Baseball – 2022 NJSIAA Tournament Preview: The Shore in Groups 1 and 2
Over the last four seasons, the Shore Conference has made noise late in the NJSIAA Tournament and Group II has been particularly kind to teams from the area. A Shore Conference team reached the Group II final in three straight seasons from 2017 to 2019, with Manasquan winning the overall championship in 2017 and Raritan and Point Boro each getting to the final. Manchester came within a game of getting there last season as a No. 12 seed.
This season, Rumson-Fair Haven and Wall are the Shore teams that look poised to make a deep run in the Central Jersey Group II Tournament and if both are on their respective games over the next week, they will have to get through one another to get to the championship game in Hamilton on June 18.
Group I has not been as prosperous for the Shore Conference. Shore Regional won the Group I title in 2014 and that remains the only season in which a team from the Shore won the overall Group I title since the state began playing the tournament up to the group final round in 1971.
Part of the reason is a lack of Group I teams and this season, Shore is one of four teams from the conference hoping to make a championship run. The Blue Devils have not even been in the state tournament since 2018, so this will be a big step for them. Meanwhile, Point Beach leads a trio of teams from the Class B Central division and this might be the Garnet Gulls' best chance yet to break trough in Central Jersey Group I after a close call in the 2021 championship game.
Central Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 2 Wall, No. 8 Monmouth, No. 11 Manasquan
Top Seed: Rumson-Fair Haven
Defending Champion: No. 4 Voorhees
Favorite: Rumson-Fair Haven
Darkhorse: Manasquan. The Warriors have four quality starters in Cullen Condon, Luca Marshall, James Cosgrove and Jack Dawson and in most of his starts, Condon has pitched like a pitcher who can match zeroes with anyone. Manasquan also has some players who can swing the bat and put runs on the board, so the Warriors will be a tough draw for No. 6 Spotswood and, if they advance, for No. 3 Governor Livingston – a perennial championship contender in the section. Monmouth could be another Shore underdog to watch after the Falcons nearly knocked off Rumson-Fair Haven during the regular season.
Bracket Breakdown: Rumson-Fair Haven is coming off an ugly, 10-0, loss to Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament, but the Bulldogs will easily put that loss behind them if they can make a championship run over the next week-and-a-half. Rumson lost an extra-inning heartbreaker in the semifinals as the No. 1 seed in Central Group II in 2020 and are hoping to muster enough offense to bounce back with a sectional title. With Charlie Jones, John Goodes and Jackson Hinchcliffe, the pitching is in place to give the Bulldogs every chance to get it done.
Their main competition will be Wall, Governor Livingston and No. 4 Voorhees, although, as previously mentioned, Monmouth could be a roadblock in the sectional quarterfinals. As for Wall, the Crimson Knights have started to put the pitching together while the lineup, led by seniors Andrew Fischer and Nick Lovarco, remains as dangerous as any in Group III.
Championship Prediction: Rumson-Fair Haven over Wall. If the seeds hold true, the semifinals will feature two very good matchups, with Wall and Governor Livingston matching up evenly and Rumson looking for retribution against Voorhees after the Bulldogs’ 2021 season ended against the Vikings at home in that same sectional semifinal round. Rumson’s pitching is a notch above the rest of the field, but the offense will have to be a little louder to finish off the sectional title.
South Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 6 Barnegat, No. 9 Point Pleasant Boro, No. 10 Manchester
Top Seed: Cedar Creek
Defending Champion: Manchester
Favorite: No. 2 Delran
Darkhorse: Manchester. Why wouldn’t it be Manchester? The Hawks entered the 2021 NJSIAA Tournament an afterthought and exited a sectional champion and one of the best stories in the state last June. It will take a similar effort this season and it will be even harder this time around, with standout outfielder Logan Duffy – one of the offensive stars of last year’s run – out of action since April 28. Mike Damato and Sean McAllister were two other major contributors and both will try to rediscover that 2021 magic.
Point Boro is also a team to watch, with sophomore Bryson Kirby giving the Panthers a chance to beat anyone when he is on the mound and a No. 1 seed standing in the way that was just 16-12 during the season.
Bracket Breakdown: At first glance, South Jersey Group II looks like it may not go that deep with contenders, but it had a similar look last year, when Manchester completed a championship run as a No. 12 seed. Manchester and Point Boro are among the candidates that could make a surprise run to the championship, especially with a No. 1 seed in Cedar Creek that has lost 12 games this season.
Barnegat is on the side of the bracket with No. 2 Delran, which appears to be the team best-constructed to win the section after the Bears lost to Manchester in last year’s sectional final. With Rider commit P.J. Craig leading the rotation and Ryan Kulpa a solid No. 2, Barnegat is a threat, but the Bengals will have to find ways to score, which they have not always done.
Championship Prediction: Delran over No. 5 West Deptford. The Bears are hungry to finish the job this season after coming within one strike of capturing the South Group II championship a year ago. They have the best record of any team in the bracket (17-5) and have recorded it by playing a solid schedule that should have them ready to complete the title run this season. There is a good chance we get a Delran-Manchester rematch in the sectional quarterfinals and with Barnegat’s pitching, the Bengals could prove to be a roadblock for Delran as well, but the Bears should be considered the favorite.
Central Jersey Group I
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Point Pleasant Beach, No. 5 Shore, No. 14 Keyport, No. 15 Henry Hudson
Top Seed: Middlesex
Defending Champion: Middlesex
Darkhorse: Shore. There are not a lot of realistic contenders in the section, so a team that wins three road games to win the title – which Shore will likely have to do – would be noteworthy. The Blue Devils have been very competitive against just about every opponent, including the memorable win over Red Bank Catholic after losing the opener to the Caseys, 23-0. Shore was hot early in the year and now has Rylan Fegan back and locked-in at the plate and on the mound, so there is reason to believe the Blue Devils, with all their juniors and sophomores, are just approaching their best baseball of the season.
Bracket Breakdown: Middlesex has owned this bracket and has barely had to break a sweat in winning four straight sectional championships, although last year’s 2-1 sectional final win over Point Beach was a rare exception. The Blue Jays have also won three of the last four overall Group I championships, so at 20-5 overall, they remain the gold standard in the group and are a major boss to have to beat in order to win the game.
Point Beach has been building toward beating Middlesex for the last four or five years and Shore is as battle-tested as any team in the field. The Shore has two more teams in the mix with Keyport and Henry Hudson and both will have their hands full in the first round – Keyport with No. 3 New Egypt and Henry Hudson with Point Beach.
Championship Prediction: Point Beach over Shore. Middlesex has eliminated Point Beach in each of the last four Central Group I Tournaments and last year’s was the closest call yet for Point Beach, which lost it in the bottom of the seventh. The Garnet Gulls have tested themselves throughout the season, with Owen West, Jake Larsen, Kyle Kolans and Andrew Banick all ready for big innings. The lineup is also deep and a number of underclassmen have emerged to complement players like Banick, Colin Matuschat, Phil Trebour, Connor DeLorenzo and Hunter Roselli.
While the Garnet Gulls might like another crack at Middlesex, Shore is going to pose a problem for the Blue Jays if the matchup indeed comes to pass in the sectional quarterfinals. Back in 2013, Shore made a surprise run to the Central Group I final and lost to Middlesex, only to come back and beat the Blue Jays the following year in the sectional semifinals on the way to winning the overall Group I title. This Shore team could be on the same timetable, but has shown already this year that it can beat teams the caliber of Middlesex. An All-Shore final between Point Beach and Shore would be a rematch of a regular-season game in West Long Branch, which Shore won with a game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh.