Baseball – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Non-Public Brackets
The NJSIAA Tournament is back on Tuesday and it begins with the preliminary rounds of the Non-Public brackets, which are the rare state sectional brackets that include high seeds getting byes into the quarterfinals. That means not every team in the four sections - Non-Public A North and South and Non-Public B North and South - will be playing on Tuesday but the action will be getting underway on the first day of June for those with middle-to-lesser seeds.
As far as the Shore Conference goes, there are a number of intriguing teams in both Non-Public Groups. Red Bank Catholic is the newly-minted No. 1 team in the Shore Conference and has a legitimate All-State pitcher at the top of its rotation in a bracket in which you need at least one of those to contend. The Caseys lead a quartet of Shore Conference teams in the South Jersey Non-Public A section, all of whom have reason to be enthusiastic about this week.
Meanwhile, Ranney will begin its pursuit of a state championship with a team that has designs on winning more than one over the next three seasons and beyond. The Panthers will play more of an underdog role in this tournament, but if nothing else, they give the Shore Conference another legitimate challenger in the Non-Public B field - a role St. Rose has filled for a long while and hopes to do again as well.
Here is a closer look at the two Non-Public brackets, with the action about to get going later on Tuesday.
South Jersey Non-Public A
Shore Teams In the Field: No. 3 Donovan Catholic, No. 4 Red Bank Catholic, No. 8 Christian Brothers Academy, No. 9 St. John Vianney
Top Seed: Bishop Eustace
Defending Champion (2019): No. 2 St. Augustine
Favorite: Bishop Eustace. Not only do the unbeaten Crusaders (20-0) boast a projected MLB Draft first-round pick in Anthony Solometo at the top of their rotation but they also have another senior starter in Danny Kerr who has only allowed one earned run over the course of the entire season to date. The pitching staff has been dominant so even if a team dodges Solometo, it won’t get much of a break.
Darkhorse: No. 6 Paul VI. On top of playing on the side of the bracket opposite Bishop Eustace, Paul VI has played a schedule that should have them ready to take on Donovan Catholic, as long as the Eagles advance past No. 11 Camden Catholic in the first round. Donovan Catholic has a young team that is just starting to emerge as a Non-Public A contender, so whichever of the two makes it to the semifinal round has a chance to make a major statement against defending sectional champion St. Augustine, which has been more beatable this season than it was in 2019.
Bracket Breakdown: There is pitching galore in this bracket, which is nothing new. Navigating through the top-half of the bracket will be difficult for every team involved – even top-seeded Bishop Eustace. CBA or St. John Vianney would be a formidable first opponent for the Crusaders, but might have to burn through pitching to get by one another. The same could go for Red Bank Catholic and St. Joseph Metuchen, so the x-factor in this bracket could be which team can make it to a Bishop Eustace game with the best pitching available. If the Caseys can get over the hump in the quarterfinals with Panzini able to pitch in some capacity in the semifinal round, RBC could have a real shot.
Championship Prediction: Bishop Eustace over St. Augustine. Going unbeaten in baseball is incredibly difficult, but with two dominant pitchers and two more very good ones, the Crusaders are in great position to do so – even in talented bracket. The four Shore Conference teams in the field are all dangerous, with Red Bank Catholic looking to unleash one of the state’s top pitchers, Donovan Catholic featuring an up-and-coming roster and both CBA and St. John Vianney far more formidable than their seeds would indicate.
South Jersey Non-Public B
Shore Teams In the Field: No. 5 Ranney, No. 9 St. Rose
Top Seed: Gloucester Catholic
Defending Champion (2019): Gloucester Catholic
Favorite: Gloucester Catholic. The Rams have been the team to beat in this section every year they are in it and for another year, Gloucester Catholic will likely fill those shoes again in 2021. The field, however, is getting closer, with No. 3 Holy Spirit sporting a strong squad and Ranney starting to make its move as a state-title contender. For now, though, the Rams have a talented, albeit young, team with plenty of program pedigree.
Darkhorse: No. 7 Immaculata. With a quality schedule, the Spartans will be primed to deal with No. 2 St. Joseph of Hammonton in the second round as long as they can get by Doane Academy in the opening round. Ranney could just as easily take on the Cinderella role and with a win over Rutgers Prep in the quarterfinal, the Panthers will have their chance to show it against Gloucester Catholic. With three impressive underclass pitchers in Nick Coniglio, Jack Renaud and Marcello Mastroianni, Ranney may be on the cusp of a championship run. St. Rose could also be worth keeping an eye on with senior Tom Turnbach returning to the mound last week and a winnable first-round game at Timothy Christian before a potential showdown at Gloucester Catholic.
Bracket Breakdown: Gloucester Catholic vs. Ranney and St. Joe’s vs. Holy Spirit would be the heavyweight semifinal, with Gloucester Catholic and Holy Spirit the two teams most poised to make runs at a state title this year. The big question in this section – and in all of Non-Public B – is how close is Ranney to making a bid for a state championship? When the Panthers have had their best pitching available, they have been able to compete with some high-caliber Shore Conference competition, which should have them ready to take a serious run at the sectional title this year.
Championship Prediction: Holy Spirit over Gloucester Catholic. Gloucester Catholic is still the battle-tested team in the field, but Holy Spirit has a standout pitching trio led by David Hagaman that could be a major factor against a younger Rams pitching staff.