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With very few exceptions, the rest of the 2022 baseball calendar in New Jersey will be win-or-go-home games, whether it’s a few counties and conferences – including the Shore Conference on Sunday and Ocean County on Thursday – wrapping up their tournaments, or the start of the NJSIAA Tournament.

The Top 10 has been a free-for-all thanks to an unpredictable, entertaining Shore Conference Tournament. Jackson Memorial’s resume was lacking enough to drop the Jaguars out of the last Top 10, but since then, they have bulldozed their way into the argument for No. 1. Meanwhile, Howell and Rumson-Fair Haven went from two teams vying for No. 1 to just hoping to crack the top five.

All those changes should serve as a reminder that the postseason is when heroes are made, and while some teams may appear to have fallen out of favor over the last week or two, any of them is one hot streak away from changing the perception.

1. Middletown South (20-9, 10-4) Last Week: 2

Officially, Middletown South was the third Shore Conference team to get to 20 wins, but the Eagles are the only one of the three that can say they beat the other two (Wall and Ranney). On top of those wins, Middletown South has also beaten an out-of-area 20-win team in Cranford and three 19-win teams in Red Bank Catholic, Jackson Memorial and Steinert. That is a loaded resume, which also explains why the Eagles are the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV bracket, in which they are also the defending champions.

04/26/2022 - Middletown North / Middletown South
Joe Stanzione (left) and Evan Wood (right) celebrate a Stanzione home run while Middletown South teammates look on. (Photo: Richard O'Donnell Photography)
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2. Red Bank Catholic (19-8, 10-4) Last Week: 4

After a second loss to Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic has a road block to the No. 1 spot going forward, but the top perch is not completely inaccessible to the Caseys. For one, the have a chance to win the Shore Conference Tournament on Sunday by beating one of the state’s hottest teams with its best pitcher on the mound. If RBC can beat Jackson Memorial and Zach Crotchfelt, it would just be a matter of Jackson Memorial winning the Central Jersey Group IV title at the expense of Middletown South and an accompanying deep state tournament run from the Caseys to move RBC into position to finish No. 1.

3. Jackson Memorial (19-7, 11-3) Last Week: Not Ranked

RBC and Jackson Memorial are neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot and it’s RBC by a nose with its two wins over Charlie Jones and Rumson-Fair Haven. Jackson Memorial, however, has done its part over the last four weeks, winning 12 out of the last 13 games with wins over Pinelands, Brick Memorial, Ranney, Central and Donovan Catholic – all with the aces for each team on the mound. Jackson Memorial is set up to keep the streak alive with Crotchfelt set to pitch Sunday’s SCT final and if the Jaguars can make it to next Saturday with three more wins under their collective belt, the drive for five championships will get very interesting.

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (18-4, 13-1) Last Week: 3

With no Monmouth County Tournament for Rumson and an ugly, 10-0 loss to Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, the Bulldogs are looking to salvage their postseason with a run to a Central Jersey Group II championship. They already have a Class A Central title in hand, but they got there with junior centerfielder Reece Moroney in the lineup. Moroney has been out with a left-hand injury and without him, the lineup has lost a dynamic player at the top while also losing some length. Rumson still has the pitching to go deep into June but will need its offense to take on a larger share of the workload than it has.

5. Wall (20-6, 11-3) Last Week: 5

Wall is a team that has no complaints about its offense. If anything, the Crimson Knights are under pressure to put up big numbers at the plate against elite opponents due to the lack of a lockdown No. 1 starter. On the plus side, Matt Johnson is pitching very well heading into the state tournament and junior Zach Szatkowski has been a dependable starter as well, so the burden might not be so heavy. With Governor Livingston on its side of the bracket and Rumson looming as the No. 1 seed, Wall will have a tough road, but one it is capable of navigating in search of a second group title in four years.

6. Howell (19-6, 12-2) Last Week: 1

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, indeed. Howell ascended to the No. 1 spot and immediately suffered a staggering, 19-2 loss to Central in the Shore Conference Tournament in a game started by Rebels ace Dan Furlong and by Central’s No. 3 or 4 starter (depending on the day) in Anthony Musso. Howell also dropped a game to Bridgewater-Raritan and barely squeaked by a Brick squad that finished last in Class A South. A solid all-around performance against Hamilton West on Friday morning should give the Rebels some peace of mind heading into the Central Group IV gauntlet, but it will get off to a very challenging start with Manalapan on Wednesday.

7. St. John Vianney (17-6-1, 10-3-1) Last Week: 9

With an 18-4 clobbering of Colts Neck in the Shore Conference Tournament, St. John Vianney becomes the second-highest ranked team from Class B North in the Top 10. The Lancers have a couple of head-scratching results, but have otherwise looked like a dangerous team that can swing the bat and has an underrated No. 2 starter in Nick Ferraioli behind a more heralded No. 1, Aiden Cody. The lineup is also dangerous and this group gave Bishop Eustace – ranked No. 1 in the state at the time – a serious scare in last year’s sectional quarterfinal round, so don’t sleep on the Lancers if they earn a shot at this year’s South Jersey Non-Public A No. 1 seed, St. Augustine.

8. Ranney (21-5, 11-0) Last Week: 6

The overall body of work is worthy of consideration for a higher spot, but a few ill-time losses to the wrong teams – Middletown South, Jackson Memorial, Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney – are keeping Ranney stuck in the second half of the Top 10. At the same time, the Panthers also have a win over Middletown South and three very good non-conference wins over Poly Prep of Brooklyn, Delbarton and Ferris. Ranney earned home-field advantage through the sectional final in South Jersey Non-Public B, so the path is laid out for the Panthers to make a run at their first ever state championship.

9. Donovan Catholic (16-11, 10-4) Last Week: Not ranked

The Griffins finally crack the Top 10 after stumbling at several opportunities early in the season. To its credit, Donovan Catholic has figured things out when it matters most, making a run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals by knocking off Manalapan, CBA and Southern while also mixing in a regular-season win at Rumson-Fair Haven. They also showed some fight in a 7-3 loss to Jackson Memorial after falling behind 7-0 early, so the Griffins should be in a good frame of mind heading into a challenging South Jersey Non-Public A bracket this coming week.

10. Central (18-9, 8-6) Last Week: Not ranked

Central has had some lofty wins (Jackson Memorial and Howell on the road) and some rough losses (sweeps at the hands of Toms River North and Southern, losses to Red Bank and a loss to Red Bank). Put it all together, though, and the Golden Eagles are an Ocean County Tournament finalist with a chance to win the championship, a Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinalist and a top-three finisher in a Class A South division that has performed well when it has played teams from outside the division.

 

 

Dropped Out

Christian Brothers Academy (15-9, 10-4) Last Week: 7 – CBA still has wins over Middletown South and Howell, but neither came against an ace. Throw in a recent 11-1 loss to Donovan Catholic, and the Colts are left out in the cold with a chance to kick the door down by making a run in a loaded NJSIAA Non-Public A postseason.

Colts Neck (14-7-1, 11-2-1) Last Week: 8 – With the Cougars ready to unleash Anthony Gubitosi on a winnable Central Group III field, Colts Neck still has a chance to repeat as a sectional champion, as well as the kind of No. 1 pitcher who can carry a team to a group championship.

Freehold Township (14-11, 6-8) Last Week: 10 – The Patriots have some excellent wins to their credit this year and if they can survive the first round against East Brunswick, then hand Middletown South a loss for the second time this season and reach the Central Group IV sectional final, they will likely have done enough to get back in.