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With not even two weeks left in the 2021 high school baseball season in New Jersey, there is still plenty to settle in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. A double-digit number of teams are still playing for state championships and both county tournaments have barely gotten going because of rain and scheduling conflicts.

The state tournament, in particular, could be the key to a few teams outside the Top 10 breaking in, as well as one or two teams that are currently in staying in.

As for the top spot, the incumbent is looking pretty safe for now, although the Monmouth County Tournament could change that. By this time next week, the final picture should be very close to in-focus, if not all-the-way settled.

1. Red Bank Catholic (20-3-1, 11-2-1) Last Week: 1

The Caseys have two championships in the bag and will push for another this week when they tackle the No. 1 team in the state on Monday. With Shane Panzini scheduled to pitch, Red Bank Catholic will be one of the toughest challenges of the year for Bishop Eustace, while the Crusaders and ace Anthony Solometo will most certainly be the toughest challenge of the season for RBC. Win or lose, RBC will also make a run at the Monmouth County Tournament title as well when that resumes in the latter part of the week.

2. Jackson Memorial (18-6, 11-3) Last Week: 2

The Jaguars offense broke out for 11 runs at Kingsway on Saturday, although Kingsway’s defensive miscues helped them out. Whatever the reason for the offense, it could not have come at a better time, with Ty Beck on the mound in place of unavailable senior co-ace Matt Potok. The other half of Jackson Memorial’s one-two punch, Zach Crotchfelt, will be on the mound Tuesday at top-seeded Williamstown in the South Group IV semifinals.

3. Middletown South (17-8, 6-7) Last Week: 4

After a run to the Shore Conference Tournament final ended with a championship loss, the Eagles are out for more hardware in both the Monmouth County and Central Group IV Tournaments. Middletown South won a battle with Freehold Township on Saturday and will have sophomore standout Ben Schild on the mound at Hunterdon Central in the sectional semifinals on Tuesday, which will come a day after continuing a MCT round-of-16 game against fellow sectional semifinalist Marlboro on Monday.

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (17-5-1, 8-4-1) Last Week: 5

The Bulldogs have looked comfortable on their home field in the state tournament and will be there as long as they remain active in their pursuit of a sectional championship. Over the course of the year, Rumson has not shown many weaknesses, with a deep lineup, a shutdown ace and depth behind him – ingredients for at least one championship the rest of the way.

5. Freehold Township (15-8, 11-3) Last Week: 3

The Patriots will not be sectional champions this year, but they are the champions of a loaded Class A North division and will now focus on ending their season with a Monmouth County championship. Matt Villapiano has been one of the Shore’s best pitchers over the last month and will lead that charge, along with a strong defense and a strong No. 2 option in Zach Gorman.

Alex Jankowski (3) greets Joe Lomangino during Marlboro's 7-4 win over Manalapan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

6. Marlboro (14-7, 8-5) Last Week: Not ranked

The Mustangs burst into the Top 10 after reaching the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals for the second straight season and this time, Marlboro will be hosting Old Bridge rather than travelling to play the Knights, as it had to do back in the 2019 semifinals. With pitcher Tyler Villa injured in his last start, Marlboro may have to piece together its pitching on Tuesday, but with the way the Mustangs are swinging their bats, the pitching doesn’t have to be perfect.

7. Colts Neck (20-6, 12-2) Last Week: Not ranked

On the heels of their 20th win of the season to reach the Central Group III semifinals, the Cougars roll back into the Top 10. Colts Neck has a whole host of pitchers performing well at the moment and lineup that continues to get better with each week – including putting up eight runs on Middletown North on Saturday after scoring eight on Ocean on Thursday.

8. Manalapan (16-7, 9-4) Last Week: 6

Despite getting Joe Mazza back on the mound after a nearly-three-week absence and keeping Tyler Kane eligible to pitch as well, Manalapan could not contain Marlboro’s red-hot offense on Saturday in the Central Group IV quarterfinals. Manalapan still has a chance to win a championship, with the Braves resuming play in the Monmouth County Tournament as the No. 1 seed.

9. Wall (19-6, 12-2) Last Week: 8

Wall is out of the Central Group III Tournament, but remains in the Top 10 just one win away from 20, which the Crimson Knights will try to get Monday in a Monmouth County Tournament showdown with Howell. That match-up features what could be the two best offensive teams in the conference, with Howell’s pitching struggling over the past month and Wall bringing two out of three top pitchers eligible for an opponent that usually chases at least one pitcher.

10. Central (15-8, 9-5) Last Week: 9

The last two weeks will be an all-out skirmish to get into the back-end of the Top 10 and Central is holding on for the moment thanks to two state tournament wins that have the Golden Eagles in the South Jersey Group III semifinals. Central will likely have to take to the road for the remainder of its stay in the tournament.

 

Dropped Out

Ocean (15-9, 11-3) Last Week: 7 – With losses to Wall, Middletown North and Colts Neck last week, Ocean falls out of the Top 10, and while there is still a chance the Spartans could wiggle into the No. 10 spot to end the season with some help from the rest of the field, their chances took a hit last week.

Middletown North (11-10, 6-7) Last Week: 10 – Colin Dowlen got back on the mound on Saturday, but Colts Neck waited him out and poured it on late against the Lions in the Central Group III quarterfinals. CBA also took out the Lions in the MCT and the last thing for Middletown North to salvage is a .500 division record in A North.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Brick Memorial (12-10, 8-6) – If Jackson Memorial keeps advancing in the state tournament, Brick Memorial could have a great opportunity to knock off the Jaguars for a second time and reach the Ocean County Tournament final, although they will have to win two games first.

Howell (14-10, 7-6) – Howell’s bats are still hot despite a first-round loss in states and will be a headache for any remaining opponent in the Monmouth County Tournament, starting with Wall on Monday.

St. John Vianney (11-6, 9-4) – The Lancers showed a lot of fortitude last week in coming back to beat CBA on a homer in the top of the seventh and nearing beating unbeaten Bishop Eustace on a homer in the top of the seventh.

Donovan Catholic (15-7, 9-3) – With a division co-championship already secured, the Griffins would love to cap a breakout season with a deep run in the Ocean County Tournament, which they could certainly manage as a No. 3 seed.

Ranney (16-4, 10-0) – The Panthers get their big shot on Monday with a trip to top-seeded Gloucester Catholic for the South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals. A win would make their top-10 case awfully compelling.

Manchester (11-10, 6-6) – Once again, the Hawks are taking off during tournament time, a 4-3 loss to Brick in the Ocean County Tournament notwithstanding. Barnegat, Jackson Liberty and Lacey all finished higher in the division, but Manchester has made up for it outside of B South play, which includes tournament wins over Donovan Catholic and Barnegat.

Raritan (11-9, 7-5) – The Rockets are another team that routinely shines during the state tournament, regardless of their seed. This time, Raritan has made it to the semifinals as a No. 11 seed and has already beaten the No. 1 seed in the section (Rumson-Fair Haven) this year.

Christian Brothers Academy (10-11, 6-7) – The Colts are out of the state tournament, which makes them dangerous in the Monmouth County Tournament if they have to play any teams that are still focused on a state championship. That won’t be the case later this week, when the Colts travel to play the winner of Howell and Wall.

Brick (11-11, 6-6) – Despite a lopsided loss in the opening round of the state tournament, Brick is still playing for an Ocean County championship and has some quality wins already on the resume upon which to add.