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The collection of teams that is the Shore Conference Class A North division was something to behold last season. The two teams that finished in the top two spots in the standings – Freehold Township and Manalapan – survived the regular-season carnage, but looked something close to sapped in the postseason tournaments.

Meanwhile, there was a five-way tie between Christian Brothers Academy, Middletown South and Middletown North. If you are keeping track, that is arguably Monmouth County’s most successful program, the 2021 NJSIAA Group IV champion and the team the only team in the Shore Conference that had two starting pitchers on the Shore Sports Network All-Shore First Team. Those teams, with all those accolades – finished fifth. Their division record was below .500.

Only in A North.

This season, the division might actually be slightly more forgiving for the teams at the top, but there could still be four or five teams ranked in the Shore Top 10 at any given point during the season. It is a loaded field, one where experience plays a huge factor, but where young guns routinely emerge as players who make a difference in championship chases.

It remains to be seen which team will survive the A North gauntlet, but it is safe to say that any team from this division that qualifies for the postseason will be prepared to face just about anybody.

In predicted order of finish

1. Middletown South

Middletown South got a hard lesson in how difficult making it through the Class A North division is, finishing a game below .500 in divisional play. Falling out of the division race might have actually helped the Eagles, who honed in on the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments and made the most of it. Despite graduating a strong senior class from the 2020 team that wasn’t and, while the inexperience might have impacted the trip through the division, it did not stop them from steamrolling to the Shore Conference Tournament final and all the way to the Group IV championship.

With a bunch of new players integrated and Chris LeMore off and running as the head coach after taking over prior to 2020, the bar is even higher now at Middletown South. Junior ace Ben Schild returns after a brilliant high school debut in 2021 and he will lead a rotation that, while losing some quality contributors, will still have both depth and impact. Behind Schild, senior Evan Wood will take on the No. 2 spot in the rotation after pitching both as a starter and a closer during his do-it-all junior campaign. Junior Will Christopher and sophomore Brevin Bezick are also ready to step up this season after getting some work a year ago. There is also some quality depth in the staff that should give Middletown South a legitimate chance to manage the overlap in tournament play and divisional play that tends to tax teams’ pitching.

Middletown South sophomore Ben Schild. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Middletown South junior Ben Schild. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
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There is more work to be done in piecing together the offense, but the Eagles got a huge boost with the return of slugging first baseman Joe Stanzione, who opted to take the extra year of high school baseball offered by the NJSIAA in response to the lost 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stanzione will again give Middletown South one of the Shore’s most intimidating hitters in the middle of the lineup and will try to build around him with table-setters like Wood, second baseman Joe Bartos leftfielder Ryan St. Clair and Christopher – all of whom made contributions with the bat in 2021.

Schild also gives Middletown South a potential power bat, which he showed off at times in 2021. The Eagles starting nine might be more power-oriented after losing athletic players like Pat Eagone, Tom DeMarco, Matt Pontari, Will Doyle and even catcher Greg Trezza, but shortstop Matt Silva, sophomore centerfielder Louis D’Alessio and versatile infielder Steven Boguszewski will add some speed to the mix.

LeMore’s specialty is working with catchers, which he did masterfully with Trezza last season and will try to do again with a deep group of backstops, led by senior Ben Cacoilo. That spot will be a key for Middletown South, which is not a bad thing considering all the options on hand. Last year proved that the program is capable of reloading with young talent and quickly finding roles for new players and with Schild heading up the rotation and Stanzione back in the middle of the lineup, there is a lot to build around once again.

Middletown South junior Evan Wood. Photo by Paula Lopez.
Middletown South senior Evan Wood. Photo by Paula Lopez.
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Middletown South at a Glance

Head Coach: Chris LeMore, second season
2021 Record: 22-9 (6-7, tied fifth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Matt Pontari (OF/3B/RHP), Pat Eagone (CF), Greg Trezza (C), Tom DeMarco (CF), Will Doyle (SS), Jack Shea (RHP), Mike Keenan (RHP)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Ben Cacoilo, Sr. (1-for-3, 2B, 1 RBI); Jackson Stoll, Jr.; Robert Cangelosi, Sr.

First Base: Joe Stanzione, Sr. (.330/.425/.618, 8 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 23 R, 30 RBI); Will Christopher, Jr.

Second Base: Joe Bartos, Sr. (.232/.271/.321, 3 2B, 1 3B, 6 R, 7 RBI); Steven Boguszewski, Sr.; Brendan Silva, Fr.

Shortstop: Matt Silva, Jr.; Steven Boguszewski, Sr. (4-for-21, 10 R, 3 RBI)

Third Base: Evan Wood, Sr. (.339/.385/.458, 7 2B, 15 R, 18 RBI, 2 SB); Joe Bartos, Sr.; Brendan Silva, Fr.

Leftfield: Ryan St. Clair, Sr. (5-for-10, 4 R, 3 RBI); Will Christopher, Jr.

Centerfield: Louis D’Alessio, So.

Rightfield: Ben Schild, Jr. (.258/.307/.366, 7 2B, 1 HR, 12 R, 16 RBI); Will Christopher, Jr.

DH: Will Christopher (Jr., 1B/OF) (.309/.400/.357, 2 2B, 8 R, 6 RBI, 2 SB), John Chiusano (Jr., C/1B)

Other Hitters

Danny Corcoran (Jr., UTIL)

Luigi Massagli (Jr., C)

Jake Czwakiel (So., OF)

Brendan Roche (Sr., CF)

Brevin Bezick (So., OF)

Roman Concordia (Jr., 1B/OF)

Aaron Szitanko (Jr., OF)

 

Pitchers

Ben Schild, Jr., RHP (8-0, 0.62 ERA, 56.2 IP, 31 H, 17 BB, 83 K)

Evan Wood, Sr., RHP (4-1, 1.83 ERA, 38.2 IP, 38 H, 6 BB, 32 K)

Will Christopher, Jr., RHP

Brevin Bezick, So., LHP (1-0, 5.21 ERA, 12.1 IP, 10 H, 13 BB, 10 K)

Will Jagerburger, Sr., RHP

Brendan Roche, Sr., RHP

Mike Mirro, Sr., RHP

Chris Thompson, Jr., LHP

Jake Czwakiel, So., RHP

 

College Commitments

Joe Stanzione – Gardner-Webb University

Ben Schild – University of Connecticut

Evan Wood – Alvernia University

Ben Cacoilo – Drew University

Robert Cangelosi – Susquehanna University

Mike Mirro – New Jersey City University

 

2. Christian Brothers Academy

There was a fairly strong correlation between success in the Class A North division race and senior talent in 2021, with A North’s two most senior-driven teams – Freehold Township and Manalapan – taking the top two spots in the division standings thanks to a group of players who had actually played varsity baseball before, despite losing the entire 2020 season. By contrast, CBA had a team full of sophomores and juniors who had never played a varsity game and it seemed showed at times during the season.

That disparity between experienced teams and younger-but-talented squads might not be as pronounced since last baseball calendar is basically fully operational again, but experience can never hurt. Unlike last season, CBA has plenty of it, with starters back at just about every position on the field and two key additions where holes did exist.

When breaking down CBA, it has to start on the mound. The Colts feature three senior arms that showed flashes of brilliance last season and will be looking to put it all together this season. Colin Reilly – whose older brother, Pat is currently starring as one of Vanderbilt’s top pitchers – is coming off an all-division junior season and is looking for an All-Shore campaign before he heads to Tulane. Lehigh commit Jack Frankovic is the team’s top all-around athlete and closed his season strong on the mound, including a near-no-hitter against Middletown North. Mike Kelly rounds out the trio of dependable CBA starters, but it doesn’t stop there. Junior right-hander and Maryland commit Luke Roccesano leads a deep group that will back up the big three.

Frankovic will also be one of CBA’s top offensive threats and after playing third base out of necessity last season, he is set to shift out to centerfield, where he is at his best. That shifts last year’s centerfielder, senior Liam Sweeney to left, which will give CBA a speedy outfield. The Colts also have a pair of power bats in senior Gavin Kus and junior Hunter Del Guercio to man the corner outfield spots, giving them a good mix of speed out power roaming the grass.

Coach Marty Kenney Jr. is able to get Frankovic back out to centerfield because he now has a complete infield after an injury to current junior Nick Harnisch threw his initial plans off the rails. Harnisch will debut at third base this season and at first base, the Colts welcome Jackson Liberty transfer Zaine Toneske, who is already committed to St. John’s. The new juniors at the corners will join returning double-play partners Harrison Campi and Alexey Stoudt, with Campi coming off an all-division season as a sophomore shortstop. Factor in returning catcher Joe Figliolino, and CBA enters the season with one of the Shore’s most balanced and highest-upside infields.

There is almost no way CBA dominates Class A North this season because Class A North is not a division subject to domination. There is, however, some major talent to replace for a few of the division’s teams and that opens the door for CBA to make a run at the top spot. The Colts will also look to get back to the top of Monmouth County and the Shore Conference, while also carrying some potential in the NJSIAA Tournament come late May.

CBA junior Jack Frankovic. (Photo by Steve Meyer)
CBA senior Jack Frankovic. (Photo by Steve Meyer)
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CBA at a Glance

Head Coach: Marty Kenney Jr., second season
2021 Record: 11-12 (6-7, tied fifth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Joe Marini (1B/LHP), Mike Natali (OF), Henry Escandon (LHP)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Joe Figliolino, Sr. (.284/.325/.403, 5 2B, 1 HR, 7 R, 16 RBI)

First Base: Zaine Toneske, Jr. – Transfer from Jackson Liberty (.214/.476/.464, 1 2B, 2 HR, 6 R, 5 RBI)

Second Base: Alexey Stoudt, Sr. (.286/.408/.302, 1 2B, 9 R, 11 RBI, 4 SB)

Shortstop: Harrison Campi, Jr. (.296/.359/.535, 6 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 15 R, 15 RBI, 4 SB)

Third Base: Nick Harnisch, Jr.

Leftfield: Liam Sweeney, Sr. (.227/.358/.250, 1 2B, 8 R, 5 H, 6 SB); Hunter Del Guercio, Jr.

Centerfield: Jack Frankovic, Sr. (.303/.448/.439, 5 2B, 2 3B, 12 R, 7 RBI, 12 SB); Matt DiFeo, Jr.

Rightfield: Gavin Kus, Sr. (.296/.318/.531, 7 2B, 4 HR, 12 R, 19 RBI, 3 SB)

DH: Hunter Del Guercio (Jr., 1B/LF) (.111/.219/.111, 3 R, 4 RBI); Wyatt Hunt (Jr., 2B/3B)

Other Hitters

George Kruse (Sr., 3B)

James Sack (Sr., OF)

Greg Wirin (Sr., C)

 

Pitchers

Colin Reilly, Sr., RHP (3-3, 3.11 ERA, 47.1IP, 44 H, 30 BB, 62 K)

Jack Frankovic, Sr., RHP (3-0, 2.13 ERA, 23 IP, 20 H, 9 BB, 24 K)

Mike Kelly, Sr., RHP (2-3, 3.46 ERA, 26.1 IP, 24 H, 17 BB, 27 K)

Luke Roccesano, Jr., RHP (1-1, 4.94 ERA, 17 IP, 18 H, 18 BB, 23 K)

Luke Ronayne, Sr., RHP

Anthony DeJohn, Sr., RHP

Jack Norkus, Jr., RHP

Nick Harnisch, Jr., RHP

Brennan O’Keefe, Jr., RHP

Zaine Toneske, Jr., RHP

Chris Levonas, Jr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Jack Frankovic – Lehigh University

Colin Reilly – Tulane University

Liam Sweeney – Rowan University

Greg Wirin – Lycoming College

Luke Roccesano – University of Maryland

Zaine Toneske – St. John’s University

 

3. Howell

Over the last decade or so, the Howell baseball program has routinely reloaded with quality hitters and put together dangerous lineups, regardless of who graduates or even who gets hurt. In that sense, coach Eric Johnson can feel confident that the offensive portion of his 2022 squad should be ready to step up and produce over the course of the upcoming season, despite the Rebels graduating three big bats – including, perhaps, the Shore’s best hitter in 2021 in Chris Ellison.

The most encouraging part of 2021 for Howell, however, was on the mound. The Rebels have been snake-bitten at times with injuries in the pitching staff and last year, unfortunately, was no different. Ellison was never able to get on the mound beyond one brief appearance and left-hander Nick Gomes only threw two innings after looking very promising during the summer of 2020. Throw in some struggles by Vin Impresa and one would think Howell’s pitching was a mess all season.

And yet, it was not. The Rebels got contributions from many sources, played solid defense and climbed up to the top-half of the standings in the rugged Class A North division. To paint an even rosier picture, almost all of those contributors on the mound are back, led by senior right-hander Dan Furlong, who emerged as the team’s No. 1 starter a year ago. Gomes is also healthy and ready to follow in the rotation, with seniors Ryan Bilello and Stephen Jardim coming off strong junior seasons as well. There is also some upside with senior Jason Pace and juniors Luke Bearse and Aiden Bauer, so Howell should be able to get through games without running any one pitcher into the ground.

At the plate, it should be business as usual. There likely won’t be anyone who approaches Ellison’s record-breaking season of 2021, but senior Thomas Strauch and junior Russell Halvorsen are poised for big years after very encouraging 2021 campaigns. Strauch will take over at shortstop after slugging six home runs as an outfielder, while Halvorsen moves to centerfield. Furlong and Gomes are both talented hitters as well, Devon Smith (leftfield), Bilello (rightfield) and third baseman Nick Gallo are poised to thrive in greater roles, and Nick Todisco and Jeremy Wojenski are both all-division caliber catchers who split time a year ago.

Injuries have found a way to catch up with Howell, either in stalling the Rebels out of the gate or catching up with them later in the year. This Rebels roster, however, looks deep enough to last into June, with Howell contending for the outright Class A North championship and making a run at multiple championships as one of the Shore Conference’s best public-school teams.

Howell junior Daniel Furlong. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Howell senior Daniel Furlong. (Photo by Matt Manley)
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Head Coach: Eric Johnson, 12th season
2021 Record: 16-11 (7-6, fourth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Chris Ellison (2B), Vin Impresa (3B/RHP), Antonio Gatti (CF), Kristian Saucedo (SS), Ryan Behnken (1B), Alex Jenkins (RHP)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Nick Todisco, Sr. (.233/.400/.367, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 R, 11 RBI); Jeremy Wojenski, Sr. (.345/.367/.552, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 R, 7 RBI)

First Base: Nick Gomes, Sr. (.346/.379/.577, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 R, 10 RBI)

Second Base: Dan Furlong, Sr. (.412/.487/.456, 3 2B, 18 R, 13 RBI, 2 SB)

Shortstop: Thomas Strauch, Sr. (.330/.392/.625, 6 2B, 1 2B, 6 HR, 28 R, 16 RBI, 3 SB)

Third Base: Nick Gallo, Sr. (1-for-7, 1 RBI)

Leftfield: Devon Smith, Sr. (.216/.360/.297, 1 2B, 1 3B, 7 R, 7 RBI, 2 SB)

Centerfield: Russell Halvorsen, Jr. (.322/.414/.441, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 16 R, 11 RBI, 5 SB)

Rightfield: Ryan Bilello, Sr. (3-8, 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI)

DH: Braden Walsh (So., 1B); Joe Zito (So., 3B/C)

 

Pitchers

Dan Furlong, Sr., RHP (5-2, 2.82 ERA, 44.2 IP, 47 H, 7 BB, 39 K)

Ryan Bilello, Sr., LHP (1-4, 3.59 ERA, 37 IP, 38 H, 11 BB, 22 K)

Nick Gomes, Sr., LHP (0-1, 0.00 ERA, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 5 K)

Stephen Jardim, Sr., RHP (2-0, 1.50 ERA, 14 IP, 14 H, 3 BB, 12 K)

Jason Pace, Sr., RHP (2-0, 6.79 ERA, 11.1 IP, 16 H, 3 BB, 12 K)

Nick Barracato, Sr., RHP

Luke Bearse, Jr., RHP

Aiden Bauer, Jr., RHP

Dillon McKenna, Sr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Dan Furlong – Montclair State University

Thomas Strauch – Arcadia University

Jason Pace – Arcadia University

 

4. Middletown North

A year ago, Middletown North hitched its wagon to a pitching duo that nearly carried the Lions to glory. In the end, however, asking Danny Frontera – now at Seton Hall – and Colin Dowlen to shut out the competition at least once per week was too tall a task and when Dowlen dealt with some arm trouble at the end of the season, the Lions faded.

This season, Middletown North will look to find more balance in the form of an improved lineup, a fortified defense and a deeper pitching staff. Dowlen returns to lead that staff, with the Seton Hall commit opting to exercise an extra year of eligibility that was offered by the NJSIAA to members of the 2021 graduating class. After a First-Team All-Shore season that included a 16-strikeout no-hitter against Group IV champion Middletown South, Dowlen will be one of the Shore’s foremost aces.

Backing up Dowlen with strike-throwers will be paramount and senior Tony Sansone also fits that description. He is not, however, 100 percent to start the season, with a broken bone in his foot still healing, according to coach Ryan McCabe. With Sansone and junior Ryan Frontera rounding out the rotation at some point, Middletown North should have what it needs to compete come tournament time, especially if Matt Adamson and Nick Palmadesso can provide addition depth and impact on the staff.

As much as a more balanced staff and a dependable defense are essentials for this Middletown North squad and any aspiring championship team in general, the Lions will have to get a lot more out of their offense as a whole. Both Danny and Ryan Fronter had big seasons with the bat, but the rest of the lineup never quite clicked – which was a disappointment after Middletown North’s entrant into the Last Dance World Series Tournament in 2020 torched opposing pitching. Ryan Frontera will look to lead the offense this season and Dowlen is looking for a bounceback campaign at the plate to add to his dominance on the mound.

The health of two key bats should help the Lions this season, with senior catcher Andrew Lombardi and junior R.J. Kernan coming off injury-ravaged 2021 seasons. Lombardi showed major potential as a freshman and hopes to close out his career with a healthy, productive senior season, while Kernan was ticketed to be a middle-of-the-order bat as a sophomore. Adamson will move to centerfield this season, senior Mike Weinbel returns to second base, and both catcher Aidan Sheehan and third baseman Karl Strauch will be important players looking to carve out greater roles in 2022. The corner outfield spots remain up for grabs, with Kernan manning right when Dowlen plays first base. The early injuries and questions make for an uneasy start, but the Lions still have some top-end talent that should make them a dangerous team throughout the 2022 season.

Middletown North sophomore Ryan Frontera. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Middletown North junior Ryan Frontera. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
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Middletown North at a Glance

Head Coach: Ryan McCabe, third season
2021 Record: 11-10 (6-7, tied fifth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Danny Frontera (SS/RHP), Tyler Sharkey (OF), Dom Scerbo (OF), Kevin Lisser (OF/DH)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Andrew Lombardi, Sr.; Aidan Sheehan, Sr.

First Base: Colin Dowlen, Sr. (.313/.389/.372, 4 2B); R.J. Kernan, Jr.

Second Base: Mike Weinbel, Sr.

Shortstop: Ryan Frontera, Jr. (.355, 7 2B, 2 HR, 15 R, 14 RBI); Colby McMahon, Jr.

Third Base: Karl Strauch, Sr.; Colby McMahon, Jr.; Colin Dowlen, Sr.

Leftfield: Ryan Fairhurst, Sr.; Jason Quardt, So.

Centerfield: Matt Adamson, Sr.

Rightfield: R.J. Kernan, Jr.; Jason Quardt, So.; Tony Sansone, Sr.

DH: Tony Sansone (Sr., OF)

Other Hitters

Dylan Briggs (So., OF)

Matt Klimovich (Sr., OF/1B/C)

Nick Palmadesso (Sr., 3B)

Abhinava Pendyala (Sr., INF/OF)

Connor Walsh (So., OF)

Dominic Merker (So., C/OF)

Eddie Patrick (Jr., 1B)

Zach Hampton (Fr., 1B)

 

Pitchers

Colin Dowlen, Sr. RHP (4-2, 1.03 ERA, 34 IP, 20 H, 7 BB, 57 K)

Ryan Frontera, Jr., RHP

Tony Sansone, Sr., LHP (2.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP)

Matt Adamson, Sr., LHP

Nick Palmadesso, Sr., RHP

Ryan Strauch, Sr., RHP

Mike Weinbel, Sr., RHP

Ryan Fairhurst, Sr., RHP

Zach Hampton, Fr., RHP

Eddie Patrick, Jr., RHP

Connor Walsh, So., RHP

 

College Commitments

Colin Dowlen – Seton Hall University

Andrew Lombardi – Millersville University

Mike Weinbel – Rutgers University-Newark

Aidan Sheehan – Rutgers University-Newark

Nick Palmadesso – Stockton University

Ryan Frontera – Seton Hall University

 

5. Manalapan

For a few months, it appeared Manalapan would be headed for a major transition year after coach Brian Boyce initially announced he was stepping down as Braves coach. Then, in September, the administration convinced him to return to the program that he has shaped into one of the New Jersey’s premier public-school teams year-in and year-out.

While there will not be a transition to a new coach for Manalapan, there will quite a bit of transitioning around the diamond. The Braves graduated starters at every position except first base and left field, so what has been a successful feeder program will be significantly tested this season. It has come through before and the Braves are hopeful it can come through again, but in the meantime, returning starters Max Graime and Cristian Bernardini will have to step forward as all-around leaders. Graime was a clutch hitter near the bottom of the Manalapan’s order in 2021 and Bernardini will move to centerfield after a strong A North debut as a sophomore.

Senior Liam Martin also got some at-bats as a bench player last year and is set to take over in right field. The Braves are also optimistic about a group of junior newcomers to the lineup, which includes shortstop Christian Zabotka, catcher Christian D’Angelo and third baseman Sean Caputo – a trio that should occupy key positions over the next two seasons. Seniors Brandon Caputo, Colton Gottlob and Dylan Reiner are also set to swing the bats for Manalapan’s new-look lineup.

With so many new hitters and fielders in the mix this year, Manalapan will lean even more on a pitching staff that returns two major pieces from a year ago. Senior right-hander Tyler Kane was an All-Shore performer for Manalapan as one of the Shore’s best strikeout pitchers. His fastball creeps into the 90-miles-per-hour range and will give the Braves a chance against any opponent on the schedule as long as he is on the mound. Classmate Aidan Tumbelson was a pleasant surprise last year as well and will be a dependable second option for Boyce.

The season may come down to the emergence of the rest of the pitching staff, with sophomore Dylan Shaffer, junior Danny Burns, junior left-hander A.J. Tanico and senior Chris DiMaggio all looking like important cogs heading into opening day. The offense will need some time to develop and the defense will be a major x-factor with so many new players, but Manalapan’s pitching and history of reloading make a Braves a team that should not be written off.

Manalapan junior Tyler Kane. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Manalapan senior Tyler Kane. (Photo by Matt Manley)
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Head Coach: Brian Boyce, 15th season
2021 Record: 18-8 (9-4, second in Class A North)
Key Losses: Tom Guidice (3B), Anthony Matteis (C), Chris Marzo (2B), Anthony Matrone (OF), Ethan Rodriguez (OF), Anthony Mauro (SS), Joe Mazza (LHP), Justin Simone (RHP), Nick DiMaggio (RHP), Sebastian Czajkowski (RHP), Gino Gambale (OF), Ken Sclafani (INF)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Christian D’Angelo, Jr.

First Base: Max Graime, Sr. (.262/.346/.323, 4 2B, 9 R, 16 RBI)

Second Base: Colton Gottlob, Sr. (0-for-2, 2 R, RBI); Alex Class, Jr.

Shortstop: Christian Zabotka, Jr. (1-for-2, R, 2 RBI)

Third Base: Sean Caputo, Jr.; Brandon Caputo, Sr.; Colton Gottlob, Sr.

Leftfield: Dylan Reiner, Sr.

Centerfield: Cristian Bernadini, Jr. (.273/.329/.348, 3 2B, 1 3B, 12 R, 15 RBI, 5 SB)

Rightfield: Liam Martin, Sr. (4-for-13, 5 R, 4 RBI)

DH: Brandon Caputo (Sr., C/3B) (2-for-9, 4 R, 2 RBI)

Pitchers

Tyler Kane, Sr., RHP (4-0, 2.08 ERA, 40.1 IP, 27 H, 34 BB, 75 K)

Aidan Tumbelson, Sr., RHP (0-1, 3.59 ERA, 25.1 IP, 30 H, 9 BB, 28 K)

Dylan Shaffer, So., RHP

Danny Burns, Jr., RHP

A.J. Tanico, Jr., LHP

Chris DiMaggio, Sr., RHP

 

6. Marlboro

In his first season as Marlboro head coach in 2019, Craig Helfgott navigated the Mustangs through a rocky regular season and led them to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals to close out the year on a high note. Despite missing out on 2020, the Mustangs picked up where they left off and inched closer to the program’s first baseball sectional championship since 1972 by reaching the Central Group IV final before falling to Middletown South in a pitchers’ duel.

If the trend remains state tournament progress, keep an eye on Marlboro as a sectional title contender at the end of the season. If, indeed, the Mustangs finish sixth in the division, that does not discount them from making a postseason run, as Middletown South showed last season. A North is loaded and getting through the 14-game grind and getting hot for four games in two weeks in late may and early June are two different propositions.

Marlboro’s hopes in 2022 rest with a handful of returnees and some pitching depth, although the Mustangs lost their No. 1 starter (Mark Capell) and all four of their starting infielders. Helfgott likes what he has to replace that group, though, led by junior Alex D’Ambrosio. As a part-time third baseman and flexible pitcher who worked as a starter and reliever, D’Ambrosio is ready to take on the role of shortstop-slash-starting-pitcher while also providing Marlboro with a top-of-the-order hitter. Senior Josh Mack also returns with experience and will man first base and the Mustangs bring back senior catcher Andrew Bellone as well.

While senior Julien Umanzor and Nick Gomolka are first-year starters, both appear ready for the job. Gomolka will take over at third base after getting 13 at-bats as a junior and Umanzor would have been in the mix to start in 2020 and 2021, but the season was canceled in 2020 and he was injured for the entirety of 2021, according to Helfgott. If that infield clicks, Marlboro can pile on capable outfield hitters Julian Buchmann and Danny Talarico to form what could be a standout lineup.

D'Amrosio is projected to pitch as the No. 2 in the rotation behind senior Tyler Villa, who has been a workhorse for the Mustangs since his freshman year. The role of underclass ace was a lot for Villa to handle and Capell took a lot of the pressure off last year, but for Marlboro to thrive this season, it will need Villa to be steady at the top of the staff. Mack and senior Jake Kalfayan also bring experience as potential starters, but will need to clean up their control this year. Between Villa, D’Ambrosio, Mack and Kalfayan, Marlboro’s returning pitchers issued 58 walks in 65 innings a year ago.

With some improvement in the rotation and quick learning by the new-look infield, Marlboro will again be a dangerous team at the end of the year. The Mustangs overcame a slow start in 2021 and that could be the task again this season with so many new players in new positions, but Marlboro has shown it can improve in-season and catch fire at the right time.

Marlboro at a Glance

Head Coach: Craig Helfgott, third season
2021 Record: 15-9 (8-5, third in Class A North)
Key Losses: Mark Capell (1B/RHP), Joe Lomangino (SS), Nick Wright (2B), Alex Jankowski (3B/RHP), Frank Talarico (OF), Antonio Vitale (OF/LHP)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Andrew Bellone, Sr. (0-for-12, RBI); Gavin McCarthy, Fr.

First Base: Josh Mack, Sr. (.129/.300/.129, 8 R, 4 RBI)

Second Base: Julien Umanzor, Sr.

Shortstop: Alex D’Ambrosio, Jr. (.296/.403/.333, 2 2B, 9 R, 14 RBI)

Third Base: Nick Gomolka, Sr. (2-for-13, RBI)

Leftfield: Danny Talarico, Jr. (.240/.406/.400, 4 2B, 4 R, 6 RBI)

Centerfield: Julian Buchman, Sr. (.235/.376/.309, 3 2B, 1 3B, 19 R, 6 RBI, 9 SB)

Rightfield: Paul Santos, So.; Shawn McNiff, Sr. (1-for-4, 2B)

DH: Mike Kansky (Jr., RF)

Other Hitters

Alex Frank (Jr., 1B/3B)

Andrew Briskin (Jr., C)

Pitchers

Tyler Villa, Sr., RHP (4-2, 3.82 ERA, 25.2 IP, 29 H, 14 BB, 24 K)

Josh Mack, Sr., RHP (2-1, 5.04 ERA, 8.1 IP, 6 H, 10 BB, 6 K)

Alex D’Ambrosio, Sr., RHP (2-0, 1.71 ERA, 16.1 IP, 10 H, 16 BB, 18 K)

Jake Kalfayan, Sr., LHP (0-1, 3.82 ERA, 14.2 IP, 12 H, 18 BB, 16 K)

Alex Frank, Jr., RHP

Chris Collina, Jr., RHP

Andrew Li, Jr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Tyler Villa – Salisbury University

Julian Buchmann – Quinnipiac University

Jake Kalfayan – Stevens Institute of Technology

 

7. Freehold Township

No team brought back more varsity experience in Class A North last season than did Freehold Township and it paid off in the Patriots’ first outright Class A North championship since 2006. The Patriots were loaded with seniors who played as sophomores in 2019 and throughout the Class A North schedule, the group delivered in must-win games and it was enough to outlast a crowded field for the division championship.

The downside to making a run with a senior team is most of the team leaves after the season and that is the situation in which Freehold Township finds itself. The Patriots bring back three capable returning players in Ryan Keegan, Sean Keegan and sophomore Ryan Costello, but finding help around them will be the challenge, unless Ryan Keegan and Ryan Costello are ready to carry the lineup with huge breakouts. Keegan was a clutch hitter and one of the division’s better shortstops, while Costello hit nearly .500 after getting the varsity call-up for the postseason run, but both carrying an offense might be a big ask.

Though inexperienced, Freehold Township will not be especially young. Anthony Sirico (first base), Giacomo Calamita (leftfield) and Jayme Montanez (rightfield) are all projected senior starters and catcher Lucas Dixon and designated hitter Ryan Kopf – also an option at catcher – are juniors. The only sophomores lined up to open the season as starters are Costello and third baseman Mike Avino, although outfielders Lex Nelson and C.J. Svoboda will be looking to make an impact at some point.

While the offense has some potential behind the all-Keegan middle infield and the Costello-led sophomores, overhauling the pitching staff will be a major undertaking for coach Todd Smith. The Patriots don’t have an obvious choice to open the season as a No. 1 starter and Smith indicated that he could start the season by using his long list of first-year pitchers as tandem starters – splitting the game up into two-to-three-inning stints. Within the current group, Sean Keegan and Calamita are the only pitchers who appeared in a game last season and the two pitched a combined 3 1/3 innings.

In a Class A North division stacked with Division I talent, Freehold Township’s unknown roster will be put to the test. Costello and Ryan Keegan are potential All-Shore players at important positions and the offense and defense could very well fall into place around them, but the pitching remains a significant question to start the season. If the committee approach works early, Freehold Township should manufacture an admirable division title defense.

Freehold Township at a Glance

Head Coach: Todd Smith, 12th season
2021 Record: 16-9 (11-3, first in Class A North)
Key Losses: Zach Gorman (OF/RHP), Chris Corchado (1B), Griffin Murphy (C), Patrick Burns (3B), Nick Kolozsvary (CF), Matt Villapiano (LHP/DH), John Abrahamsen (OF), Joe Zappulla (OF/DH)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Lucas Dixon, Jr.

First Base: Anthony Sirico, Sr.

Second Base: Sean Keegan, Sr. (1-for-6, 1 RBI, 1 SB)

Shortstop: Ryan Keegan, Sr. (.342/.429/.397, 4 2B, 17 R, 16 RBI, 14 SB)

Third Base: Mike Avino, So.

Leftfield: Giacomo Calamita, Sr.

Centerfield: Ryan Costello, So. (7-for-16, 3 2B, 4 R, 6 RBI, 3 SB)

Rightfield: Jayme Montanez, Sr.

DH: Ryan Kopf (Jr., C)

Other Hitters

James Wortman (Jr., 2B)

Kevin O’Shea (Jr., 1B)

Lex Nelson (So., OF)

C.J. Svoboda (So., OF)

Robert Havens (Jr., 1B)

Pitchers

Ryan Costello, So., LHP

Sean Keegan, Sr., RHP

Giacomo Calamita, Sr., RHP

Ryan Keegan, Sr., RHP

Mike Avino, So., RHP

James Wortman, Jr., RHP

Anthony Sirico, Sr., RHP

Mike Montello, Sr., LHP

Michael Borromeo, Sr., RHP

Kevin O’Shea, Jr., RHP

Lex Nelsen, So., RHP

C.J. Svoboda, So., RHP

Robert Havens, Jr., RHP

 

8. Long Branch

One of the many obstacles to competing in Class A North for Long Branch has been fielding the kind of program numbers that can even approach that of teams like Manalapan, Howell, Freehold Township, Middletown South and Marlboro – all of which are Group IV schools and look the part. That gap is closing this season, according to Green Wave coach Ben Woolley, who said this year, his program will be again be fielding a junior varsity team for the first time since 2018.

While the additional depth will be key in raising Long Branch’s potential this season, it is the returning senior group that has Woolley and everyone around the program excited to see how this year’s group fairs. Thomas Brewer is a four-year starter for Long Branch and Adam Benetsky was one of the team’s top players last year after looking for a breakout season in the lost 2020 season. Benetsky will take over at shortstop for all-division graduate Tyler Abbot and Brewer moves to centerfield, where he played as a freshman before moving to the infield.

Seniors Xavier Camacho and Shawn Rodriguez are also back as key cogs, with Camacho hitting in the middle of the order as the team’s first baseman and Rodriguez moving to catcher. The junior class will contribute three starters to the mix in second baseman Matt Lorme, third baseman Domenic DeMarzo and outfielder Will Reyes, while senior Mahki Davis adds some power to the lineup and the pitching staff.

Speaking of the pitching staff, the Green Wave expect to have its deepest stable of pitchers in a while, led by junior right-hander John Ebron, who threw 22 innings as a sophomore in 2021. Sophomore Clinton Campbell and Reyes also look poised for solid seasons as first-year varsity starters and freshman Carlos Torres will make a play for innings toward the back-end of the staff. After being overwhelmed by the division a year ago, Long Branch is hoping its improved group learned from the losses and will continue to grow from them. If all goes well, there will be a few fewer losses to learn from.

Head Coach: Ben Woolley, third season
2021 Record: 4-21 (0-14, eighth in Class A North)
Key Losses: Tyler Abbot (SS/RHP), Andrew Conklin (C), Dave Rodriguez (OF), Robert Baez (OF), Jason Laviola (OF/LHP)

Around the Diamond (Returning 2021 starters in bold, with available stats)

Catcher: Shaun Rodriguez, Sr. (.108/.154/.108, 5 R, 3 RBI)

First Base: Xavier Camacho, Sr. (.274/.348/.323, 3 2B, 4 R, 12 RBI, 9 SB)

Second Base: Matt Lorme, Jr. (0-for-2)

Shortstop: Adam Benetsky, Sr. (.304/.350/.339, 2 2B, 6 R, 5 RBI, 4 SB)

Third Base: Domenic DeMarzo, Jr.

Leftfield: Will Reyes, Jr. (1-for-12, 1 RBI)

Centerfield: Thomas Brewer, Sr. (.363/.422/.379, 1 2B, 14 R, 5 RBI, 14 SB)

Rightfield: Romeo Martinez, So.

DH: Mehki Davis (Sr., OF)

Other Hitters

Clinton Campbell (So., C/3B) (0-for-3)

John Hebron (Jr., C/3B) (0-for-7)

Pitchers

John Hebron, Jr., RHP (0-4, 9.86 ERA, 22 IP, 48 H, 14 BB, 5 K)

Clinton Campbell, So., RHP

Will Reyes, Jr., RHP

Carlos Torres, Fr., RHP

Mehki Davis, Sr., RHP

Adam Benetsky, Sr., RHP

Xavier Camacho, Sr., RHP

 

Class A North Lineup

Andrew Lombardi, Sr., C, Middletown North

Joe Stanzione, Sr., 1B, Middletown South

Harrison Campi, Jr., SS, CBA

Ryan Frontera, Jr., SS/RHP, Middletown North

Evan Wood, Sr., 3B/RHP, Middletown South

Thomas Strauch, Sr., SS, Howell

Thomas Brewer, Sr., CF, Long Branch

Jack Frankovic, Sr., CF/RHP, CBA

Julian Buchmann, Sr., CF, Marlboro

 

Class A North Rotation

Ben Schild, Jr., RHP/OF, Middletown South

Colin Dowlen, Sr., RHP/1B/3B, Middletown North

Tyler Kane, Sr., RHP, Manalapan

Colin Reilly, Sr., RHP, CBA

Dan Furlong, Sr., RHP/2B, Howell

Tyler Villa, Sr., RHP, Marlboro

 

Class A North Breakouts to Watch

Cristian Bernadini, Jr., CF, Manalapan

Ryan Costello, So., CF, Freehold Twp.

Russell Halvorsen, Jr., CF, Howell

Josh Mack, Sr., 1B/OF, Marlboro

Nick Harnisch, Jr., 3B, CBA

Nick Gomes, Sr., 1B/LHP, Howell

Will Christopher, Jr., UTIL/RHP, Middletown South

Adam Benetsky, Sr., SS, Long Branch