Baseball – 2021 Shore Conference Preview: Jackson Liberty
The 2019 season brought to an end a dominant run by Jackson Liberty Baseball’s graduating class of that same season and last year likely would have seen the entire Shore Conference Class B South division – Jackson Liberty included – looking up at a loaded Point Pleasant Boro team in the standings. With that in mind, this season will give Jackson Liberty an opportunity to win a third straight Class B South title, even if on a technicality.
Although Jackson Liberty might have a better chance to win the Class B South title this year than it would have in 2020, the Lions lost some key pieces from the 2020 team that wasn’t. Senior Jake Hickman will be a key returnee on the infield as a player with some varsity experience on a 20-plus-win team.
With Hickman at second base, Jackson Liberty has three other infield starters with some intrigue. Junior Garrett Drew was ready to start as a sophomore a year ago and will man shortstop, while junior third baseman R.J. Vashey is healthy after an injury would have kept him out for most of 2020. The Lions are at their youngest at first base and catcher, with sophomore slugger Zaine Toneske at first and freshman Brett Benecke becoming the third freshman to start behind the plate for the Lions – a list that included older brother, Brendan (Class of 2013).
Jackson Liberty’s top all-around returnee is two-way centerfielder Dan Keenan, who was a .319 hitter as a sophomore and a lockdown closer for a team that won 23 games in 2019. He will be flanked by classmates Casey Braun and Carl Barth, with Ethan Bloomfield and Nick Conti at the ready when Keenan or Barth pitch.
Bloomfield will also be prominent left-hander in the rotation along with Barth and junior Chris Sasso, while Toneske and Drew are available as depth behind the top arms. The pitching is the biggest question mark at the outset but if it clicks, the lineup looks like another winner at Jackson Liberty.
Jackson Liberty at a Glance
Head Coach: Jim Rankin, 13th season
Key Losses: Shane Hickey (Sr., SS/RHP), Brandon Kinsman (Sr., C/2B), Tim Duffy (Sr., RHP), Ryan Gallacher (Sr., RHP), Aaron Montgomery (Sr., C), Gavin Maarberg (Sr., OF), Matt Milne (Sr., 1B/C),
Around the Diamond (Returning 2019 starters in bold with available stats)
Catcher: Brett Benecke, Fr.
First Base: Zaine Toneske, So.; Chris Sasso, Jr.
Second Base: Jake Hickman, Sr. (5-for-11, 3 R, 2 RBI)
Shortstop: Garrett Drew, Jr.
Third Base: R.J. Vashey, Jr.; Sean Yurgel, Sr.
Leftfield: Casey Braun, Sr.
Centerfield: Dan Keenan, Sr. (.319/.380/.377, 4 2B, 17 R, 16 RBI)
Rightfield: Carl Barth, Sr.
DH: Chris Sasso, Jr.; Zaine Toneske So.; R.J. Vashey, Jr.
Other Key Hitters
Ethan Bloomfield (So., OF)
Nick Conti (Jr., 2B/SS/OF)
Dan Keenan, Sr., RHP (3-0, 3.15 ERA, 20 IP, 19 H, 14 BB, 30 K)
Ethan Bloomfield, So., LHP
Carl Barth, Sr., LHP
Chris Sasso, Jr., LHP
Zaine Toneske, So., RHP
Garrett Drew, Jr., RHP
Dan Keenan – Kean University
Carl Barth – Kean University