Baseball – May Madness: SSN Top 10 Gets Major Shakeup After No. 1
Heading into the last week of April, the Shore Sports Network Top 10 waters were calm. By the late afternoon of the first day of May, chaos finally made an appearance in the 2022 season.
The Monmouth County Tournament weekend laid the groundwork for a series of upsets and during the week, the Ocean County contingent all beat up on one another. Meanwhile, the Shore’s No. 1 team has essentially been watching the madness from the sideline: they are not entered in the MCT, instead focused on finishing off a division title and getting ready for the Shore Conference Tournament.
On weeks like this, when every team now has losses that could be seen as reasons to drop in the rankings, it takes a little more scrutiny to try to come up with a reasonable order. Which teams can win without an ace on the mound? Which teams are near-locks with top pitching on the mound? Which teams are hot vs. which have staying power? Which teams have played the toughest schedules, both in competition and volume?
All that is worth considering as we embark into May, when it’s time to decide division and county championships with the Shore Conference Tournament fast approaching.
1. Rumson-Fair Haven (11-0, 9-0) Last Week: 1
Rumson remains the obvious choice for No. 1, but it’s worth wondering if the Bulldogs would be as safe if they had to survive a weekend in the Monmouth County Tournament. That challenge did not go well for Ranney, Howell, CBA and Freehold Township – all of which were in the Top 10 this week and were bounced out of the tournament before the end of the weekend. Rumson, meanwhile, will try to sew up the Class A Central division title this week by beating Red Bank Catholic twice.
2. Howell (12-3, 10-1) Last Week: 5
Despite losing to Wall in the MCT quarterfinals on Sunday, Howell climbs back to No. 2. Why? Because, despite missing ace Dan Furlong on Sunday due to an injured finger on his pitching hand, Howell battled back from a 11-4 deficit to tie the game vs. Wall before ultimately falling to the Crimson Knights. On top of that, the Rebels beat Middletown South, 18-13, and CBA, 7-2, during this past week, which means that as long as they don’t lose a game to Long Branch this week, they will win their first outright Class A North division championship since 1990.
3. Middletown South (12-6, 8-3) Last Week: 3
No team in the Top 10 has more losses than Middletown South, but only one has more wins. That tells the story of a team that goes out and plays games and while that means the Eagles have lost some games in which they have had to reach deep into the pitching staff, they have also picked up some impressive wins along the way. Class A North is probably out of reach, but the Eagles are one of the last four standing in the Monmouth County Tournament, with a showdown against Red Bank Catholic set for Saturday, when the tournament is scheduled to resume.
4. Wall (11-3, 8-3) Last Week: Not ranked
Wall has been on the cusp of breaking back into the top 10 and needed a win outside of Class B North to kick down the door. The Crimson Knights got a couple of those this weekend, knocking off previous No. 9 Monmouth in a 3-0 shutout, then taking down No. 1 seed Howell in a 12-11, Monmouth County quarterfinal slugfest. Senior centerfielder Nick Lovarco and senior third baseman Andrew Fischer are starting to heat up and even with a pitching staff that has been up-and-down, Wall has as much potential as any team at the plate and remains a threat for that reason.
5. Red Bank Catholic (13-3, 9-3) Last Week: 6
Despite a loss to Ocean in the middle of the week, the Caseys climb a spot in the rankings on the strength of MCT wins over CBA and Freehold Township – both of which came on the road. The three RBC losses this season – at Shore and home to both Monmouth and Ocean – make the No. 6 ranking seem, perhaps, a little generous, but dominant performances against Manasquan ace Cullen Condon and Holy Spirit, plus the Monmouth County Tournament performance are all a reminder of what the Caseys are capable of.
6. Christian Brothers Academy (9-5, 6-3) Last Week: 4
CBA faded out of the Class A North race with a loss to Howell on Tuesday and dropped out of the Monmouth County Tournament Saturday with a 4-1, extra-inning loss to Red Bank Catholic in which ace Colin Reilly kept RBC to one run through eight innings before the Caseys broke through with Reilly out of the game in the ninth. CBA closes its Class A North slate with two games vs. Middletown North and one each vs. Freehold Township and Manalapan.
7. Ranney (12-3, 8-0) Last Week: 2
Among the teams still in the Top 10, Ranney takes the biggest drop this week after losing two games on Saturday – one in extra innings to St. John Vianney in the Monmouth County Tournament and the other to Ocean City in blowout fashion. Ranney has been able to line up its pitching for much of the season and this weekend was the toughest test yet, with two games against quality teams in one day. The Panthers will lick their wounds and get ready for the Shore Conference Tournament, with games against Middletown South and Marlboro on the schedule prior to the SCT cutoff.
8. Jackson Memorial (9-6, 8-3) Last Week: 7
This past week started with a huge win for Jackson Memorial over Central and ace Cam Leiter, but the Jaguars gave that back in an extra-inning loss to the Golden Eagles two days later. Jackson Memorial bounced back nicely with wins over Brick and Williamstown, the latter of which beat Jackson Memorial in last year’s NJSIAA Tournament. The Jaguars will try to wrap up a Class A South title this week by finishing off a sweep against Brick and looking for a pair of wins over division contender Brick Memorial.
9. Marlboro (9-6, 5-6) Last Week: Not ranked
Just as they did last year, the Mustangs are coming on strong after a slow start. Marlboro lost six straight at one point, but have since responded with seven straight wins, with the last two of those sending the Mustangs to the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals. Two weeks ago, Marlboro looked like it might miss the Shore Conference Tournament and with wins over Colts Neck and St. John Vianney over the weekend to go with division wins over Middletown North and Manalapan, the Mustangs now find themselves in the top 10 picture and with a chance to win a tournament title.
10. St. John Vianney (9-4-1, 7-3-1) Last Week: Not ranked
The rub against St. John Vianney last week, when the Lancers sat just outside the Top 10, was that the Lancers had a loss to Freehold Boro and a tie against Matawan in which the Lancers gave up 11 runs to a Huskies team that hasn’t scored more than five in any other game. To balance that out, though, St. John Vianney now has wins over Wall, Colts Neck and Ranney, with the extra-inning win over Ranney on Saturday currently the highlight of the Lancers’ season.
Colts Neck (9-4, 9-2) Last Week: 8 – Colts Neck has been nearly untouchable with Anthony Gubitosi on the mound and Tyler Spencer is starting to lock in at No. 2, but the Cougars could not find enough additional help in Saturday losses to Marlboro and Robbinsville in which they surrendered 23 combined runs.
Monmouth (8-5, 8-3) Last Week: 9 – Monmouth fell out of the division race with a second loss to Rumson and ended the week with losses to Neptune and Wall.
Freehold Twp. (8-7, 4-6) Last Week: 10 – Freehold Township ended a five-game losing streak with a win over Middletown North and then beat Red Bank in the MCT, but a loss to RBC in Sunday’s quarterfinal round was missed opportunity to stay in the Top 10.
Top 10 Watchlist
Central (10-5, 7-4) – Central showed its resilience with a win at Jackson Memorial after losing at home to the Jaguars on Monday, but a loss to Brick Memorial on Thursday put a dent in Central’s Class A South division title hopes.
Brick Memorial (10-5, 7-4) – A loss to Toms River East early last week made winning the Class A South title a longshot for Brick Memorial, but the good news is the Mustangs will be going head-to-head against the other two contenders: Central and Jackson Memorial. If the Mustangs get hot this week, they will win the division.