable senior in Sam Sramaty and sophomore right-hander Nick Zarycki off a solid varsity debuts. Fellow sophomores Jacob Bowles and Jahseh Fracasso will also be key cogs in the young Lions pitching rotation.
In addition to supplying the pitching staff, the sophomore class also has some potential impact offensive players as well. Brandon DeAngelo has the makings of a dangerous hitter who can spell Jurkiewicz behind the plate or man the outfield. Matt Kaliske can also catch and swing the bat while Bowles figures to help on the infield when he is not pitching. With two all-division performers already in place, Lacey has the foundation for a strong season if those sophomores are ready to step up as varsity regulars, the Lions could force their way into the division race.
Head Coach: Dan McCoy, eighth season
2018 Record: 8-16 (6-8, sixth in Class B South)
Returners: Tyler Suydam (Sr., RHP/INF), Lukas Torres (Jr., LHP/OF/1B), David MacGillvray (Sr., 3B), Matt Scott (Jr., OF), Brian Finucan (Sr., OF), Nick Danbrowney (So., RHP/INF), Colin Zarenkiewicz (Jr., LHP), Dexter Dambroski (Sr., LHP), Kyle Moore (So., C), Luke Bush (Jr., C), Max DeGennaro (Sr., 1B)
Key Losses: Ryan Bush (RHP), Liam Corbett (RHP)
Key Newcomers: Matt Vernieri (Jr., RHP), Sean Lucas (Jr., INF), Trevor Fox (Jr., INF), Steven Meier (Jr., OF), Kenny McKeon (Sr., INF)
Over the last seven years or so, Barnegat has established a reputation for producing top-notch pitching under coach Dan McCoy. The Bengals boasted a deep staff last year but no one really emerged as the go-to starter or starters despite plenty of candidates. Two of those pitchers graduated but the two most effective starters from a year ago are back. Left-handers Lukas Torres and Dexter Dambroski were both serviceable on the mound and will help lead what McCoy and Co. hope is an improved staff that proves last year to be an aberration.
While Torres and Dambroski were the top pitching performers for Barnegat last season, Barnegat’s potential ace is, more likely than not, senior right-hander Tyler Suydam. The 6-foot-5 right-hander is two years removed from an strong sophomore campaign (3.47 ERA in 36 innings) and is looking to return to that form after some struggles last year (5.71 ERA in 30 1/3 innings). Juniors Colin Zarenkiewicz and Matt Vernieri will add some depth to the rotation and sophomore Nick Danbrowney is another arm to watch on the mound.
Torres and Suydam will also lead the lineup, with Suydam making up for his pitching struggles with a big offensive season (.458 average). Torres also turned in a strong hitting season with a .354 average, six extra-base hits and a team-high 23 runs scored. The other key returning cog in the lineup is senior third baseman David MacGillvray, who led the Bengals with five doubles, two home runs, 16 RBI and a .521 slugging percentage during his breakout junior season. Danbrowney and outfielders Matt Scott and Brian Finucan also return with starting experience and will again contribute to an offense that remains mostly intact and should help complement a pitching staff that, much like the Bengals as a whole, is looking to bounce back.
Head Coach: Corey Hamman, first season (seventh overall)
2018 Record: 2-18 (1-13, tied seventh in Class B South)
Returners: Matt Morro (Sr., OF), Sam Gates (So., OF), Christian McElroy (Jr., UTIL), Andrew Connallon (Sr., P), Brandon Dupont (Sr., C), Liam Leonard (Jr., OF/P), Lawrence Zingi (Sr., SS/RHP), Eion Gilroy (Sr., 1B), Joe Payne (So., C), Bob Nosti (So., 2B)
Key Losses: Ryan Miller (1B/P), Ross Artale (OF), Sawyer Conrad (OF), Jarek Vargas (So., 1B/P) – transferred to Manchester
Key Newcomers: Andrew Castro (So., P), Matt Colucci (So., P), Mike Faranaccio (Jr., INF), Damian Johnson (Jr., OF)
The Donovan Catholic program has fallen on hard times and last year was about as bad as it has gotten for the Griffins. There were a lot of close, low-scoring losses throughout the season but the overall body of work – a 2-18 campaign – was one to forget. Corey Hamman now takes over the program after building up Lacey into a Class B South contender and will hope to replicate similar success. The Lacey turnaround took time and Hamman is hoping with the ability to draw a wider array of talent as a non-public program, the Griffins can get things turned around more quickly.
Despite last year’s ugly win-loss record, there is reason for optimism. The Griffins have done a fair job keeping opponents off the scoreboard in recent years and Hamman has a reputation as a pitching guru, stemming from his days as a pitcher in the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations. Senior Andrew Connallon and junior Liam Leonard were regular contributors on the mound and senior Lawrence Zingi also provides time upside for Hamman and his staff to help cultivate.
The Griffins were not without their hitting highlights either. Senior Matt Morro swung an all-division bat after hitting .469 with seven doubles. Almost inexplicably, Donovan Catholic had more success against Cubs draft pick and current University of Alabama freshman standout Tyler Ras than any other team that faced Ras and Middletown North. Brandon Dupont, Christian McElroy, Sam Gates, Eion Gilroy and Leonard all return with close to a season’s worth of at-bats in a tough B South. As long as Donovan Catholic can get back to pounding the strike zone as a staff, the Griffins should improve upon last year’s struggles and begin a climb toward the upper ranks of the division.
Head Coach: Gene Drumright, 15th season
2018 Record: 2-16 (1-13, tied seventh in Class B South)
Returners: Justin Vega (Sr., INF/RHP), Juadae Rosario (Sr., OF/INF), Julian Guzman (Sr., OF/P), Eric Rice (Sr., INF), Jonathan Santiago (Sr., OF/INF), Miguel Torres (Sr., C/RHP), Cristian Conde (Sr., INF), Marcos Ramos (So., OF/INF), Pierce Tye (Sr., INF)
Key Losses: Deion Crooks (OF), Angel Mendez (SS/RHP), Julian Zingler (1B/RHP)
Key Newcomers: Fernando Luna (Sr., OF/P), Felipe Luna (So., OF/P), Alexander Lopez (Sr., INF)
Without a lot of depth, Lakewood has still been able to compete in B South, although last season ended with far fewer wins than the Piners have produced most years. Lakewood returns one half of its one-two pitching punch from a year ago, with senior right-hander Justin Vega back atop the pitching rotation. Vega will also play up the middle at shortstop when not on the mound and hit near the top of the lineup, so he will play a large role in whatever success Lakewood has this season.
One thing Lakewood has going for it has a lot of seniors on the roster. In addition to Vega, Julian Guzman, Eric Rice, Jonathan Santiago, Miguel Torres and Cristian Conde return with starting experience and Judae Rosario, Pierce Tye, Fernando Lun and Alexander Lopes will contribute as seniors as well. Torres and Guzman will also be among the pitchers to line up behind Vega.
Sophomore Marcos Ramos returns as a starter who can plug a spot in the outfield or on the infield and classmate Fernando Luna is in line to step up as a first-year varsity player both in the outfield and on the mound. With a fair amount of experience back, Lakewood will enter the season with designs on doing a lot more winning in 2019.
C – David Melfi, Jackson Liberty (.457/.542/.889, 12 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 32 R, 28 RBI, 6 SB)
C – Jorden Jurkiewicz, Lacey (.424 Avg., 9 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 30 R, 24 RBI)
SS – Miles Feaster, Lacey (.441 Avg., 8 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 18 R, 19 RBI)
SS – Alex Torres, Jackson Liberty (.329/.437/.521, 5 2B, 3 HR, 18 R, 15 RBI)
3B – Shane Hickey, Jackson Liberty (.409/.480/.682, 6 2B, 6 HR, 31 R, 27 RBI)
OF – Connor Keenan, Jackson Liberty (.423/.528/.648, 6 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 26 R, 18 RBI, 7 SB)
OF – Evan Scala, Manchester (.418/.536/.681, 8 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 21 R, 11 RBI, 6 SB)
OF – Scott Wierciszewski, Jackson Liberty (.390/.484/.584, 6 2B, 3 HR, 26 R, 31 RBI)
C/1B – Jack Felipe, Manchester (.417/.520/.617, 5 2B, 1 HR, 8 R, 15 RBI)
Nick Guzzi, RHP/3B, Point Boro (7-3, 62 2/3 IP, 54 H, 19 BB, 83 SO, 1.68 ERA)
Nick DeCarlo, RHP, Jackson Liberty (5-0, 31 2/3 IP, 13 H, 14 BB, 39 SO, 1.99 ERA)
Sam Collins, RHP/SS, Point Boro (5-2, 51 2/3 IP, 48 H, 7 BB, 49 SO, 1.35 ERA)
Joey Ventresca, RHP/SS, Pinelands (0-4, 19 1/3 IP, 26 H, 9 BB, 33 SO, 3.62 ERA)
Noah Dean, LHP/OF, Pinelands (2-2, 30 IP, 26 H, 27 BB, 52 SO, 3.73 ERA)
Comeback Player to Watch
Tyler Suydam, Barnegat – Suydam (.458 batting average) enjoyed a very good junior season at the plate, but his struggles on the mound were surprising after emerging as Barnegat’s ace as a sophomore with a 3.47 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 36 innings.
Breakout Players to Watch
Ryan Costello, OF, Manchester
Nick Zarycki, RHP, Lacey
Lawrence Zingi, SS/RHP, Donovan Catholic
Nick Danbrowney, INF/RHP, Barnegat
Brandon Kinsman, UTIL, Jackson Liberty