Baseball – Jackson Memorial Holds at No. 1; 2 Unbeaten Teams Remain in the first Shore Top 10 of May
Just two weeks into the regular season, all but two teams in the Shore Conference have suffered at least one loss and the two undefeated teams play in the conference’s deepest division. That means that sooner rather than later, ranking the teams at the Shore will require getting past some blemishes on the resumes, which is just about inevitable in any baseball season.
For now, the two remaining undefeated teams make a climb into the top five after both starting the season in the second half of the Top 10, while the rest of the field consists of seven teams with at least two losses already. With the Shore Conference Tournament cutoff only a week from this Wednesday, the comparisons are already consequential.
1. Jackson Memorial (5-2, 2-0) Last Week: 1
Both of Jackson Memorial’s loss came in the final at-bat against strong out-of-area teams. In each loss – one to St. Augustine and the other to Kingsway – the Jaguars got a solid outing from one of their co-aces, but the opposition worked them out of the game and took advantage of the bullpen. At the Shore, meanwhile, Jackson Memorial is 4-0 with cumulative score of 43-10 against those teams. This week, the Shore’s No. 1 team will tackle Toms River East twice and then begin two-game set against Toms River North on Friday.
2. Red Bank Catholic (7-1, 3-0) Last Week: 2
Heading into the season, it seemed clear Red Bank Catholic would be in the running for the Shore’s best team when Shane Panzini was on the mound but it was not so clear how the Caseys would fair with the other pitchers on the mound. While the pitching performances outside of Panzini have been inconsistent, Red Bank Catholic’s offense has brought the thunder, including 43 runs in four wins this past week.
3. Middletown North (6-0, 3-0) Last Week: 7
A run of Class A North teams begins with Middletown North, which has yet to drop a game and picked up its first real noteworthy win of the season by beating Howell on Thursday behind an impressive outing by senior Colin Dowlen. The Lions will be difficult with Dowlen and Danny Frontera on the mound and have show some ability to put runs on the board so far. The schedule ramps up this week, with one more game against Howell and the first of a two-game showdown with Manalapan.
4. Freehold Township (6-0, 5-0) Last Week: 9
The Patriots have set the pace in the Class A North race to this point, winning all five of their games within the division. This past week, Freehold Township handed Middletown South its only two losses by cooling off the Eagles’ red-offense. Two weeks into the season, only two undefeated teams remain and while Middletown North is another A North team with a perfect mark, Freehold Township’s perfect record comes with almost 40 percent of the division schedule in the books.
5. Manalapan (5-2, 2-1) Last Week: 3
Manalapan’s series vs. Howell this past week had just about everything: a 12-10 slugfest that the Braves pulled out, a pitcher’s duel that went Howell’s way and, all-in-all, two very good Class A North teams trading blows. Manalapan followed it up with a dramatic win over CBA on Saturday, followed by a win up at Memorial West New York later that same afternoon. Two teams are now ahead of the Braves in the Class A North standings but Manalapan is still in good position to make a move up the standings in the Shore’s most stacked division.
6. Middletown South (6-2, 1-2) Last Week: 5
Continuing on with the Class A North contenders, Middletown South dropped two games to Freehold Township this week but that remains the only team to beat the Eagles this season to date. Among Middletown South’s victims are two ranked teams Red Bank Catholic and Toms River North and the Eagles scored double-digit runs in both of those victories.
7. Howell (5-2, 1-2) Last Week: 8
A 2-2 record for the week was a solid result for Howell given the competition, but it might be even better than it looks. The Rebels continue to get standout pitching, even as potential No. 1 starter Chris Ellison gets himself healthy enough to pitch and co-ace Vin Impresa had a tough outing against Manalapan to start the week. Daniel Furlong and Ryan Bilello have both performed well and junior Nick Gomes – a standout in the Last Dance World Series in July – just returned from injury at the end of the week.
8. Colts Neck (4-2, 2-1) Last Week: Not ranked
Colts Neck enters the Top 10 for the first time this year and breaks up the run of Class A North teams. Both of the Cougars’ losses were ugly – 11-2 to Howell and 13-2 to Wall – but Colts Neck also has 10-run wins over Manalapan and St. John Vianney, as well as an extra-inning win over Wall to bounce back from the blowout loss.
9. Toms River North (3-2, 2-0) Last Week: 6
Both of Toms River North’s losses have come against Top 10 teams (Red Bank Catholic and Middletown South) so the Mariners were not in any real danger of dropping out of the rankings. The wins aren’t bad either (two over Brick Memorial and one over Ranney) but the teams ranked ahead of Toms River North at the moment have more marquee wins on their resumes. The coming week is a huge one for the Mariners, with the next two coming against Central and Jackson Memorial just over the horizon for a wrap-around series on Friday and next Tuesday.
10. Wall (5-3, 3-1) Last Week: Not ranked
Despite losing to the team they are replacing at No. 10 (Rumson-Fair Haven), the Crimson Knights are back in the fold after splitting with Colts Neck, beating up on Manasquan’s pitching and giving Shane Panzini a hard time before ultimately losing to Red Bank Catholic. Wall is still learning about its pitching staff but at 8.75 runs per game against some good pitchers, the lineup is undeniably good.
St. John Vianney (1-2, 1-2) Last Week: 4 – The Lancers are still easing their way into the season after having to sit at home for the first week. Tuesday’s game vs. Colts Neck with ace Ryan Sekman on the mound will be a big one.
Rumson-Fair Haven (4-2, 1-2) Last Week: 10 – Two losses to Holmdel and an extra-inning scare at St. Rose drop the Bulldogs out, but Rumson showed its potential during the first week.
Top 10 Watchlist
Donovan Catholic (5-1, 2-0) – The Griffins continue to batter the baseball, which netted them a sweep of Point Boro this past week.
Matawan (5-1, 3-0) – Outside of a close loss to Raritan, Matawan has won and won big throughout the start to its season, outscoring opponents 60-16.
Brick Memorial (3-4, 0-2) – Although the Mustangs sport a losing record, two of the losses are to Toms River North, one is an opening-day loss to Ranney and the other to unbeaten Egg Harbor. Brick Memorial also handed Donovan Catholic its only loss and beat CBA and Lacey, so the strength of schedule is worth noting.
Lacey (4-2, 3-1) – After a 4-0 start, Lacey dropped a couple one-run games to Barnegat and Brick Memorial. The pitching is going to keep Lacey in the hunt throughout the season in what will be a competitive Class B South race.
Central (3-1, 3-0) – Cam Leiter’s go-ahead home run gave Central a dramatic win over Toms River South in its only game last week, which pushed the Golden Eagles off to a quick 3-0 start in Class A South with a big series vs. Toms River North coming up.
Christian Brothers Academy (2-3, 1-2) – CBA has taken some lumps, with two heartbreaking losses to Brick Memorial and Manalapan, but wins over Seton Hall Prep and Marlboro plus some encouraging performances keep the Colts on the list of teams to watch as the season develops.