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There have been some impressive teams ranked No. 1 in the Shore Conference over the past several years: Jackson Memorial, Wall, Red Bank Catholic, Toms River North, Christian Brothers Academy. But with the exception of the 2015 CBA team, the nature of the season is such that no team – no matter how good – can make it through a season by winning every championship put in front of it.

Last year’s 24-5 RBC team had a shutdown ace and won the Class A Central division and the Shore Conference Tournament, but could not finish off Monmouth County and NJSIAA sectional title runs. Go back to Jackson Memorial in 2018 and Wall in 2019 and those teams did not have the same kind of success in the Shore Conference Tournament that RBC did, while Toms River North in 2017 and 2018 could not complement its success in the SCT with state tournament success.

All of that is to say that even when there is a clear No. 1 team, that team doesn’t get No. 1 results. This year, there is not a clear No. 1 team at the outset, which means when it comes to county, division, conference and NJSIAA sectional championships, there are any number of teams that could be holding a trophy and raising a banner at the end of the season.

You will have to scroll past the No. 10 team on the list to cover all the championship contenders and that is not a new phenomenon either; within last season’s final Top 10, six of the 10 teams were not ranked to start the season. That might have been the result of a lost 2020 masking some improvements by teams that were not in the Top 10 picture in 2019, but it is more likely just the result of a deep conference and a sport that leaves the door open for underdog stories.

It is time to find out who is opening the season as the group of favorites to triumph in this year’s Shore Conference Baseball season, but there is a long way to go on the road to crowning an actual No. 1 team to close out the season.

05/16/2021 - SCT - Howell / Red Bank Catholic
Sean Griggs (13) greets Matt Scrivanic (37) as Scrivanic scores the winning run in Red Bank Catholic's 3-2 win over Howell. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell)
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1. Red Bank Catholic (24-5-1, 11-2-1) Final 2021 Ranking: 1

The Caseys lost one of the state’s best pitchers in Shane Panzini, who is now in the Kansas City Royals farm system. So how are they the Shore’s No. 1 team to open the season? For starters, the infield is even better this season, with Monmouth commit Matt Scrivanic shifting to shortstop and Alabama commit Sean Griggs moving from the outfield to third base for his sophomore season. Alex Stanyek is also back in the outfield, as well as the starting rotation, which will get a shot of youth with sophomore Steve Svenson and freshman Ryan Prior. The pitching has a chance to be deeper and the lineup remains potent with six of the nine starters back.

Photo by Matt Manley
Rumson-Fair Haven after winning the 2021 Monmouth County Tournament. (Photo by Matt Manley)
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2. Rumson-Fair Haven (22-6-1, 9-4-1) Final 2021 Ranking: 3

If Red Bank Catholic is the team Rumson-Fair Haven is trying to chase down, the Bulldogs have to like their chances. Rumson beat Red Bank Catholic twice in three games and the other ended in a tie. It is not quite the same team: Rumson graduated shortstop Andrew Schmid and centerfielder Thomas Elgrim, but the Bulldogs retain an impressive pitching staff, three out of four infielders, a catcher, two outfielders, and a designated hitter. After capturing the Monmouth County Tournament, Rumson will be thinking even bigger in 2022.

Middletown South sophomore Ben Schild (left) and junior Evan Wood. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Middletown South junior Ben Schild (left) and senior Evan Wood. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
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3. Middletown South (22-9, 6-7) Final 2021 Ranking: 2

After finishing in the middle of the pack in Class A North, Middletown South turned it on for a run to the Group IV championship – the first for the Eagles since 1996. While Middletown South went 6-7 against Class A North competition, the Eagles went 16-2 against the rest of the schedule and both losses came against Red Bank Catholic. Middletown South will undergo more of a makeover than the two teams ranked ahead, but the Eagles still have junior ace Ben Schild at the top of the rotation and Joe Stanzione in the heart of the order.

Jackson Memorial sophomore Charlie Meglio. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Jackson Memorial junior Charlie Meglio. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
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4. Jackson Memorial (18-8, 11-3) Final 2021 Ranking: 8

While the Jaguars have to replace three major pieces, they also return most of their 18-win team from 2021. Ace and Auburn commit Zach Crotchfelt will make Jackson Memorial hard for any team to beat, while the offense has a chance to reach another level this season with seven starters back and an influx of new talent adding some additional depth. With a good performance from the staff behind Crotchfelt, Jackson Memorial will rack up the A South wins again in 2022 with the ambition of breaking through in the postseason tournaments.

5. Christian Brothers Academy (11-12, 6-7) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked

Despite finishing below .500 a year ago, CBA climbs into the top five to open this season with almost an entire team back. The Colts will be deep with pitching, including four Division I arms atop their rotation. Offensively, CBA has something to prove, as the Colts look for production beyond senior Lehigh commit Jack Frankovic and talented junior shortstop Harrison Campi. There are some candidates in place from a year ago and some new ones working their way in, so the Colts will return to the ranks of A North and Monmouth County contenders this season.

06/11/2021 - Northern Burlington County Regional / Colts Neck -
Colts Neck celebrates its walk-off win in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship. (Photo: Richard O'Donnell Photography)
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6. Colts Neck (22-8, 12-2) Final 2021 Ranking: 6

Fresh off the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship in program history, Colts Neck has designs on a repeat thanks to a returning core that includes the Cougars’ top two starting pitchers from 2021: Tyler Spencer and Anthony Gubitosi. The Cougars took a hit with the transfer of shortstop and closer Collin Kratzer to P27 Academy in South Carolina, but they still have some offensive firepower to fall back on, led by catcher Joe Cilea and outfielder Brad Salamone.

Central Regional coach Jerry Frulio gets the Gatorade bath after winning the Ocean County Tournament. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Central Regional coach Jerry Frulio gets the Gatorade bath after winning the Ocean County Tournament. (Photo by Ray Rich Photography)
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7. Central (19-9, 9-5) Final 2021 Ranking: 9

The defending Ocean County Tournament champions are reloaded for 2022 with a team that has several holdovers from the championship-winner of 2021. UCF commit Cam Leiter is back as the ace of the staff after he dominated on the mound during the tail-end of the season, while sophomore catcher Cristian Soto and seniors Anthony Musso and Shane Sajewicz lead the returning offensive core that also includes Leiter. The Golden Eagles would like to end Jackson Memorial’s run atop Class A South and finish the job in the state tournament after losing to Ocean City in the South Group III semifinals.

8. Wall (19-7, 12-2) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked

Even scoring more runs per game than any team other than Ranney, Wall still did not finish the season in the Top 10 because the Crimson Knights pitching never quite settled in. The offense has a chance to be every bit as good this season with the return of Andrew Fischer, Nick Lovarco and Gabe Cavazzoni and should the Crimson Knights find a rhythm in their pitching staff, this is the kind of roster that could finish the season No. 1 at the Shore.

9. Ranney (16-6, 10-0) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked

With the return of Duke commit A.J. Gracia to the mound after two years waiting for him to get healthy, Ranney will now have a four-man starting rotation that can rival the staff of almost any team in the Shore Conference. It would be hard for Ranney to do better than what teams like CBA, Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South and Rumson-Fair Haven have, but the Panthers could very well be in that class by the end of the year. The challenge, as usual, for Ranney will be to stay sharp against an inferior Class B Central schedule and knock off some teams in non-divisional play, which will set the Panthers up for a march through the postseason tournaments.

10. Howell (16-11, 7-6) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked

The last Top 10 spot goes to a Howell squad that is much healthier than it was to start last season, when the Rebels still managed to get off to a strong start despite a litany of injuries. This year’s Rebels squad has a healthy pitching staff that will have left-hander Nick Gomes teaming up with returning ace Dan Furlong, not to mention its usual stable of sluggers who will take on a tough schedule in Class A North and beyond.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Donovan Catholic (15-9, 9-3) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked – With a deep pitching staff led by Shaun O’Keefe and an offense that remains, mostly, intact, the Griffins are a very tough omission to open the season, with a chance for them to quickly kick down thye door.

Manchester (13-11, 6-6) Final 2021 Ranking: 10 – The Hawks are right behind division rival Donovan Catholic after finishing the 2021 campaign with a South Jersey Group II championship and bringing back all but two starters from that team.

St. John Vianney (12-7, 9-4) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked – The Lancers have been building up for last year and this season and might be flying under the radar while teams like Wall and Colts Neck in their own division and RBC, Ranney, CBA and Donovan Catholic soak up some of the attention among the Shore’s non-public programs. That would be all well and good with the Lancers if they are the last team standing in both chases.

Brick Memorial (17-12, 8-6) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked – After finishing 2021 strong with a trip to the Ocean County Tournament final, the Mustangs return a group that is both ready to embrace the underdog role in Class A South against Jackson Memorial and Central, as well as capable of outlasting the two division favorites.

Middletown North (11-10, 6-7) Final 2021 Ranking: Not ranked – Led by All-Shore-First-Teamer Colin Dowlen, the Lions will be good on the mound most days, but will need the depth to step up and a more consistent offense in order to sta in the A North race this season after fading last year.

Manalapan (18-8, 9-4) Final 2021 Ranking: 7 – The Braves have a lot of new faces in the lineup, but they have two things that will keep them contending: pitching and tradition.