Baseball – Few Changes, but Thrive Shore Sports Network Top 10 Tightens Up for the Stretch Run
With one round of the state tournament in the books and all the local tournaments completed, the Shore Sports Network Top 10 includes quite a number of settled spots – or at least some very clear-cut tiers that will be hard to upend over the final two-plus weeks of the season. There has been an iron-clad top five in the rankings for several weeks now, with Jackson Memorial being that buffer team at No. 6.
Although that pecking order has been entrenched for a while now, it can’t be set in stone because the state tournament can always change things. A state-championship run – similar to the ones made by Howell and Middletown North last season after both entered the NJSIAA Tournament far off from the spots in the rankings that they ultimately occupied – could catapult a team into the conversation, even though they are not included at the moment.
As for the No. 1 ranking, there is a compelling case for a change this week, but the incumbent still has some résumé advantages that the challenger has yet to overcome. Ranney and Red Bank Catholic have split their season series and will not meet again, but it is once again worth repeating: the state tournament can always change things.
1. Ranney (25-2, 14-0) Last Week: 1
The Panthers hold on to the No. 1 spot, which should convey that they were comfortably No. 1 heading into the SCT championship game. After Ranney dropped the Shore Conference Tournament final to Red Bank Catholic, its hold on the top spot is far more tenuous. Ranney still has a split with RBC, two wins over Rumson-Fair Haven and a 21-1 record vs. the Shore Conference – enough to keep the Panthers atop the conference despite the SCT championship loss.
2. Red Bank Catholic (21-5, 10-2) Last Week: 2
RBC will not have another chance to beat Ranney head-to-head, but that does not mean the Caseys can’t finish No. 1 and it might not even require Ranney to lose. Now that RBC has itself a split with Ranney in the MCT and SCT championship games (and, for what it’s worth, outhit Ranney, 20-8, in the two games) the disparity between the depth of the Non-Public A field and the Non-Public B field gives the Caseys a chance to pass the Panthers with one more championship run. If RBC can break through with its first Non-Public A championship, the Caseys are highly likely to be the top non-public team in the state, and thus, the Shore.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (18-5, 9-3) Last Week: 5
With trips to both the MCT and SCT semifinals and two competitive losses to Ranney, the Bulldogs continued to solidify themselves as one of the five best teams in the conference. They make the jump over CBA and Donovan Catholic thanks to that win over Red Bank Catholic on opening day and the additional trip to a tournament semifinal round. Four of Rumson’s five losses are by a one-run margin and the loss to Raritan has looked better than better as the Rockets rattled off wins in 11 out of 12 before losing their first-round game in the state tournament.
4. Christian Brothers Academy (19-5-1, 10-3-1) Last Week: 4
After beating Donovan Catholic in an ace-vs.-ace Shore Conference Tournament game last week, CBA jumps the Griffins, but it results in the Colts holding at No. 4 with Rumson’s move up the rankings. With a second loss to Red Bank Catholic, Rumson now has an edge over CBA with a 1-1 record vs. RBC and CBA’s two losses to Marlboro and a tie vs. Manalapan are the kind of slip-ups that resemble Rumson’s slip-ups to Monmouth and Raritan. CBA’s offense has cooled off since the start of the season, but the pitching is still strong and a return to form by the bats could give CBA a chance to make a run at a top-three finish.
5. Donovan Catholic (22-2, 12-0) Last Week: 3
Despite winning the program’s first ever Ocean County Tournament championship, Donovan Catholic falls two spots in the rankings. CBA has to jump the Griffins since both teams threw their aces in the SCT quarterfinals, although there is an argument to be made that Donovan Catholic’s pitching staff is deeper and the Griffins would beat the Colts over a larger sample of games. Alas, one game is all there is to go by and with the two teams on opposite sides of the bracket in South Non-Public A, the Griffins will need a championship run to finish any higher in the rankings.
6. Jackson Memorial (17-7, 10-4) Last Week: 6
Jackson Memorial and Southern have run neck-and-neck this season and had identical seasons within the Class A South schedule: they split with one another, both got swept by Toms River East and split with Brick Memorial. Outside the division is where Jackson Memorial passes Southern, with two noteworthy wins over Kingsway and St. Joseph Metuchen. If the Jaguars can string together a deep run in the Group IV Tournament – say, to the championship game – there could be room for them somewhere in the top five.
7. Southern (15-8, 10-4) Last Week: 7
A loss to Pinelands on Wednesday creates an excuse to drop Southern a spot or two, but given the Rams are still in the running for a South Jersey Group IV title, Pinelands is playing well lately and it is a rivalry game, Southern does not take a hit. The Rams have Brady Lesiak ready to go against second-seeded Vineland in the South Jersey quarterfinals on Friday and with the way Roger Dreher and Mike Nasti have looked on the mound, the Rams look as formidable as any team on their side of the SJ IV bracket.
8. Middletown North (14-8, 9-5) Last Week: 8
The Lions got past a tough challenge vs. Hamilton West in the Central Group III first round and will move on to another one with No. 6 Allentown. It is a harder road to the sectional final than the Lions faced a season ago and there is not a lockdown No. 1 starter to help them do it again, but Gabe Ahlemeyer has been a revelation as a sophomore hurler and the lineup is more-or-less as dangerous as the one that bashed its way to the Group III title last year.
9. Manasquan (12-11, 7-7) Last Week: 9
The Warriors only strengthened their case as a top 10 team to start this week, knocking off second-seeded Governor Livingston in the first round of the Central Jersey Group II Tournament. That is Manasquan’s most impactful win of the season so far, but a Monmouth County Tournament win over Marlboro is also an important one when it comes to sorting through the rankings. With its pitching depth, Manasquan has the makings of a state-tournament Cinderella, especially with a road to the sectional final that could include two more double-digit-seeded opponents in No. 10 Delran and, potentially, No. 11 Wall.
10. Marlboro (12-11, 8-6) Last Week: 10
Marlboro was bounced from the Central Jersey Group IV Tournament in the first round by a 9-16-1 Manalapan squad that the Mustangs dominated in the first series of the season. It is a disappointing end to the season for a Mustangs team that has some talent in all facets of the game and it probably means they won’t finish the season in the Top 10. For now, though, Marlboro’s résumé is slightly better than the other teams vying for the No. 10 spot, whether that is by virtue of head-to-head wins (Brick Memorial), division standing (Middletown South) or better headline wins (Ocean, Point Beach).
The Next 10
Middletown South (12-12, 7-7) – The Eagles are back to .500, got Ben Schild back on the mound and will be hosting 15th-seeded Northern Burlington in Thursday’s Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals. The arrow is pointing up for Middletown South as the Eagles gear up for a run at a second sectional championship in three years.
Brick Memorial (16-9, 10-4) – Another devastating first-round loss as a No. 2 seed in the Central Group III Tournament ended Brick Memorial’s season, and with head-to-head losses to Marlboro and Manasquan, it ends outside the Top 10. The consolation prize this year, though, is the program’s first share of a division title since 1995.
Toms River East (12-11, 8-6) – Two lopsided losses to Brick Memorial make it next to impossible to rank Toms River East, but the Raiders swept both Jackson Memorial and Southern, which makes them a very compelling case. A game at Kingsway Monday was a chance to really hammer it home for the Raiders, but the Dragons beat them, 10-0.
Point Pleasant Beach (20-5, 13-1) – A win over Middletown North last week gave Point Beach a boost toward ranked status and the Garnet Gulls could finally make it into the Top 10 with a second straight sectional championship. For now, the three losses to St. Rose, Toms River East and Point Boro leave Point Beach a little short considering the win over Middletown North is really the only noteworthy one the Garnet Gulls have picked up this season, but there is a scenario in which the Garnet Gulls could finish as high as No. 8.
Ocean (18-7, 10-4) – The Spartans are rolling and got a great draw in the first two rounds of the Central Jersey Group II Tournament. The problem with that is Ocean needs marquee wins to break down the door, so until the Spartans get a shot at and beat a team like Rumson, there isn’t really a Top 10 résumé here, despite the gaudy record.
Raritan (14-11, 5-7) – The Rockets’ hot streak was halted by Delran in the Central Group II first round, but Raritan’s midseason turnaround that transformed it from a 3-10 mess into a surging 14-10 team that hosted a first-round tournament game should be applauded.
Matawan (14-11, 6-8) – The Huskies are not a Top 10 team at the moment, but if their season is still going after May 30, they are going to have a pretty compelling case to be included considering they will have to beat both Steinert and either Lawrence or Robbinsville to get to a sectional final.
Wall (13-13, 5-7) – It has been an up-and-down season for Wall, but the Crimson Knights suddenly find themselves with a fairly favorable path to another sectional final. Wall’s pitching is not what it was last season, but most of the names are still there and the offense remains dangerous.
Shore (12-12, 4-8) – With a win over Red Bank Catholic, the Blue Devils have the best win of any team ranked outside the top three in the Shore Conference. The rest of the résumé is a mixed bag, but the Blue Devils will have a chance to fortify a Top 10 case during their pursuit of their first Group I championship since 2014.
St. Rose (16-8, 13-1) – With a win over Point Beach and some quality non-divisional opponents on their schedule, the Purple Roses and their 16 wins are worth a mention. There is also a major opportunity for St. Rose to finish ranked if it can find a way to beat Holy Spirit on Friday, then upset Ranney next week.