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High school baseball returned to New Jersey in 2021 and at the Shore, the return did not disappoint. All but one of the Shore Conference division races more or less went down to the wire and four of them were decided by one game or fewer.

The wildest race of the year was in Class B South, where five teams stayed in the hunt into May and three wound up sharing the championship with a 9-3 division record. What is even wilder than that is the best team by season’s end – NJSIAA South Jersey Group III sectional champion Manchester – finished fifth in the standings with a .500 division record.

Class B South catches an unfair reputation as being the second-tier division of Ocean County behind Class A South, but Ocean’s small schools have done some big things. Just three years ago, there was an All-B-South Ocean County Tournament final, won by Point Boro over Jackson Liberty. That was even the second such OCT final in a span of six seasons.

So, what’s in store for 2022? One of the three defending division co-champions returns a significant number of impact players, the other two bring back a good mix of experience, and that team that finished all the way back in fifth place before winning a sectional championship brings back just about everybody. Throw in young teams like Point Boro and Pinelands growing up over the offseason and this has a chance to be the most fun of all the division races, with teams that could also make noise in the postseason.

In predicted order of finish

1. Donovan Catholic

In the midst of a breakout season for the program under second-year coach Corey Hamman, the Griffins opted to prioritize winning the Class B South division championship before turning their attention to the NJSIAA Tournament. The decision paid off to a degree, with Donovan Catholic winning a share of the division title, although it wound up being a share of a division title thanks to a loss to Manchester in the final division series of the season.

In any event, the entire season was a huge success for the Griffins, who ramped up their non-division schedule, grabbed the aforementioned share of the division title and did it with a team that now returns seven of the eight positions around the diamond and a host of talented arms in the rotation. Only two of the returning starters in the field and the lineup are seniors, with Andrew Bonick back to play second base and Anthony Mursko making the move from right field to third base for his senior campaign.

The Griffins will be young at the other three infield spots (including catcher), with sophomore Joe Maier coming off an impressive debut as a freshman and junior Rocco Scarpitti doing the same as a sophomore. Scarpitti could wind up pushing out to the outfield to clear a spot for one of two other talented underclassmen – Dave Yorke and Lou DiBiase. Yorke is primarily a catcher and could get some time behind the plate along with returning sophomore starter Hunter Johnson.

Donovan Catholic’s top two returning offensive players will be in the outfield. Junior Gavin Degnan makes the full-time move to centerfield after playing second base as a sophomore, while junior Ryan Butchko is back in left after leading the team in OPS as a sophomore. If Scarpitti stays at first base, the third outfield spot is likely to go to either junior Matt Mason or sophomore Kade Kulpinski, with junior T.J. Johnson and freshman Nick Lovacco also making a push for some at-bats and innings in the field.

The lineup will remain fairly constant because Donovan Catholic’s pitching staff is mostly made up of pitchers-only. Senior left-hander and George Mason commit Shaun O’Keefe leads the staff after turning in an all-division campaign as a junior. He is the only one of the returning starters who regularly started, but Jason Basillicata, Brian Padilla and John Grano also got chances to start and pitch big innings in relief, with Donovan Catholic using multiple pitchers per game by design. Basillicata, in particular, is a pitcher to watch in Class B South after throwing some key innings as a sophomore, while sophomore Hunter Lefkus is among the new names to remember.

Coming off a resurgent season for the program, Donovan Catholic has the potential to really breakout this season as a team that can contend for an Ocean County Tournament championship against Jackson Memorial, Central and Brick Memorial, while also beginning to push into the group of contenders at the top of the Shore Conference and in Non-Public A. With a lot of juniors and sophomores still in the mix, it may still be a while before Donovan Catholic peaks.

Donovan Catholic junior Shaun O'Keefe. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Donovan Catholic senior Shaun O'Keefe. (Photo by Matt Manley)
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Donovan Catholic at a Glance

Head Coach: Corey Hamman, third season
2021 Record: 15-9 (9-3, tied first in Class B South)
Key Losses: Sam Gates (CF), Matt Colucci (RHP), Bob Nosti (RHP), Joe Payne (C/DH)

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

Catcher: Hunter Johnson, So. (.232/.318/.339, 6 2B, 3 R, 12 RBI); Dave Yorke, So.

First Base: Rocco Scarpitti, Jr. (.220/.338/.475, 6 2B, 3 HR, 15 R, 20 RBI); Lou DiBiase, Fr.; Dave Yorke, So.

Second Base: Andrew Bonick, Sr. (.250/.372/.250, 17 R, 7 RBI, 12 SB)

Shortstop: Joe Maier, So. (10-for-28, 2 2B, 10 R, 5 RBI, 2 SB)

Third Base: Anthony Mursko, Sr. (.375/.416/.463, 4 2B, 1 HR, 17 R, 23 RBI, 9 SB)

Leftfield: Ryan Butchko, Jr. (.349/.512/.508, 4 2B, 2 HR, 25 R, 16 RBI, 9 SB); Kade Kulpinski, So.

Centerfield: Gavin Degnan, Jr. (.366/.495/.465, 5 2B, 1 3B, 29 R, 20 RBI, 19 SB)

Rightfield: Rocco Scarpitti, Jr.; Matt Mason, Jr.

Other Hitters

T.J. Johnson (Jr., 3B)

Nick Lovacco (Fr., 2B/SS)

 

Pitchers

Shaun O’Keefe, Sr., LHP (4-2, 2.53 ERA, 27.1 IP, 21 H, 15 BB, 34 K)

Jason Basillicata, Jr., RHP (2-1, 3.44 ERA, 20.1 IP, 18 H, 11 BB, 27 K)

Brian Padilla, Jr., RHP (1-1, 5.25 ERA, 21.2 IP, 28 H, 11 BB, 20 K)

John Grano, Jr., RHP

Hunter Lefkus, So., RHP

Jake Marciano, So., LHP

Anthony Adesso, So., RHP

Nick Dowling, Sr., RHP

Nate Watson, Sr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Shaun O’Keefe – George Mason University

 

2. Manchester

In addition to the Shore Conference season preparing teams for the rigors of the state tournament, it’s the nature of the baseball schedule and the sport itself that creates the conditions for a team like Manchester – the fifth-place team in the Class B South division standings and a .500 team heading into the NJSIAA Tournament – to win a sectional championship and come awfully close to making it to group-championship Saturday in Hamilton. The Hawks were eliminated from the B South race and turned their attention to the postseason, which saw them knock off Donovan Catholic and Freehold Township in consecutive rounds of the Shore Conference Tournament to reach the quarterfinals, then go on their state tournament run.

While a lot of teams that get hot in late May do it with one or two standout pitchers, Manchester’s hot streak was driven by a mix of solid pitching by a wide cast of contributors, strong defense and some offensive fireworks. Mike Damato picked up a pair of wins on the mound in the first round and the sectional semifinals and Manchester’s offense put up eight, eight and seven runs in the final three wins in the section. The capper was a game-winning, two-out, two-strike, three-run home run by Sean McAllister in the sectional final at Delran.

Both Damato and McAllister return in 2022 to try recreate the Manchester magic, which the Hawks hope includes a Class B South championship and two more state tournament wins – which would finish off a Group II championship. Damato will again head up the rotation, followed by junior left-hander Joe Sclama, junior Frank Kern and senior Logan Duffy as returning pitches. Sclama and Kern were also pitching standouts during the state tournament, with Sclama defeating Barnegat in the sectional quarterfinals and Kern earning the win in relief to close out the championship game.

Duffy’s pitching contributions are a bonus because at the plate and in right field, he is one of the Shore’s most dynamic talents. He and Damato will again hit at the top of the order to jumpstart a Manchester lineup that also brings back Blake Warren and Justin Renzi on the left side of the infield and Brandon Sogness in centerfield. Evan Palmer takes over at catcher after Damato and Sogness split the duties last year, while Nick Johnson and A.J. Ramirez are among the players who could step up to take some available at-bats.

The return of so many starters with a handful of up-and-coming underclassmen give Manchester some depth, which will be critical in keeping up with Donovan Catholic – one of the Shore’s deeper teams – in the division race. It is all there in front of Manchester and if the Hawks can put 2021 behind them, handle the expectations and stay healthy, last year may have just been the beginning.

Manchester junior Mike Damato. Photo by Nick Jensen, provided by Manchester Baseball.
Manchester senior Mike Damato. Photo by Nick Jensen, provided by Manchester Baseball.
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Manchester at a Glance

Head Coach: Dave Beauchemin, sixth season
2021 Record: 13-11 (6-6, fifth in Class B South)
Key Losses: Chris Grille (1B), Joe Pati (LHP), Keith Fallon (OF), Rich Coufal (LHP)

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

Catcher: Evan Palmer, So.; Colton Sitarik, Fr.

First Base: Mike Damato, Sr. (.390/.462/.683, 13 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 17 R, 23 RBI); Joe Sclama, Jr. (.194/375/.290, 3 2B, 5 R, 5 RBI)

Second Base: Sean McAllister, Sr. (.294/.351/.456, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 11 R, 18 RBI)

Shortstop: Blake Warren, Sr. (.265/.337/.313, 4 2B, 14 R, 14 RBI, 2 SB)

Third Base: Justin Renzi, Sr. (.235/.325/.350, 1 2B, 16 R, 10 RBI)

Leftfield: A.J. Ramirez, Jr.; Joe Bentivegna, So.; Mike Maccanico, Sr. (5-for-30, 5 R, 4 RBI)

Centerfield: Brandon Sogness, Sr. (.246/.313/.311, 2 3B, 11 R, 5 RBI, 4 SB)

Rightfield: Logan Duffy, Sr. (.380/.468/.709, 7 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 23 R, 19 RBI)

DH: Nick Johnson (Sr., C/OF) (1-for-6), Joe Inkrote (Jr., OF)

Other Hitters

Colin Fazio (Sr., C/OF)

Luke Walters (Jr., OF)

 

Pitchers

Mike Damato, Sr., RHP (6-2, 2.49 ERA, 48.2 IP, 44 H, 24 BB, 45 K)

Joe Sclama, Jr., LHP (2-1, 3.73 ERA, 35.2 IP, 39 H, 21 BB, 26 K)

Frank Kern, Jr., RHP (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K)

Logan Duffy, Sr., RHP (1-2, 4.37 ERA, 24 IP, 25 H, 23 BB, 29 K)

Joe Inkrote, Jr., RHP

Colin Fazio, Sr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Logan Duffy – Old Dominion University

Mike Damato – William Paterson University

Sean McAllister – William Paterson University

Justin Renzi – Rutgers University-Newark

Nick Johnson – Colby Sawyer College

 

3. Barnegat

One of the other tri-champions of Class B South, Barnegat rode a talented group of pitchers and a handful of big seasons at the plate to another solid season that ended with an additional year on the division title banner. The Bengals will be replacing two notable contributors to the pitching staff, with First-Team-All-Shore right-hander Nick Danbrowney – who was also the team’s best hitter – leaving the biggest void of any of the graduates.

Barnegat returns a trio of arms that have both the talent to be even better as a staff this season while also a chip on their shoulder to prove they can excel that way Danbrowney did as a senior. Rider commit P.J. Craig leads that group as a right-hander with the repertoire good enough to dominate the division but with some wrinkles to iron out after an uneven junior season on the mound. Ryan Kulpa and Jared Schworn, meanwhile, are coming off successful junior seasons and both will also be big bats in the lineup – Kulpa at second base and Schworn either at first base or in right field.

In addition to Danbrowney, the Bengals also must replace all-division shortstop Bryan Snowden, who is also a gifted lacrosse player and went back to his original high school sport after going out for baseball for the first time as a sophomore. Junior Bryce Davenport got time at second base last season and will take over at shortstop, while senior Rafael Dominguez returns to third base and will play second when Kulpa is on the mound. Sophomore Dylan DeGrazio will pick up some time at third base and the Bengals should be solid at catcher with senior returnee Anthony Molfino.

Justin Bye and Joe Fiorentino will give Barnegat an all-senior outfield when Schworn is in right, with Bye returning as a starter in left field and Fiorentino returning to center after nudging his way into the starting nine at the end of 2021. Sophomore Tyler Carl leads the group of outfielders who will replace Schworn when the senior right-hander is on the mound or at first base.

Losing Danbrowney and Snowden will be a hit for the Bengals in trying to keep pace with Donovan Catholic and keep Manchester from overtaking them, but the starting pitching staff will keep them in in the race while also giving coach Dan McCoy some options on the weekend and come tournament time.

Barnegat at a Glance

Head Coach: Dan McCoy, 10th season
2021 Record: 13-9 (9-3, tied first in Class B South)
Key Losses: Nick Danbrowney (RHP/DH/OF), Kyle Moore (C), Rian Tully (1B), Tyler DelPercio (RHP), Bryan Snowden (Sr., SS)

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

Catcher: Anthony Molfino, Sr. (2-for-17, 3 R, 1 RBI)

First Base: P.J. Craig, Sr. (,231/.434/.231, 10 R, 7 RBI); Jared Schworn, Sr.

Second Base: Ryan Kulpa, Sr. (.356/.408/.489, 3 2B, 1 HR, 9 R, 8 RBI, 4 SB); Rafael Dominguez, Sr.

Shortstop: Bryce Davenport, Jr. (4-for-27)

Third Base: Rafael Dominguez, Sr. (.298/.340/.319, 1 2B, 6 R, 7 RBI, 2 SB); Dylan DeGrazio, So.

Leftfield: Justin Bye, Sr. (.310/.420/.362, 3 2B, 8 R, 8 RBI, 3 SB)

Centerfield: Joe Fiorentino, Sr. (5-for-33, 4 RBI)

Rightfield: Jared Schworn, Sr. (.410/.520/.623, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 19 R, 24 RBI, 6 SB); Tyler Carl;, So.

 

Pitchers

P.J. Craig, Sr., RHP (3-2, 8.86 ERA, 25.2 IP, 43 H, 12 BB, 28 K)

Ryan Kulpa, Sr., RHP (4-2, 3.35 ERA, 23 IP, 21 H, 12 BB, 30 K)

Jared Schworn, Sr., RHP (2-1, 3.21 ERA, 21 IP, 16 H, 18 BB, 19 K)

Pat Quinn, Sr., RHP

Tyler Carll, So., LHP

 

College Commitments

P.J. Craig – Rider University

Ryan Kulpa – Kean University

Jared Schworn – Kean University

Anthony Molfino – Stockton University

Justin Bye – Medaille College

 

4. Jackson Liberty

Like Barnegat, Jackson Liberty is coming off winning a share of the Class B South co-championship in 2021 and despite losing some major pieces from that team, the Lions will also bring back some volume that includes potential impact players – if not proven ones. As much as Dan Keenan, Carl Barth and Jake Hickman are key losses to the lineup and pitching rotation, the most notable loss was in the dugout, with Jim Rankin – the only coach the program has known since its formation in 2008 – stepping down at the end of the 2021 campaign.

Dave Murawski takes over a Lions team that is on solid footing at three crucial spots: catcher, shortstop and at the top of the rotation. Behind the plate, Brett Benecke is coming off an exceedingly impressive freshman season in which he was Jackson Liberty’s second-best regular in the lineup behind Keenan while also checking all the boxes on defense. Garrett Drew, meanwhile, returns at shortstop after a solid offensive season as a junior and will share the left side of the infield with returning third baseman R.J. Vashey.

While Keenan was Jackson Liberty’s No. 1 starter and Barth a dependable senior strike-thrower, junior left-hander Ethan Bloomfield is a worthy successor to the two graduates as the new Lions ace after exhibiting good control with strikeout stuff as a sophomore. Fellow southpaw Chris Sasso also returns to the rotation after some good moments as a junior, which included an impressive stretch at the plate to end the season.

Junior Connor Yurgel and senior Nick Conti will get increased roles as starters at first and second base, respectively. The Jackson Liberty outfield is just entirely new, with Christian Garced taking over in center, Jack Kanis and Gavin Degregorio in the mix for left and freshman Michael Kisseberth breaking in in right. Kisseberth, Degregorio, Kanis and junior Nick Nannini will also be part of the rotation and if Murawski can hit it big with a few players in the new group, the core is in place to again contend for a division title and make a run at Jackson Liberty’s first ever tournament championship.

Jackson Liberty at a Glance

Head Coach: David Murawski, first season
2021 Record: 10-9 (9-3, tied first in Class B South)
Key Losses: Dan Keenan (CF/RHP), Carl Barth (OF/LHP), Jake Hickman (2B), Zaine Toneski (Jr., 1B) – transferred to CBA

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

Catcher: Brett Benecke, So. (.311/.484/.533, 4 2B, 2 HR, 12 R, 12 RBI, 4 SB)

First Base: Connor Yurgel, Jr.; Chris Sasso, Sr.

Second Base: Nick Conti, Sr.

Shortstop: Garrett Drew, Sr. (.283/.333/.396, 3 2B, 1 HR, 8 R, 12 RBI, 3 SB); Michael Kisseberth, Fr.

Third Base: R.J. Vashey, Sr. (.178/.229/.200, 1 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI)

Leftfield: Jack Kanis, Sr.; Gavin Degregorio, Jr.

Centerfield: Christian Garced, Jr.

Rightfield: Michael Kisseberth, Fr.

DH: Chris Sasso, Sr. (.415/.467/.561, 3 2B, 1 HR, 7 R, 5 RBI)

 

Pitchers

Ethan Bloomfield, Jr., LHP (2-1, 2.36 ERA, 29.2 IP, 20 H, 14 BB, 33 K)

Chris Sasso, Sr., LHP (1-2, 7.33 ERA, 14.1 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 19 K)

Nick Nannini, Jr., LHP

Gavin Degregorio, Jr., RHP

Garrett Drew, Sr., RHP (0-0, 5.25 ERA, 10.2 IP, 18 H, 4 BB, 9 K)

Jack Kanis, So., RHP

Michael Kisseberth, Fr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Chris Sasso – Alvernia University

 

5. Point Pleasant Boro

No team in the Shore Conference lost more with the cancelled 2020 season than did Point Boro. The Panthers were coming off a trip to the Group II championship game and were returning a slew of starters, as well as brining in some talented transfers as replacements to the handful of players that did graduate in 2019. Instead of getting a chance to finish off a state championship, the season was canceled and the extensive senior class moved on to graduation. Even the Last Dance World Series – the summer tournament created to give high school teams a chance to compete for a de facto state championship – ended in heartbreak, with Point Boro being forced to pull out of the tournament after advancing because of multiple positive tests for COVID-19.

It took the program a year to adjust to the jaded 2020 season and there were certainly growing pains in 2021, and why wouldn’t there be? The lineup was almost completely new and the lone holdover – Frankie Dominici – was injured for a chunk of the season. Now that the acclimation period is over, Point Boro is starting to feel the optimism once again, with a group of talented, still-young players coming into their own following a scrappy finish to the 2021 season.

With sophomore Bryson Kirby, senior Trey Harpootlian and junior left-hander Eric Anilonis leading the pitching staff, Point Boro will have a chance to again keep games close in 2022 after the group did an admirable job last year and first-year starters. Right-hander Calvin Kedves is another talented arm from the sophomore class that is ready to contribute to the rotation, which figures to be a strong point for the Panthers in a division with no shortage of good pitching.

For Point Boro to break through in some of those games that ended in close losses last year, it will need a major step forward offensively. Point Boro’s 48 runs scored were the lowest total of any Shore Conference team in 2021 and the returning group will be loaded with players looking to take that major step. A likely candidate to do just that is junior shortstop Connor Cilento, who was a force at the top of the order for Point Boro in its three Last Dance games in the summer of 2020, but never got going at the plate in 2021 despite showing off some elite baserunning ability (23 stolen bases).

Sophomore catcher Ryan Acquisto and classmate Jayson Bennett – a versatile players who is projected to start at third base – also had promising seasons as freshmen, but were not ready to carry the load on an offense. Kirby was closer to doing that as Point Boro’s top all-around performer at the plate, so in that trio of returning sophomore starters, the Panthers could really have a special nucleus going forward.

Harpootlian, junior second baseman Tommy Laspina and senior outfielder Nick Scelfo will look to break through at the plate as well this season, and the Panthers will also get a lift from the return of leftfielder Charlie Vitale – a football standout who missed his sophomore season in 2019 due to injury and 2020 due to a bout with COVID, according to coach Dave Drew. Comebacks like Vitale’s are some welcome good news for Point Boro, which is ready to put the disappointment of the last two seasons behind it and again compete for championships in Ocean County and beyond.

Point Boro at a Glance

Head Coach: Dave Drew, 11th season
2021 Record: 4-14 (2-10, sixth in Class B South)
Key Losses: Frankie Dominici (3B), Zach Hill (OF)

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

Catcher: Ryan Acquisto, So. (.234/.362/.319, 4 2B, 6 R, 4 RBI)

First Base: Trey Harpootlian, Sr. (.229/.339/.250, 1 2B, 5 R); Declan Pratt, Jr., 1B; Anthony Crudo, So., 1B

Second Base: Tommy Laspina, Jr. (.200/.241/.220, 1 2B, 6 R, 7 RBI, 7 SB)

Shortstop: Connor Cilento, Jr. (.220/.292/.271, 1 2B, 1 3B, 13 R, 23 SB)

Third Base: Jayson Bennett, So. (.295/.333/.341, 2 2B, 2 R, 6 RBI)

Leftfield: Charlie Vitale, Sr.

Centerfield: Bryson Kirby, So. (.333/.358/.354, 1 2B, 4 R, 8 RBI); Brian Simoes, So.

Rightfield: Nick Scelfo, Sr. (4-for-29, 2 RBI)

DH: Matt Dewitte (Jr., 3B)

Other Hitters

Wyatt Dewysockie, So., UTIL

Andrew Lockwood, Jr., INF

Calvin Kedves, So., 3B

John Ward, So., INF

Collin Moore, So., INF

Ryan Ehrmann, Sr., OF

Timmy Stamms, Sr., OF

Bobby Cooper, Sr., OF

Carl DiVona, Sr., 2B/3B

Steven DiVona, Sr., 1B

Chris Semrani, Sr., 3B

Tyler Criscuolo, Jr., INF

 

Pitchers

Bryson Kirby, So., RHP (2-4, 2.91 ERA, 33.2 IP, 35 H, 14 BB, 35 K)

Trey Harpootlian, Sr., RHP (1-1, 2.15 ERA, 13 IP, 11 H, 4 BB, 14 K)

Calvin Kedves, So., RHP

Eric Anilonis, Jr., LHP (1-4, 5.94 ERA, 33 IP, 47 H, 23 BB, 30 K)

Matt Dewitte, Jr., RHP

Eric Greeley, So., RHP

Wyatt Dewysockie, So., RHP

Ryan Acquisto, So., RHP

 

6. Lacey

If Point Boro was the most impacted team by the canceled 2020 season, Lacey might have been one of the least. Certainly, the Lions would have benefitted from a season for a junior-heavy group to grow together and experience more big games, but few teams had the opportunity to bring back so much of the 2020 roster as Lacey did a year ago. With that senior-laden group, Lacey made a serious run at a Class B South division title, but ultimately came up a couple of games short of the trio at the top.

This season, Lacey will have to replace two-thirds of its impressive 2021 pitching staff and five impact hitters from what was a top-heavy lineup. Senior Mike Todaro will be responsible for leading Lacey in every facet of the game, with the right-hander returning to the mound after a breakout season backing up seniors Jacob Bowles and Nick Zarycki in the rotation. Todaro is also the shortstop when he is not on the mound and will be looking to have a bounceback season at the plate after hitting under .200 during his junior campaign.

Centerfielder Matt McClung is another senior back in the Lacey lineup, with McClung making the shift to outfield after playing some second base a season ago. Second is now occupied by junior Zack Mohr, who had the best 2021 offensive season of any of the returning players. Classmates Carson Gudzak and Noah Quinn also return as starters, with Gudzak moving behind the plate and Quinn coming off a solid showing at the plate in his own right as a starting outfielder.

Coach Adam Taha will look to junior Rylan Messina and seniors Colin Space, Andrew Tobia, Ryan Preston, Jordan LaValle and Zack Barrett to thrive in their new roles, with sophomore Anthony Eckerson also paying a part in the lineup. Quinn, Moore and Space are also in line to provide important innings, as is junior right-hander Jack Srmaty. With some success behind Todaro in the rotation Lacey will again boast a pitching staff good enough to contend in B South, but the season may come down to whether or not the Lions can field the ball with a new group in the field, as well as find some consistent offense.

Lacey at a Glance

Head Coach: Adam Taha, third season
2021 Record: 11-10 (7-5, fourth in Class B South)
Key Losses: Jacob Bowles (RHP/DH), Matt Kaliske (1B), Nick Zarycki (RHP), Donnie Kirk (CF), Brandon DeAngelo (C), Josh Fracasso (3B)

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

Catcher: Carson Gudzak, Jr. (.163/.268/.163, 4 R, 8 RBI, 3 SB)

First Base: Colin Space, Sr.; Ryan Preston, Sr.

Second Base: Zack Mohr, Jr. (.312/.408/.312, 16 R, 8 RBI, 5 SB); Jordan LaValle, Sr.

Shortstop: Mike Todaro, Sr. (.169/.258/.237, 4 2B, 5 R, 7 RBI)

Third Base: Rylan Messina, Jr.

Leftfield: Noah Quinn, Jr. (.293/.408/.341, 2 2B, 8 R, 7 RBI, 3 SB)

Centerfield: Matt McClung, Sr. (.222/.300/.250, 1 2B, 4 R, 2 RBI); Zack Barrett, Sr.

Rightfield: Andrew Tobia, Sr.

DH: Anthony Eckerson (So., C)

Other Hitters

Noah Brunatti (Sr., 3B)

Pitchers

Mike Todaro, Sr., RHP (3-3, 1.71 ERA, 32.2 IP, 27 H, 12 BB, 32 K)

Noah Quinn, Jr., RHP (0-1, 3.60 ERA, 11.2 IP, 15 H, 7 BB, 8 K)

Jack Srmaty, Jr., RHP (0-0, 8.94 ERA, 15.2 IP, 21 H, 11 BB, 10 K)

Zack Mohr, Jr., RHP

Colin Space, Sr., LHP

Zack Barrett, Sr., RHP

Ryan Preston, Sr., RHP

Noah Brunatti, Sr., RHP

 

7. Pinelands

Some teams, missed out on a chance to win big in 2020 and while there was some opportunity for Pinelands to make some noise in that lost season, the worst part of losing 2020 had to do with the development of the younger group. Pinelands was set to break in some new starters and that did not happen until last year, when almost the entire lineup and pitching staff was comprised of newcomers to the varsity level.

The one exception was Rian O’Rourke, who started hitting as a freshman in 2019 and has not stopped since. The senior shortstop will again be the offensive leader of the Wildcats after posted some impressive numbers at the plate last year, but only cashed in with three RBI while playing in a lineup that did not have a whole lot of experience or production.

Fellow seniors Casey Baglivo and Stephen DeMilio held their own in the batter’s box as juniors, with DeMilio leading the team with 14 RBI. Baglivo and DeMilio will form an all-senior starting outfield with rightfielder T.J. Ross, that is, when DeMilio is not pitching.

On the infield, O’Rourke will be surrounded by another inexperienced group, although first baseman Ethan Edwards had some success in 29 at-bats as a junior in 2021. Senior Chris Mitchell moves into the open spot at third base, while sophomores Kaden Inman and Dan Maher will figure into the lineup as well. The Wildcats took a significant hit at catcher, where they graduated 2021 starter Alex Ulrich, then lost his successor – junior Jake Fowler – for the upcoming season to an ankle injury. That opens the door for freshman backstop Nate Sofield to take the job and run with it for the next four years.

DeMilio heads up the pitching staff after emerging as a tough No. 1 that gave a number of Class B South lineups trouble, despite Pinelands not winning any of those games. Mitchell and O’Rourke will also throw starter innings for Pinelands, while the remainder of the pitching staff is looking to prove itself for the first time. There is a lot of ground to cover between 1-18 and division contender, but the Wildcats do bring back a pair of proven standouts in O’Rourke and DeMilio who could help lead a significant turnaround with enough help from the supporting cast.

Pinelands at a Glance

Head Coach: Dan Mulligan, second season
2021 Record: 1-18 (0-12, seventh in Class B South)
Key Losses: Jack Lawrie (CF/RHP), Alex Ulrich (C), Michael Schaffer (2B/RHP), Anthony Weedo (1B/RHP)

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

Catcher: Nate Sofield, Fr.

First Base: Ethan Edwards, Sr. (7-for-29, 1 2B, 6 RBI)

Second Base: Kaden Inman, So.

Shortstop: Rian O’Rourke, Sr. (.344/.391/.469, 4 2B, 2 3B, 16 R, 3 RBI, 9 SB)

Third Base: Chris Mitchell, Sr. (1-for-5); Dan Maher, So.

Leftfield: Casey Baglivo, Sr. (.288/.393/.365, 4 2B, 9 R, 7 RBI, 2 SB)

Centerfield: Stephen DeMilio, Sr. (.317/.358/.365, 3 2B, 8 R, 14 RBI, 2 SB)

Rightfield: T.J. Ross, Sr. (3-for-29)

Other Hitters

Bobby Gordon (Jr., OF)

Zach Pritsch (Sr., OF)

Peter Merola (Sr., OF)

Hunter Theuret (Jr., OF)

Logan Russo (So., OF)

 

Pitchers

Stephen DeMilio, Sr., RHP (0-5, 3.71 ERA, 28.1 IP, 40 H, 13 BB, 26 K)

Chris Mitchell, Sr., RHP (1-2, 3.64 ERA, 25 IP, 31 H, 15 BB, 19 K)

Rian O’Rourke, Sr., RHP (0-5, 6.00 ERA, 18.2 IP, 30 H, 8 BB, 12 K)

Kaden Inman, Sr., RHP

Logan Russo, So., RHP

Dan Maher, So., RHP

Hunter Theuret, Jr., RHP

Bobby Gordon, Jr., RHP

Casey Baglivo, Sr., RHP

 

College Commitments

Stephen DeMilio – Stockton University

Rian O’Rourke – Ocean County College

 

8. Lakewood

Lakewood was one of two programs to essentially lose the entire 2021 season due to challenges putting a team together amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While Asbury Park did not have a program, Lakewood was at least able to get a team together, practice, and play some junior varsity competition while attempting to pick up the pieces from the lost 2020 season.

Heading into 2022, the Piners are simply looking to reacclimate to life at the varsity level and will face some of the challenges Lakewood has gotten used to facing in recent years. There is not a whole lot of depth on hand, so players like Derek Nolan, Jensy Castro, Aneruis Ozoria and Zack Kencik will be asked to do a lot as two-way players who will, essentially, have to carry the pitching staff while also playing important positions in the field and the lineup when it’s not their turn to pitch.

On the plus side, Lakewood has been able to produce some talented, all-division caliber players while navigating the lack of depth and that is enough to give some of the top teams in the division some heartburn on certain days. Ozoria and outfielder Jesus Barranco are also the only seniors in the group, so the core of Nolan, catcher Jiovanni Genao and sophomores Antonio Szymanski, Castro and Kencik will have a chance to establish themselves over the next two years.

Throw in freshmen Leandro Garista and Angel Vega, and Lakewood coach Gene Drumright should have something to work with over the next couple of seasons if all goes relatively smoothly. Having not played varsity baseball for either of the past two seasons, the 2022 schedule is sure to be a major challenge for this year’s Lakewood squad, but just getting back on the field is a huge first step and there should be some light at the end of the tunnel for the Piners.

Lakewood at a Glance

Head Coach: Gene Drumright, 17th season
2021 Record: 0-1
Key Losses: Marcos Ramos (INF)

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

Catcher: Jiovanni Genao, Jr.

First Base: Leandro Garsita, Fr.; Angel Vega, Fr.

Second Base: Antonio Szymanski, So.

Shortstop: Derek Nolan, Jr.

Third Base: Jensy Castro, So.

Leftfield: Aneruis Ozoria, Sr.

Centerfield: Zack Kencick, So.

Rightfield: Jesus Barranco, Sr.

 

Pitchers

Derek Nolan, Jr., RHP

Aneruis Ozoria, Sr., LHP

Zack Kencik, So., LHP

Jensy Castro, So., RHP

 

Class B South Lineup

Brett Benecke, So., C, Jackson Liberty

Mike Damato, Sr., 1B/RHP, Manchester

Sean McCallister, Sr., 2B, Manchester

Rian O’Rourke, Sr., SS/RHP, Pinelands

Anthony Mursko, Sr., 3B, Donovan Catholic

Ryan Butchko, Jr., LF, Donovan Catholic

Gavin Degnan, Jr., CF, Donovan Catholic

Logan Duffy, Sr., RF/RHP, Manchester

Jared Schworn, Sr., OF/1B/RHP, Barnegat

 

Class B South Rotation

Shaun O’Keefe, Sr., LHP, Donovan Catholic

Mike Todaro, Sr., RHP, Lacey

Ethan Bloomfield, Jr., LHP, Jackson Liberty

Jason Basillicata, Jr., RHP, Donovan Catholic

Ryan Kulpa, Sr., RHP, Barnegat

Bryson Kirby, So., RHP, Point Boro

 

Breakouts to Watch

P.J. Craig, Sr., RHP/1B, Barnegat

Joe Maier, So., SS, Donovan Catholic

Connor Cilento, Jr., SS, Point Boro

Chris Sasso, Sr., LHP/DH, Jackson Liberty

Frank Kirn, Jr., RHP, Manchester

Zack Mohr, Jr., 2B/RHP, Lacey