Baseball – Group Semifinal Preview: Shore Trio Eyes Spots in Saturday’s Group Finals
NJSIAA Tournament Group Semifinals
Group IV Semifinal
At Monmouth University, 4 p.m.
Manalapan (24-7) vs. Eastern (22-8)
Aaron Ayers, Sr., RHP (5-0, 0.99 ERA, 49 2/3 IP, 47 K, 12 BB)
Cole Boyan, Jr., RHP (6-0, 2.61 ERA, 45 2/3 IP, 36 K, 9 BB)
Coming off the best start of his career, Aaron Ayers will try to pitch Manalapan into the Group IV final for the first time in eight years when he takes the mound on Monday at Monmouth. Ayers pitched a two-hit shutout Wednesday in a 1-0 win over defending Group IV champion Hunterdon Central and will look to ride that hot streak against an Eastern team that had the South Jersey bracket fall in its favor when No. 1 Shawnee and No. 2 Jackson Memorial – the two sectional finalists from a year ago – both suffered stunning first-round upsets.
The Vikings have a pair of juniors atop their rotation and will hand the ball to right-hander Cole Boyan with a chance to advance to the Group IV final for the first time since winning the whole thing in 2013. Like Manalapan, Eastern has used a balanced lineup and solid defense to make it this far and won’t feature a hitter in the lineup that Ayers will have to avoid. Mike Bonomo is the hottest hitter in the lineup after going 2-for-2 with a triple and two RBI in the sectional final win over Cherry Hill West and 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI a round earlier vs. Cherokee.
Group III Semifinal
At East Brunswick Tech, 4 p.m.
Wall (25-4) vs. Cherry Hill West (25-3)
Trey Dombroski, Sr., LHP (9-1, 0.22 ERA, 62 IP, 111 K, 5 BB)
Cherry Hill West
Eli Atiya, Sr., LHP (10-0, 55 1/3 IP, 0.76 ERA, 88 K, 12 BB)
In perhaps the game of the day throughout New Jersey, Wall and Cherry Hill West clash in a meeting that could represent the toughest challenge for both teams in 2019 to date. Baseball fans and observers around the Shore know all about the exploits of Trey Dombroski by now. The senior left-hander and Monmouth University commit is in the tail end of a brilliant career and a senior season for the record books. He is in search of his 10th win on the season and just allowed his second earned run of the season in his last start, a 4-1 win over Hamilton West on Tuesday. He also struck out 12 and walked none in the win.
Cherry Hill West will counter with its own senior left-hander and he is no slouch. Eli Atiya and senior teammate Brian Robertson have been splitting games throughout the tournament and Atiya will be limited after pitching into the fourth inning in Friday’s thrilling South Jersey III final win at Triton and will try to match Dombroski pitch-for-pitch for as long as he is allowed to go.
Both teams enter Monday swinging hot bats at the plate. Wall is lead by senior Grant Shulman, junior Teddy Sharkey and sophomore Jay Bant in the middle of the order, with senior Johnny Volpe setting the table at the top. Senior center fielder Scott Shaw has been the star for the Lions, making a spectacular, home-run robbing catch before hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh inning in Friday’s sectional final. Ryan West, Nick Sylvester, Danny Berckman and John Gray are all power threats as well with averages well into the .300’s.
Group II Semifinal
At Toms River North, 4 p.m.
Point Pleasant Boro (22-6) vs. West Deptford (17-6)
Christian Aurin, Sr., RHP (1-1, 1.66 ERA, 25 1/3 Innings, 16 K, 12 BB)
Gabe Finocchi, Sr., RHP (3-1, 2.30 ERA, 45 2/3 IP, 61 K, 16 BB)
Point Boro got no favors from Mother Nature last week and will be facing some adversity on Monday because of it. Both junior Nick Guzzi and senior Sam Collins – the Panthers’ two aces during each of their two deep state tournament runs of the past two years – exhausted their pitching eligibility for the five-day calendar period and cannot pitch in Monday’s showdown with West Deptford. Guzzi threw 100 pitches on Thursday against top-seeded Governor Livingston in the Central Group II semifinals – a game that was originally scheduled for Tuesday – and Collins went eight innings in Point Boro’s thrilling 2-1 win over Robbinsville in extra-innings.
That leaves senior Christian Aurin and junior Sam Young to handle the pitching duties and while the duo is not as proven as the one-two punch of Guzzi and Collins, they have proven themselves capable over the course of the season. Both right-handers sport an ERA below 2.00 and Aurin recently turned in a solid outing in a Shore Conference Tournament loss at Wall. Young (4-2, 1.33 ERA, 31 2/3 IP, 37 K, 12 BB), meanwhile, is riding high after winning the sectional title for the Panthers with his walk-off single Friday vs. Robbinsville. The motivation to get Guzzi one more start will be significant as well, with the 9-0 junior ace most certainly getting the ball in a potential Group II final on Saturday should Point Boro win.
West Deptford also used up ace Jack Murphy (10-2, 2.33 ERA) in the last round but will have No. 2 Gabe Finocchi to take the ball on Monday in Toms River. The Eagles also have some big bats at the top of the order, led by junior R.J. Mason (.459, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs, 30 RBI), junior Colby Garrison (.394, 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 25 runs), senior Ryan Sawyer (.290, 6 home runs) and Murphy (.435, 7 doubles, 1 home run). West Deptford will also have the revenge factor on its side after Point Boro ended its season last year in the South Jersey Group II semifinals by a 5-4 score.