Baseball – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: The Shore in Groups I and II
Rumson-Fair Haven and Point Pleasant Beach were two breakthrough programs from the Shore Conference a year ago, with both winning long-awaited sectional titles. Group II has always been a playground for the Shore Conference, but Group I has been hit-or-miss, with Point Beach only recently emerging as a legitimate championship contender. Now, both Group II and Group I have multiple contenders from the area with a chance to make a deep run into June.
The Shore has cycled through some excellent Group II teams in recent years, with Manasquan, Raritan and Point Pleasant Boro all reaching the group final in consecutive years, starting with Manasquan's championship season in 2017. Two years ago, Manchester shocked the field with a sectional championship as a No. 12 seed in South Jersey, coming one win shy of making it four seasons in a row with a Shore team in the Group II final.
In the past two years, Rumson has been the Shore's best hope in Group II and the Bulldogs roster in that time stacks up with any Group II team the Shore has produced. Rumson, however, has not been able to break through with a state-championship appearance, although the Bulldogs are getting closer. After losing in the Central Group II semifinal in 2021, Rumson came back last year and won its first sectional title in 18 years in walkoff fashion by beating another Shore Conference opponent.
In the following round, however, the Bulldogs could not get their bats working in a loss to Haddon Heights, a disappointing end to a breakthrough season.
This year, Rumson will try to break all the way to a group title, as the Bulldogs look like the clear favorite in Central and South Jersey to make it to Veterans Park on June 10. If a team is going to pick them off, it is likely to be one from Central Jersey and there is a good chance it would be a Shore team. Although many are double-digit seeds, the Shore has some quality rosters in the field and all of them are capable of getting hot over the next two weeks.
As for Group I, Point Beach and Shore are the favorites to make the Central Group I final and slug it out for the right to play the champion from South Jersey, where 22-3 Buena is the heavy favorite to both win that section and reach the state final.
Central Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 7 Raritan, No. 11 Wall, No. 12 Ocean, No. 14 Monmouth, No. 15 Manasquan
Top Seed: Rumson
Defending Champion: Rumson
Darkhorse: Manasquan. The Warriors start the tournament with a very difficult challenge in the form of a trip to No. 2 Governor Livingston, but that might be worse news for the No. 2 seed. Manasquan has a legitimate No. 1 pitcher in Wofford commit Cullen Condon and a deep staff behind him that can handle big innings. The Warriors have been inconsistent offensively, but they have a game-changing centerfielder in Brett Patten and a pitching staff that can keep the score low. Manasquan is just one of several Shore teams with a shot to make a deep run as a double-digit seed. Don’t be surprised to see Wall, Ocean and Monmouth advance out of the first round. Ocean might be the best bet of any double-digit seed to make it to the sectional semifinals, but that is partly because all four double-digit seeds on the other side of the bracket – No. 10 Delran, Wall, Monmouth and Manasquan – are capable of making the sectional final.
Bracket Breakdown: Upsets are very much in play in this section, with No. 16 Nottingham present a legitimate challenge to No. 1 Rumson in round one. There are even good teams that failed to qualify in the Central Group II field, so the 16 that got in are all capable. Rumson is still, however, the favorite, even though Delaware Valley and Bordentown represent very tough potential second-round opponents. He softest part of the bracket might be the GMC group of No. 3 Spotswood, No. 4 Carteret and No. 5 South River – all at risk of going out in the first round. Don’t sleep on Raritan either: the Rockets got a tough draw with Delran and the Manasquan-Governor Livingston winner, but have been on fire lately, with an 11-1 record in their last 12 games and an offense that is really clicking.
Prediction: Rumson over Manasquan. It is really hard to figure out which team is going to come out of the bottom of the bracket. Governor Livingston, to be sure, is the safest bet, but the Highlanders will have their hands full in every round and are a little thin on the mound outside of senior Johnny Schmidt – who has only pitched 20 innings this season but has been very good since debuting on May 1 (25 strikeouts, nine walks, 1.05 ERA). Rumson, meanwhile, is the healthiest it has been on the mound all season, with John Goodes and Jackson Hinchcliffe leading a staff that has rounded into one of the deepest of any public-school team in N.J.
Central Jersey Group I
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Point Pleasant Beach, No. 2 Shore, No. 8 Henry Hudson, No. 15 Keansburg
Top Seed: Point Beach
Defending Champion: Point Beach
Favorite: Point Beach
Darkhorse: No. 12 Florence. The Central Group I bracket doesn’t boast a ton of upset potential, but Florence should be a team to watch at No. 12. The Flashes play a better schedule than most of the field and will have a good shot to make it to a sectional semifinal at Point Beach.
Bracket Breakdown: A Point Beach vs. Shore final could be imminent, but No. 3 Middlesex will have something to say about that. The Blue Jays were the dominant team in Group I before Point Beach took them out in last season’s sectional final and now, it is Point Beach who will be hosting as long as the Garnet Gulls are still alive. Those three teams – Point Beach, Shore and Middlesex – are the three contenders and one will be the sectional champion at the end. Henry Hudson, meanwhile, has, perhaps, its best team since it made it to the sectional final in 2010 and should win a game. Beating Point Beach in round two will be a tall order after Beach dominated the regular season, but getting to that game would be a very good accomplishment for the Admirals.
Prediction: Shore over Point Beach. It has been nine years since Shore last won a state title and the Blue Devils are looking at their best shot to do it since. The lineup is where Shore has the edge, with a 1-through-9 group that has had some big moments throughout the season against some quality competition. Point Beach will be tough to top, especially with Kyle Kolans rounding into form on the mound, plus the favorable draw that comes with the homefield advantage. Shore has the tougher potential semifinal, so while Point Beach will face a difficult challenge in the final, the Garnet Gulls are a safe bet to be hosting it.
South Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 8 Manchester, No. 14 Barnegat
Top Seed: Cedar Creek
Defending Champion: No. 2 Haddon Heights
Favorite: Cedar Creek
Darkhorse: No. 9 Seneca. Depth is not the strong suit of the South Jersey Group II field. Only seven of the 16 teams in the field have a winning record, with seed Nos. 8 through 16 all finishing the regular-season below .500. Manchester could author another deep run as the No. 8 seed, but among the teams that are on the road in the first round, Seneca would seem to be the likeliest team to win a game or two. With Cedar Creek next in the bracket though, the Seneca-Manchester winner is a longshot to make it to next week and overall, none of the first-round road teams appear to be built for this tournament.
Bracket Breakdown: Cedar Creek and Haddon Heights are the class of this section, with Cinnaminson also in the mix as a team that could bust a chalk bracket all the way through. With that being said, Cedar Creek is 2-6 against teams that are seeded in the top-five of an NJSIAA section, with the two wins coming over two teams from South Jersey Group I (No. 3 Pennsville and No. 4 Paulsboro).
Prediction: Cedar Creek over Haddon Heights. South Jersey Group II has seen better days, but it was only a year ago that Haddon Heights took down a talented Rumson-Fair Haven team to earn a trip to the state final.