Baseball – Atlantic Physical Therapy Top 10, May 20
So often in this space, there is grounds to lament how difficult it is to sort through the Shore’s Top 10 and indeed there remains some debate to be had over which team should be No. 1. With that being said, this week’s top 10 is about as clear-cut as it can be. Eight of the 10 teams in this week’s rankings are either playing in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals this coming Wednesday and the other two were finalists in their county tournament.
With seeds Nos. 1 through 7 and No. 9 making up the final eight in the SCT, there is not going to be another under-the-radar Shore Conference Tournament champion, which means the only way another team is going to break into the final top 10 is through a surprising NJSIAA Tournament run. Absent that, the lone changes the rest of the way are likely to be in the order and with all 10 teams still playing for championships, that part of the Top 10 remains wide-open.
1. Middletown South (16-5, 12-2) Last Week: 1
The Eagles took a tough loss to a six-win East Brunswick team last week, but that was merely a tune-up game for the ones that actually count. When tournament play resumed on Saturday, Middletown South against stepped up with a 6-1 win over Brick Memorial behind its emerging ace, Chris Lotito, who pitched his second straight complete game in just his second start of the year. Middletown South now heads into the Central Jersey Group IV field as a No. 3 seed and will defend its No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday against Manasquan.
2. Christian Brothers Academy (17-5, 10-4) Last Week: 2
Like Middletown South, CBA also lost a regular-season game last week, although its loss was on the road against perennial North Jersey Non-Public power Seton Hall Prep. That marked the Colts’ first loss outside of Class A North divisional play and was just their second loss in the last 17 games. CBA will open up its NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A run as the No. 2 seed Thursday against either Camden Catholic or Paul VI but will first have to deal with A North rival Manalapan in the SCT quarterfinals – a rubber match after the two teams split a classic series during the first three days of May.
3. Jackson Memorial (20-3, 12-2) Last Week: 4
After a stunning loss to Toms River East in the Ocean County Tournament quarterfinals, the Jaguars began to make their way back up the rankings with an impressive bounceback week. Jackson Memorial warmed up for the Shore Conference Tournament with wins over Top-10 mainstays Red Bank Catholic and Manalapan – both in convincing fashion. The Jaguars then took a rubber match with Toms River North, avenging an early-season home loss to the Mariners by beating their A South rival, 7-1, in the SCT round of 16. Jackson’s pitching has been reliable all season long and if the defense tightens up and the lineup performs to its potential, the Jaguars could make their regular-season hiccups vs. Central and Toms River East footnotes in a championship season.
4. Red Bank Catholic (19-4, 14-0) Last Week: 3
The Caseys were saddled with their fourth loss of the season when they lost to Jackson Memorial on Wednesday but will get another shot at the Jaguars this coming Wednesday in a game with much more on the line. Because RBC does not play its NJSIAA Tournament opener until Thursday against Mercer County Tournament champion Notre Dame, the Caseys can better line up their pitching for Wednesday’s SCT quarterfinal game than can the Jaguars, who will open up their South Jersey Group IV title defense Monday vs. Cherokee. RBC could choose to throw Vincent Bianchi against Jackson Memorial on Wednesday, sophomore Shane Panzini vs. Notre Dame on Thursday and still have an opportunity to pitch Bianchi in the sectional quarterfinals next Tuesday, May 28, should the Caseys get there.
5. Jackson Liberty (21-2, 14-0) Last Week: 5
Thursday’s wild, 10-7, loss to Point Boro in the Ocean County Tournament final ended a Shore season-high 18-game winning streak and denied the Lions the first tournament championship in a short history of their program. While that loss was no doubt a bitter disappointment, it was another example of how tough this Jackson Liberty squad will be to put away in the Group III and Shore Conference Tournaments. In that loss, they overcame a 5-0 deficit to tie the game and brought the winning run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh after again falling behind 10-5. They showed that no-quit attitude was no fluke by again overcoming a five-run deficit vs. Colts Neck on Saturday and this time winning on a walk-off home run by Charlie Rudderow to advance to the SCT quarterfinals. The pitching has been an issue of late but it won’t take lights-out performances on the mound for this Lions lineup to go on a run.
6. Wall (20-3, 12-2) Last Week: 6
After losing three games in the last inning in the middle of the regular season to CBA, Colts Neck and Neptune – all by one run and two of them on walk-offs – Wall has started to remind everyone in the area why they entered the season ranked No. 4 in the state and as a favorite to win multiple titles. Trey Dombroski continues to put up ridiculous numbers (89 strikeouts, three walks and a 0.14 ERA in 47 innings), which have overshadowed superb pitching seasons by Ryan Napolitano (5-0, 1.55 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings) and junior Teddy Sharkey (5-0, 0.82 ERA, 55 strikeouts in 34 innings). Wall’s offense has been more reliable of late as well and if that continues, there is more than enough pitching on hand for the Crimson Knights to win the remaining titles on the table.
7. Manasquan (15-4, 11-3) Last Week: 8
At the time of the Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting, Manasquan had a strong case to be the No. 8 seed and host the SCT quarterfinal round, but the seeding committee went with Ocean at No. 8 and Manasquan at No. 9. The Warriors did not seem to mind the second-round road-trip as they pummeled Ocean, 11-2, behind another spectacular outing by senior ace Spencer Bauer to earn a trip to the quarterfinals. Manasquan’s pitching should set up nicely for a continued run in both the Central Jersey Group II and Shore Conference Tournaments, although the Warriors will have to overcome No. 1 seed Middletown South to advance in the SCT.
8. Manalapan (18-7, 11-3) Last Week: 7
Since starting the season 15-0, Manalapan has gone 3-7 but is still in position to do damage in the remaining two tournaments. The Braves handled their business in a 6-0 win over Barnegat in the SCT round of 16 and will next play CBA in Wednesday’s quarterfinal – a rubber match after the two teams played two games in three days, including Manalapan’s 15-inning victory. The Braves will also be the No. 4 seed in a crowded Central Group IV field after coming up one win short of a sectional championship last season. Some of the close wins Manalapan got early in the year have gone the other way lately, but the Braves enter a huge two-week stretch a battle-tested team with the make-up to make it to next week with something to play for.
9. Point Pleasant Boro (17-6, 9-5) Last Week: Not ranked
After clawing back toward the Top 10 throughout this season, the Panthers finally climbed back in with a historic performance last week. While a return to the Top 10 is nice, the grand prize was the program’s first ever Ocean County Tournament title, which Point Boro won by finally knocking off Jackson Liberty in a back-and-forth, 10-7 game. Point Boro’s pitching has been so good over these past two seasons, but it was the Panthers’ bats and their defense that pushed them over the top, even with ace Nick Guzzi improving to 7-0 on the mound in the win. With one tournament title in the bag, Point Boro will now attempt to finish off an NJSIAA sectional title, which the Panthers nearly won last year when they lost in the South Jersey Group II title game.
10. Ocean (19-6, 10-4) Last Week: 9
The Spartans round out the top 10 this week after bowing out of the Shore Conference Tournament with a loss to Manasquan ace Spencer Bauer. Ocean still has a 19-win resume heading into the NJSIAA Tournament and with Max Winters and Kevin Schoenberger rested and ready to go, plus the No. 3 seed in the Central Jersey Group III field, the Spartans should be primed for a run that carries them into next week.
Freehold Township (11-10, 7-7) Last Week: 10 – Point Boro’s Ocean County Tournament title would have bumped Freehold Township even if the Patriots had defeated Barnegat on Thursday. The Patriots now turn their attention to Central Jersey IV, in which they are the No. 9 seed.
Top 10 Watch List
Toms River North (15-10, 11-3) – The Mariners have had a good showing in 2019 and will try to throw together one last run in a tough South Jersey Group IV section.
Colts Neck (11-8, 8-6) – After nearly upsetting Jackson Liberty in the SCT round of 16, Colts Neck will try to get by Brick and earn a likely rubber match with Wall in the Central Group III bracket.
Neptune (13-8, 7-7) – The 2018 season was a lost one for Neptune, but the Scarlet Fliers enter the Central Jersey Group III Tournament two years removed from taking the bracket by storm as a No. 14 seed and losing to Allentown in an extra-inning championship game.
Howell (11-10, 8-6) – The Rebels took down Monmouth and ace Dante Ciaramella in convincing fashion Wednesday in the SCT opening round and gave Red Bank Catholic a good battle in a 3-0 loss on Saturday.
Toms River South (12-9, 8-6) – With starting pitching that has been reliable throughout the season, the Indians will try to play the role of upstart as the No. 8 seed in South Jersey Group III, but will first have to get by Pinelands in round one.