Baseball – Is Jackson Memorial Still The Top Team at the Jersey Shore?
For the first time all season, assigning the No. 1 spot in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 requires some thought. Jackson Memorial has held down the spot without much of a challenge all year, but this past week, the Jaguars finally got picked off and it happened twice. With the No. 1 seed out of the Shore Conference Tournament, that leaves the door open for some other team to step up over the next seven days to dethrone the Jaguars for good and the case is already starting to build as we speak.
Meanwhile, division titles will be on the line in the week to come, which could make for significant jumps by the teams that make the most of those opportunities over the next seven days or so. For the moment, the Top 10 stays pretty constant, with one previously-ranked team returning to the rankings and climbing (or, should I say, flying) higher that it has been all year.
1. Jackson Memorial (14-4, 10-1) Last Week: 1
For the last several weeks, Jackson Memorial was the No. 1 team by a wide margin and one of the perks of having a big lead in any race is you can afford to slow down the pace and still hold the lead. That is Jackson Memorial this week, although the gap between the Jaguars and the top contenders for the No. 1 spot has closed significantly thanks to inspired performances by both Central and Rumson-Fair Haven in beating Jackson Memorial. For now, Jackson Memorial hangs onto the No. 1 spot with a number of teams getting closer in the rearview mirror.
2. Red Bank Catholic (15-3, 9-2) Last Week: 2
Each week, Red Bank Catholic is on the brink of dropping a spot or two, but the Caseys continue to fight off the competition. A loss to Ocean early this past week backed RBC into a corner when it came to the Class A Central race and the No. 2 spot in the rankings, but the Caseys responded with a road win over Ocean to keep their hold of first place in the division, followed by a convincing win over Wall to advance to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.
3. Manalapan (14-3, 8-2) Last Week: 3
Manalapan is the most likely to jump into the No. 2 spot in RBC falters and No. 1 if both RBC and Jackson Memorial slip up. The Braves might have made the move this week if not for the loss to Freehold Township, but they continue to win with their top pitchers on the mound and got by Manchester in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals behind a trio of pitchers and some late-inning magic capped by a walk-off double by Max Graime. Manalapan will have its chance to take over the No. 2 spot if it can beat Red Bank Catholic on Wednesday and if the Braves win the SCT, there could be a new No. 1 next week.
4. Rumson-Fair Haven (14-4, 7-4) Last Week: 5
This week presents Rumson with a major opportunity to not only win two championships but also to ascend to the No. 1 spot in the rankings. The Bulldogs have four guaranteed games this week – two division games against Shore, the SCT semifinal showdown with Middletown South and the Class A Central division finale against Red Bank Catholic. After stunning No. 1 Jackson Memorial on Saturday to go with a win over No. 2 Red Bank Catholic, adding those four wins would give the Bulldogs a profile worthy of No. 1.
5. Ocean (12-6, 8-3) Last Week: 9
Ocean continues its climb up the rankings this week after splitting with No. 2 Red Bank Catholic this week. Ocean’s only losses since its 1-3 start to the season are to No. 1 Jackson Memorial, No. 2 Red Bank Catholic and No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven and the Spartans also have wins over Rumson and RBC. Ocean won’t be playing for a Shore Conference title this week, but the Spartans do have a great chance to win at least a share of the Class A Central title if they can run the table this week in two games vs. Monmouth Regional and one vs. St. Rose.
6. Central (12-6, 9-3) Last Week: Not ranked
Central surges back into the rankings after becoming the first Shore Conference team to beat Jackson Memorial in 2021, which goes along with a win over Toms River East to open the week and a close loss to Jackson Memorial on Wednesday before taking the Jaguars down on Friday. The win over Jackson Memorial keeps Central alive in the Class A South race heading into this week, although the Golden Eagles almost certainly need to win both games vs. Brick Memorial while still getting some help from Jackson’s opponents (Brick twice and Brick Memorial).
7. Freehold Township (11-7, 9-3) Last Week: 7
The Patriots loaded up their pitching this week to beat Manalapan and won one of the two games against the Braves to keep their hopes of a Class A North championship alive. Freehold Township will now throw pitchers Matt Villapiano and Zach Gorman in two games against Middletown North and the fact that Freehold Township can win the Shore’s deepest division with two wins and one loss in four games by Manalapan means the Patriots are still in the running for a top-five spot.
8. Middletown South (13-5, 5-5) Last Week: 8
Two losses to Freehold Township and a .500 record in the Class A North are the marks against Middletown South as a top-five team but that is about all that is working against the Eagles. This past week, Middletown South played three intense games against rival Middletown North and while it didn’t start well for the Eagles, it sure ended well. Colin Dowlen no-hit Middletown South in Tuesday’s opener, but Middletown South bounced back with a walk-off win on Thursday, followed by a 3-0 win on Saturday that earned the Eagles a trip to the SCT semifinals.
9. Middletown North (10-5, 6-4) Last Week: 4
For the first time this season, Middletown North dropped two games in a week this past week. All of the Lions’ games came against Middletown South and the three-game series started in grand fashion, when Colin Dowlen pitched a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts. Middletown North was three outs from another win Thursday before Middletown South rallied for a walk-off win, then Ben Schild overpowered Middletown North in Saturday’s SCT quarterfinal. Middletown North still has an outside shot at a Class A North championship, but it’s likely the Lions’ will be set up best for a state tournament run with Dowlen and Danny Frontera leading the pitching staff.
10. Wall (14-5, 9-2) Last Week: 6
After a 1-2 week that included a split with St. John Vianney and a loss to Red Bank Catholic in the SCT quarterfinals, Wall is clinging to its spot in the top 10. The teams closest to the No. 10 spot have wins better than Wall’s best win, which is likely its 13-2 drubbing of Colts Neck, but Wall’s losses are all to teams that have spent time in the Top 10 while other contenders have worse losses. The Crimson Knights can secure no worse than a share of the B North title with two wins over Freehold Boro and one over Red Bank, plus they will have a chance to make a top-10 statement with a Thursday game against No. 5 Ocean.
Manchester (8-8, 5-5) Last Week: 10 – The Top 10 life was not kind to Manchester, which went 0-4 this week after breaking into the rankings for the first time.
Top 10 Watchlist
Donovan Catholic (13-5, 8-2) – The Griffins are likely the next in line for the Top 10 and can take a step in that direction by clinching the B South title this week with two wins over Manchester, which hammered Donovan Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament.
Marlboro (10-7, 7-5) – The Mustangs close their division slate this week with two games against a Manalapan team fighting for the division title while also trying to finish off a Shore Conference Tournament title run.
Howell (10-9, 4-6) – Howell’s pitching has not been as good as it was to start the season, but now the Rebels big bats are starting to take over.
Colts Neck (12-6, 8-2) – While Colts Neck has some quality wins (Manalapan, Wall), the Cougars have also taken some ugly losses, with lopsided losses to Brick, Howell, Wall and Marlboro, a walk-off loss to 4-12 Manasquan and a no-hitter at the hands of Middletown South and Matt Pontari.
St. John Vianney (7-5, 6-4) – An early-week win over Wall momentarily pulled St. John Vianney into the Class B North division title race but the Lancers could not sweep the series with the Crimson Knights, which was likely a necessity to stay in the hunt.
Ranney (12-4, 8-0) – Without a division game on the schedule this week, Ranney picked up a split for the week by crushing Hudson Catholic and losing a tight, 5-4, game at home against Marlboro.