Baseball – Replay of a Classic: Shore Conference Tournament Championship Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Championship
Sunday, May 21, 2023, 7:30 p.m.
At ShoreTown Ballpark, Lakewood
No. 1 Ranney vs. No. 2 Red Bank Catholic
Previous Meeting: Ranney defeated Red Bank Catholic, 6-5, in the Monmouth County Tournament Final on May 10 (Story).
Teams at a Glance
Ranney (25-1, 14-0 in Class B North)
Head Coach: Pat Geroni
SCT Championships: None
SCT Final Appearances: None
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 16 Matawan, 11-1; No. 8 Marlboro, 17-0; No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven, 2-1
A.J. Gracia, Sr., CF
Ryan Costello, Jr., 1B
Diego Tavarez, Sr., 3B
Jack Tallent, Sr., 2B
Brett Wehringer, Fifth-Year Sr., SS
Lou Spadafora, Fifth-Year Sr., C
Curtis Chropuvka, So., LF
Enrique Beltra, Sr., DH
Glen Cantalupo, Sr., RF
Projected Starting Pitcher
Marcello Mastroianni, Sr., LHP (6-0, 1.58 ERA, 35.1 IP, 19 H, 13 BB, 58 K)
Available Pitchers (With available pitch count)
A.J. Gracia, Sr., LHP (106)
James Hare, Jr., RHP (110)
Diego Tavarez, Sr., RHP (110)
Glen Cantalupo, Sr., RHP
Nick Coniglio, Fifth-Year Sr., RHP
Ranney: A Closer Look
It is premature to say that Ranney is on the cusp of completing a historic season in Shore and New Jersey baseball history, but the Panthers are on the cusp of being on the cusp. The state’s No. 1 team has won 19 straight games heading into Sunday night’s conference championship game and if the Panthers can make it 20 in a row, they will have their first Shore Conference Tournament title with a quadruple-crown in their crosshairs.
Only two teams – Wall in 2004 and Christian Brothers Academy in 2015 – in Shore Conference history have ever won division, county, conference and state championships in the same season and the list of teams in the history of New Jersey baseball have won 30 games in a season is not a long one. Ranney’s road to a second straight NJSIAA Non-Public B championship will require only four wins – just enough for the Panthers to get to 30 wins if they can win out.
In order to continue the march toward Shore history, Ranney will have to beat Red Bank Catholic and ace Alex Stanyek for a second time. In the first matchup between the teams 11 days ago, Ranney put up four runs on Stanyek in the first two innings before the Caseys ace settled in for four scoreless frames to wrap up his outing. While Stanyek did keep Ranney quiet at the plate over his final four innings of work, he was not the strikeout demon that he has been against other opponents. Stanyek entered that Monmouth County Tournament final with 21 strikeouts in 11 innings, but picked up a modest five in six innings against Ranney.
The first time around, Stanyek neutralized Ranney star leadoff hitter A.J. Gracia (0-for-2 with a walk), who eventually struck for the game-tying RBI double once Stanyek was out of the game. No. 2 hitter Ryan Costello was the first strikeout victim, but barreled Stanyek up in his second two at-bats, including a two-run triple in the second inning that gave the Panthers a 4-2 lead.
Second baseman Jack Tallent and shortstop Brett Wehringer both hit the ball hard to the pull side in the first inning as well, but Stanyek limited the hard contact after Costello took him off the wall in rightfield in the second inning. The top of Ranney’s lineup features three left-hand hitters (Gracia, Costello and Diego Tavarez), which Stanyek can handle thanks to a quality changeup that complements his easy low-90’s velocity.
Ranney’s offense posted 28 runs in the first two rounds of the tournament, but had to sweat out its SCT semifinal game vs. Rumson. The Bulldogs tied the game in the top of the fifth inning against Ranney starter Nick Coniglio and Gracia, but Gracia immediately answered to lead off the bottom of the fifth with his eighth homer of the season and 25th of his career. Gracia pulled off a similar act in the MCT championship game vs. RBC, giving up the lead in the top of the seventh, then ripping a game-tying double in the bottom of the inning.
Tallent has been an ideal No. 4 hitter this season with his ability to drive in runs, while Tavarez and shortstop Brett Wehringer make for unique middle-of-the-order hitters. Tavarez is a masterful bunter and has exceptional bat control that allows Ranney to attack in several different ways with power before and after him in the lineup. Wehringer is a similar hitter to Tavarez and a defensive standout at shortstop, but is also a dependable hitter with runners in scoring position.
Catcher Lou Spadafora has been Ranney’s starting catcher since 2019 and has come up with plenty of big hits in his Ranney career, while sophomore Curtis Chropuvka is the lone underclassman in the lineup, playing leftfield. Enrique Beltra and Glen Cantalupo round out the order, with Cantalupo making a major impact in the MCT final by leading off the winning rally with a single.
Turning to the mound, Gracia has mostly pitched in relief this season and has won four games in relief for Ranney. Before he gets into Sunday’s game as a pitcher, he will play centerfield behind classmate and fellow left-hander Marcello Mastroianni. In the MCT championship game, Mastroianni allowed three runs – one of them earned – on six hits and three walks in five innings before turning the ball over to Gracia for the sixth. Four of Mastroianni’s five strikeouts came consecutively, with the Georgetown commit punching out the side in the second and striking out Stanyek to lead off the third.
With Ranney earning a first-round bye in the NJSIAA Tournament and four days between Sunday’s final and Friday’s state-tournament opener, Mastroianni and Gracia will both be allowed to exhaust whatever number of pitches is required.
Red Bank Catholic (20-4, 10-2 in Class A Central)
Head Coach: Buddy Hausmann
SCT Championships: 4 (2022, 2021, 2019, 2011)
SCT Final Appearances: 8 (2022, 2021, 2019, 2017, 2015, 2011, 2005, 1985)
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 15 Point Beach, 14-2; No. 7 Middletown North, 4-2; No. 6 CBA, 3-1
Alex Stanyek, Sr., P/DH
Sean Griggs, Jr., 3B
Frank Scrivanic, Sr., 1B
Shane Andrus, Sr., C
Dylan Passo, So., RF
Matt Brunner, Jr., CF
Brendan Kopec, Sr., LF
Christian Condon, Sr., 2B
Max Dantoni, So., SS
Projected Starting Pitcher (With 2023 Stats)
Alex Stanyek, Sr., RHP (1-0, 1.23 ERA, 17 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 26 K)
Available Pitchers (With available pitch count)
Steve Svenson, Jr., RHP (110)
Dominic Mallamaci, Sr., RHP (110)
Ethan Marzo, Sr., RHP (110)
Ryan Prior, So., RHP (110)
Anthony Nannini, Sr., LHP (110)
Brandon Hendrickson, Jr., RHP (110)
Declan Leary, Jr., RHP
Red Bank Catholic: A Closer Look
Ranney has been the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 all season long and will probably remain in that spot even if Red Bank Catholic wins on Sunday night. With that being said, the Caseys are not so far behind. Ranney has been the Shore’s most dominant offensive club with 261 runs scored and a run differential of plus-199 in its 26 games. RBC, however, has been the Shore’s top run-prevention squad, with just 51 runs allowed in 24 games this season.
RBC’s pitching and defense have been the best in the conference despite Stanyek making only three starts this season. The six runs by Ranney is the highest total by any RBC opponent this season and it was just barely enough to upend the Caseys. All four of Red Bank Catholic’s losses are by a margin of either one or two runs, with three of the losses coming by one run and two of those losses ending with the winning run scoring in the final at-bat.
In the Monmouth County Tournament final on May 10, Ranney touched Stanyek for only three hits, but also struck out just five times. By testing the Red Bank Catholic defense early, the Panthers scratched two early unearned runs across in a game in which every run was critical. Sunday’s game will be no different, so Stanyek will be looking to hit the ground running in the first inning after he needed two innings to settle in during his last start.
At the plate, Red Bank Catholic was the more consistent offensive team in the MCT final. The Caseys outhit Ranney, 9-6, led by junior centerfielder Matt Brunner’s 3-for-4 game with two RBI. Brunner was in the midst of an RBI surge and after driving in three in last Saturday’s round-of-16 win over Point Beach, he led the team with 26 RBI – a total that is still tops on the Caseys roster.
Brunner has been hitting in the No. 6 spot in the order, which has been prime position for driving in runs given how good the five hitters in front of him are. Stanyek found his power stroke Thursday against CBA, against whom he went 2-for-3 with a laser single and a majestic solo home run to centerfield.
Alabama commit and third baseman Sean Griggs follows Stanyek in the order, giving RBC a one-two punch at the top of the lineup similar to what Ranney boasts in Gracia and Costello. Like Ranney, RBC doubles up with left-handers in the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in the order, with senior first baseman Frank Scrivanic in the three-hole. Scrivanic has shown a knack for hitting high-level pitching in big games, which includes tough left-handed pitching. Facing Mastroianni and Gracia, Scrivanic went 2-for-4 with a picturesque line-drive single through the middle vs. Mastroianni and a rally-starting double in the seventh vs. Gracia. In last year’s SCT final, Scrivanic went 2-for-2 against current Auburn freshman left-hander Zach Crotchfelt.
Senior catcher Shane Andrus has rewarded coach Buddy Hausmann for batting him in the cleanup spot with 21 RBI, including the game-tying RBI in the seventh inning of the MCT final and two RBI in the SCT semifinal win over CBA on Thursday. According to Hausmann, Andrus has been playing through an undiagnosed foot injury that has prompted him to wear a walking boot off the field. It has not held him back at the plate and, more remarkably, behind the plate as Red Bank Catholic’s catcher.
Sophomore outfielder and Notre Dame commit Dylan Passo has racked up 20 RBI out of the No. 5 spot in the lineup and has been on fire over the last two weeks, in particular. During the three SCT games, Passo is 5-for-9 with a triple, homer and six RBI.
With Stanyek on the mound, Brendan Kopec has been playing in leftfield, with Passo shifting from left to rightfield in place of Stanyek. Kopec has shown extra-base power over the course of the season and has handled his spot in the outfield admirably considering he is filling in for one third of an outfield that stacks up with the best in the state as a defensive unit.
Second baseman Christian Condon and Max Dantoni have been defensive stalwarts and tough outs as well in rounding out the lineup. Mastroianni overpowered the bottom of the RBC order the first time through the lineup on May 10 and the two middle infielders went a combined 0-for-6 in the game, but both put the ball in play the rest of the game and Condon worked a 10-pitch walk in his second plate appearance.
Red Bank Catholic’s bench is more of a factor than Ranney’s, with the Caseys deploying a regular courtesy runner in A.J. Sciametta and even summoning freshman Charlie Stumberger to pinch-run in the MCT, when he scored the go-ahead run on Brunner’s RBI single in the top of the seventh.
On the mound is where things could get interesting for the Caseys. If all goes well, Stanyek will finish the game, but the George Washington commit has not thrown a pitch in the seventh inning yet this season. In the May 10 game vs. Ranney, Stanyek left with the lead through six innings and the Panthers recorded three straight hits off junior Steve Svenson to win the game. Svenson is a Seton Hall commit who has given up as many earned runs in 30 innings as a starter this season (five) as he has in 1 2/3 innings as a reliever. In his last outing – a 4-2 win over Middletown North in the SCT quarterfinals, Svenson allowed two first inning runs, then shut the hot-hitting Lions out the rest of the way in a complete-game win.
Svenson also closed out last year’s SCT final vs. Jackson Memorial in dominant fashion as a sophomore, when he was brilliant coming out of the Caseys bullpen. He is still likely RBC’s best option, although he is not the only one. Senior right-hander and Marist commit Ethan Marzo was warming up Thursday in case Declan Leary could not finish the semifinal win over CBA, which he did on 99 pitches.
RBC has been tough to beat with Stanyek on the mound over the last two seasons, but his outings have come against the Caseys toughest opponents, which is why he has only accumulated four wins despite boasting a 0.95 ERA in 51 1/3 innings over the past two seasons combined.
If the Caseys can pull off the upset and end Ranney’s 19-game winning streak, they will make some history of their own. No team in the 43-year history of the Shore Conference Tournament has won four consecutive titles and even though RBC’s four titles would come in a five-year stretch because of the canceled 2020 tournament, no team has won four in five years either.
Either Ranney will lose for the first time in 20 games or RBC will lose its first SCT game since 2018 – a streak of 15 straight tournament wins. The SCT has been RBC’s domain, but 2023, to this point, has been the year of the Panthers.
Prediction: Ranney, 4-3