Most high school teams in any sport would take pleasure in dominating the competition the way the St. Rose baseball team has this year, but these Purple Roses find themselves in an all-too familiar position heading into this weekend's Monmouth County Tournament play.

St. Rose is the last unbeaten team remaining in the Shore Conference, in the process of running away with a Shore Conference Class B Central title and has outscored its opposition by an unfathomable 108-4 margin in nine games, and yet the Purple Roses have as much to prove as any team in the Shore Conference as the calendar transitions to May.

The unbeaten record and the overwhelming run differential reflect an experienced group of players that have defended, pitched and scored plenty at the varsity level. But the question remains as the tournament season begins: how good is St. Rose, really?

St. Rose junior Riley Maypother. (Photo by Matt Manley)
St. Rose junior Riley Maypother. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"It's a good time for us to prove ourselves," senior center fielder Brendan Hueth said. "A lot of teams think, 'St. Rose isn't that good. They don't play anybody.' This is our chance to show them that we're a good team and we are capable of beating anybody in the Shore Conference."

St. Rose drew the No. 4 seed in the MCT and one of the advantages the Purple Roses have when playing in-season inter-divisional games that often impact seeding it they can set up their pitching to face teams outside the division while most teams set up their pitching to win divisional games. St. Rose can win games in B Central with most of the pitchers in their rotation, which is why senior ace Brandon Mology's only two starts of the year have come against teams from outside of B Central - Manasquan and Rumson-Fair Haven.

Even those two nondivisional wins with their ace on the mound don't necessarily reveal St. Rose to be a favorite in the tournament. While Manasquan has ascended to the thick of the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and St. Rose beat the Warriors resoundingly, 14-0, that came on a day in which Manasquan chose to draw from outside the top three pitchers to eat up innings while St. Rose pitched Mology.

Mology and Co. got a much more competitive game in a 5-0 win over Rumson-Fair Haven, but that was against a Bulldogs team that is 3-8 while surrendering 8.7 runs per game. For the Roses to make it out of the weekend with a chance to win the Monmouth County crown, they will likely have to beat a pitcher better than they have seen this year.

The advantage in setting up the pitching is balanced out by the disadvantage of having the quickly acclimate to better competition. Most teams get better by experiencing situations in live game action and most coaches aim for their teams to improve over the course of the season. For first-year coach Rich Lanko, however, the challenge has been making sure his team keeps an edge against teams that can't compete with the Purple Roses and imploring his players to find moments in the game to improve.

The lack of B Central competition also makes practice more important for St. Rose than it is for other teams.

"We do live at-bats against our pitchers in practice," junior third baseman Riley Maypother said. "We have a very good pitching staff so getting to face them in live situations should definitely help us. We've been competing hard against each other, so when the competition gets tougher, we're ready."

Although this weekend represents an unknown for St. Rose, the Purple Roses should like their chances. With a roster comprised mostly of players who played on last year's team, these St. Rose players know the challenges of ramping up to face better pitching, sharper defenses and more powerful lineups. They even did so successfully on occasion with wins over Ocean and Manalapan last year.

Against, arguably, the best pitcher in B Central so far this season, the Purple Roses knocked him around. Point Pleasant Beach junior John Nista allowed three runs on seven hits over 11 innings against Lacey and Keansburg this season while striking out 18 and walking just four. Against St. Rose, however, Nista has given up 10 earned runs in four innings with just one strikeout. Lacey's offense has been producing high scoring totals lately, so in this comparison, St. Rose appears to pass the test.

"We faced one of the better pitchers in the division and we were able to score some runs," Maypother said.

Then there is the pitching and the defense. In the two games started by Mology, the Purple Roses did not allow a run in 12 innings. It is expected that St. Rose beat the B Central teams on its schedule, but the Purple Roses have barely allowed any hits. As a team, the Roses have already fired three no-hitters - one each by juniors Sam Sestito, Nick Schmidt and John Crowley.

"Our pitchers are always saying how much they like pitching in front of our defense and they throw a lot of strikes," said Hueth, who threw out a runner at the plate Monday in a 12-2 win over Point Beach. "That's what we like to do. Go out and make plays in the field.

St. Rose was due to face Wall and Lacey prior to the MCT, but both games were postponed - Wall due to rain on the first Saturday of the season and Lacey because of a scheduling conflict that forced Lacey to bump St. Rose from the schedule.

Now, St. Rose goes into Saturday hoping that all of the competition at practice and focus of the little things will lead to a run to the final. While St. Rose might have more to prove than most 8-0 teams, the Purple Roses still expect to play like the undefeated team they are.

"We have to sweep the week," Maypother said. "We're ranked behind Wall and we didn't get to play them this year. We know we can play with anybody, so we just have to go out and prove it."


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