Baseball – Shore Sports Network 2021 All-Shore First Team
2021 Shore Sports Network All-Shore Team
Mike Damato, Jr., Catcher/Pitcher, Manchester
With a roster heavy on players who were freshmen playing at the sub-varsity level two years ago, Manchester was an unknown heading into the season. Led by Damato and fellow first-year varsity starter Logan Duffy, Manchester was a tournament darling from mid-may through mid-June. Damato was the team’s do-it-all standout, playing both third-base and catcher in the field, batting either third or second in the batting order and also serving as the team’s No. 1 pitcher. Damato started the season playing on the infield but took over the catching duties early in the year when he was not on the mound.
Damato was an extra-base-hit machine, tying for the Shore Conference lead in doubles and finishing tied for second with 17 extra-base hits. Among players whose primary defensive position was catcher, Damato led the field in both home runs and slugging percentage and finished second in both average and RBI. On the mound, Damato finished 10th at the Shore in innings pitched, was one of 14 players in the conference to win at least six games and picked up NJSIAA Tournament wins at Haddon Heights and West Deptford. Speaking of the NJSIAA Tournament, Damato hit .368 with two doubles, a home run and four RBI during Manchester’s run to its first South Jersey Group II championship since 2003.
Dillon Downs, Sr., Ocean
It took until May 6 – the day of Ocean’s eighth game of the 2021 season – for Downs to start a varsity baseball game as a senior and it was not because he was hurt. Downs was on the bench-end of a preseason position battle but, as Ocean coach Cip Apicelli tells it, he put on batting-practice displays so impressive that Apicelli had to find an ideal time to give him a chance to swing the bat in a real game. That chance came against Shore on May 6 and Downs did not let it slip away. The senior went 2-for-3 with a double and a home run in his first start and proceeded to hit four home runs in his first three starts – including a two-homer game against Red Bank.
That in and of itself would have been a great story for Downs in his senior season, but the Spartans left-handed masher wasn’t satisfied with being just a fun story for a week. His season consisted of only 59 plate appearances, but he dominated in that small sample by finishing tied for second in the Shore in home runs, third in slugging percentage and 11th in RBI. Only eight players in the entire conference had more extra-base hits than Downs’s 14 and all eight had at leas 75 plate appearances. Top competition also did not scare off Downs, who picked up hits off Jackson Memorial’s Matt Potok and Red Bank Catholic’s Dylan Wanagiel and homered in back-to-back tournament games against Middletown North ace Danny Frontera and Colts Neck left-hander Anthony Gubitosi. Ocean played in only four tournament games but Downs left his mark, going 6-for-12 with a double, two home runs and 7 RBI.
Chris Ellison, Sr., Second Base, Howell
Ellison entered the year a Cornell commit and an already-accomplished pitcher, but an arm injury kept him from pitching early in the season and he was shut down after throwing just one inning. Rather than blend in as a designated hitter with a solid offensive track record, Ellison turned himself into the Shore’s best hitter while still playing a quality second base game-in and game-out for the 16-11 Rebels. If the above numbers don’t resonate at first glance, here is a different way to look at it: Ellison finished No. 1 in the Shore Conference in home runs, RBI and extra-base hits (21) while placing in the top 10 in slugging percentage (second), batting average (seventh), hits (seventh) and runs scored (ninth). Not only was he the top home-run hitter in the Shore Conference this season; Ellison’s 11 home runs led all of New Jersey and were nearly double the six players who finished tied for second at the Shore with six.
One common knock of home-run hitters at Howell are that the Rebels’ home field is a homer haven and often inflates home-run totals. With seven of his longballs coming at home, Ellison indeed racked up the dingers at home, but a closer look at the splits show a player who roasted pitchers in batter’s boxes all over the area. Ellison hit .500 with a .583 on-base and 1.050 slugging percentage in 48 plate appearances at home, while putting up a not-so-far-off .415/.510/.976 line in 51 plate appearances on the road. Ellison indeed hit three more home runs at home, but with seven doubles and two triples on the road, he hit five more extra-base hits on the road (13) than he did at home (eight). The Rebels senior also split his 38 RBI evenly between the home and road games and did plenty of damages in tournament games: 8-for-17 with a double, three home runs and nine RBI in six games.
Ty Beck, Sr., Shortstop/Pitcher, Jackson Memorial
Although Jackson Memorial opened the 2021 season as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network coming off its run to the Last Dance World Series state championship game in the summer of 2020, the Jaguars returned only two starting position players: Beck and junior second baseman Chris Cartnick. Beck was the only of the two with starting varsity experience and as the shortstop and senior leader, Beck took his game to the next level. He crushed more home runs and scored more runs than any other shortstop and matched Colts Neck’s Collin Kratzer for the most walks while finishing third among shortstops in RBI. Beck hit a more run-of-the-mill .325 at the plate, but it was not because he swung and missed too much: in 103 plate appearances, Beck struck out just five times.
Beck’s power surge came early in the season, highlighted by a career-best hitting performance in an 11-0 win over Randolph at the annual Autism Awareness even in North Brunswick. With no career home runs entering the game, Beck belted a two-run home run, followed by a game-ending grand slam in the bottom of the sixth to cap a six-RBI evening. Beck hit his fifth home run on May 10, but ended the season with three of his five doubles coming in Jackson Memorial’s last five games – all of which were in either in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV or Ocean County Tournaments. When Jackson Memorial needed big innings, Beck stepped up as the team’s closer and even gave the Jaguars a huge performance to pick up a win over Kingsway in the SJ IV quarterfinals. Beck will continue his career at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.
Cole Manfro, Sr., Shortstop/Pitcher, Brick Memorial
While Ellison entered the year with the most pitching experience among the First-Team All-Shore infielders and Beck was a versatile arm over 15 1/3 innings, Manfro was the biggest contributor on the mound of any of the listed offensive players on the All-Shore First Team. The senior was Brick Memorial’s ace from game No. 1, although game one – a 14-8 Mustangs loss to Ranney – was his shakiest outing of the season. Manfro then swallowed losses in each of his next two starts before ripping off four straight wins, during which he fired 25 consecutive scoreless innings. By the end of the season, Manfro’s 60 1/3 innings trailed only Shane Panzini of Red Bank Catholic.
The workhorse characteristics on the mound were all the more impressive considering Manfro played shortstop when he was not pitching – including after he reached the single-game pitch limit in the 13-inning Ocean County Tournament final against Central. On top of serving the role of ace and shortstop, Manfro was also Brick Memorial’s most productive hitter, tying Wall’s Gabe Cavazzoni for the most RBI among shortstops while hitting better than .400. In that OCT championship game – in which he pitched 6 1/3 strong innings in taking the no-decision – Manfro went 5-for-7 with two RBI while facing Central’s top two pitchers throughout the season in Cam Leiter and Connor Shea. The trip to the OCT final was the first in nine years for the Mustangs, which got a lot out of an inexperienced group led by a do-it-all senior leader in Manfro.
Evan Agrapides, Sr., Centerfield, Central
Two years ago, Agrapides was a promising sophomore on a Central team that struggled to replace an accomplished 2018 senior class. Since then, Agrapides grew into himself as a top-of-the-order hitter and centerfielder while his team welcomed in a wave of young talent that mixed in to help Central finish as the No. 2 ranked team in Ocean County to finish out the year. Leading the way was Agrapides, who put together a record-setting year hitting out of Central’s leadoff spot. Not only did he lead the Shore Conference with his 45 hits, but his total set a new single-season record for the program. Agrapides finished fifth in the Shore Conference in both average and on-base percentage and second in both categories among players outside of the Class B Central division.
Agrapides was also a clutch hitter for Central throughout the season, delivering late game-tying RBI singles in wins over Toms River South and Point Boro. Central played in nine tournament games throughout the season and Agrapides was locked-in during each of the Ocean County, Shore Conference and South Jersey Group III Tournaments. He hit two of his four home runs on the season during the state tournament, which came in back-to-back wins over Seneca and Hammonton. In those nine tournament games, Agrapides hit .407 with three doubles, two home runs a .540 on-base percentage and a .741 slugging percentage. That tournament performance was part of an overall astounding performance vs. top competition: against all-division pitchers (and equivalent pitchers from outside the area), Agrapides turned in a slash line of .543/.646/.743 with four doubles, a home run and 10 RBI in 44 plate appearances.
Alex Stanyek, So., Right field/Pitcher, Red Bank Catholic
During the first week of practice ahead of what would have been the 2020 season, Stanyek was pushing to be a freshman starter for Red Bank Catholic. Since that 2020 season never happened, the talented two-way Class of 2023 standout – who is also a stellar defender in the outfield – did not get a chance to get his feet wet at the varsity level. Fast-forward to the start of his junior year and Stanyek started the season slowly – both at the plate and on the mound. After a game against Rumson-Fair Haven in which he went 0-for-5 and took the loss on the mound in extra innings, Stanyek was hitting a respectable-but-unspectacular .278 with three extra-base hits and 10 RBI through 11 games while allowing three runs, six hits and six walks in five innings on the mound.
From that point on, Stanyek took off, hitting .438 with six doubles, a triple, three home runs and 23 RBI over RBC’s final 19 games while also finding his groove as Red Bank Catholic’s relief ace (17 strikeouts, two walks and a 0.84 ERA over his final 8 1/3 innings, spanning four appearances). He hit a clutch, game-tying, three-run home run at Rumson-Fair Haven in a game that wound up ending in a tie due to rain, then went off during Red Bank Catholic’s run to three tournament championship games – one of which the Caseys won. Stanyek hit .450 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 16 of his 33 RBI during tournament play and all of those 8 1/3 innings on the mound to close the season came in tournament games. The 33 RBI ranked Stanyek third in the Shore Conference and he picked up those 16 tournament RBI while hitting primarily leadoff for the Caseys down the stretch.
Patrick Eagone, Sr., Left field/Centerfield, Middletown South
Sophomore sensation Ben Schild and senior slugger Joe Stanzione grabbed the late-season headlines for Middletown South as the Eagles completed their march to the NJSIAA Group IV championship, but Eagone was as integral as any member of the team during its decorated 22-win 2021. During that championship run, the senior outfielder and leadoff hitter had two huge swings – one a two-run double in a 12-7 win at Hunterdon Central in the Central Group IV semifinals and the other a two-run single in the Group IV championship game against Montclair. Eagone was an on-base machine during that six-game run, going 5-for-15 with six walks and two hit-by-pitches – good for a tournament on-base percentage of .565.
Eagone’s knack for reaching base was a constant throughout Middletown South’s season and particularly in his team’s 12 tournament games between the Monmouth County, Shore Conference and state tournaments. He was one of four players in the loaded Class A North division to hit .400 or better and his .542 on-base percentage for the season trailed only Ellison among Class A North players. In those 12 tournament games, he was even better, batting .444 with a .593 on-base percentage, including a double and his lone home run of the season – a grand slam at Red Bank Catholic in the MCT. The Shore Conference was loaded with outfield talent this season and while a number flashed louder tools and posted bigger power numbers, Eagone was as consistent as can be in the leadoff spot while facing the toughest competition and jumpstarting the lineup of the Group IV champions.
Nick Danbrowney, Sr., Pitcher/Outfield, Barnegat
Whether he was hitting or pitching, Danbrowney was all about power on the baseball diamond for Barnegat this season. He started the season throwing 90-plus-mile-per-hour darts and hitting rockets all over the outfield. He struck out 37 batters in his first three starts, struck out double-digit batters in four of his seven starts and pitched five complete games on his way to finishing 10th in the Shore Conference in strikeouts and 15th in ERA. In a loss at Lacey, Danbrowney struck out a career-high 14 and at one point in the game, he struck out 11 straight batters.
At the plate, Danbrowney was even better. The senior finished No. 4 in the conference in batting average (first among players outside of the Class B Central division), tied for second in home runs and fifth in slugging percentage. He was the only Shore Conference player to finish in the top-10 in multiple major hitting categories while also finishing top-10 in at least one major pitching category (strikeouts). Danbrowney came through in key games on a number of occasions as well: he crushed two homers in his 12-strikeout game against Pinelands to help Barnegat clinch a share of the Class B South championship, then went deep in Barnegat’s opening-round win over Middle Township in the South Jersey Group II Playoffs. After breaking out as one of the Shore’s top two-way players in 2021, Danbrowney will continue his career at Felician University in the fall.
Mark Capell, Sr., First Base/Pitcher, Marlboro
Although his offensive numbers were not quite as robust as the one’s Danbrowney put up and his ERA was nearly a full run higher, Capell made a strong case as the Shore’s top two-way player other than Panzini based on his production within the rugged Class A North division, as well as what he meant to a Marlboro team that finished No. 5 in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10. Capell joined Panzini and Middletown North’s Danny Frontera as the only two players in the Shore Conference to pitch at least 40 innings and post a slugging percentage over .600 – a sign of both a staff ace and a legitimate power hitter. He combined both talents in a 16-1 rout of Howell in which Capell allowed one run and struck out seven over five innings and went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI.
Marlboro’s 10th game of the year – a win over No. 6 Colts Neck – marked the start of Capell getting locked in at the plate. The senior hit .405 with eight of his 10 extra-base hits and 15 of his 19 RBI on the season over the final 15 games, during which Marlboro went 11-4. That included a towering solo home run in a Central Jersey Group IV semifinal win over Old Bridge that pushed the Mustangs into a sectional final for the first time since 1972. On top of his hitting, Capell pitched Marlboro to a win over top-seeded Manalapan in the prior round and allowed just one earned run in the championship game at Middletown South – a hard-luck loss to Eagles right-hander Matt Pontari. After carrying Marlboro deeper into the state tournament than the Mustangs had been in nearly 50 years, Capell will head to Yale to continue his baseball career.
Shane Panzini, Sr., RHP, Red Bank Catholic
Panzini was the Shore Conference’s top player in 2021 and it was a runaway. The numbers speak for themselves: as a pitcher, he led the Shore in innings, wins, strikeouts and WHIP and as a hitter, he finished top-25 in home runs, RBI and on-base percentage while falling just two points shy of hitting .400 during his final high-school season. As great as the numbers were, they don’t fully do justice to Panzini’s season, which elevated Red Bank Catholic to the No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference despite an inexperienced roster beyond the Caseys ace.
Read about Panzini’s dominant season as both the Shore Sports Network Player and Pitcher of the Year.
Ben Schild, So., RHP, Middletown South
The Shore Conference has developed a lineage of great pitchers in recent years and during a brilliant sophomore year, Schild inserted himself on the chain that runs from Luca Dalatri (CBA) and Jay Groome (Barnegat), to Tommy Sheehan (Manasquan) and Trey Dombroski (Wall), to Pat Reilly (CBA) and Panzini and now to Zach Crotchfelt (Jackson Memorial) and Schild. There were times Schild looked absolutely untouchable, which is reflected in his Shore-Conference-best ERA and spotless 8-0 record. He was overpowering in a 12-strikeout, 2-hit shutout in his season debut against Ramapo, then followed that up with dominant outings against both Marlboro and Christian Brothers Academy. Schild’s All-Shore debut high-school season hit another gear when he shutout rival Middletown North in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, outdueling Lions ace Danny Frontera.
Schild was equally impressive pitching in games that saw him battle without his best stuff. He pitched into the sixth inning in beating heavy-hitting Rumson-Fair Haven in the SCT semifinals and managed four scoreless innings at Hunterdon Central in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Playoffs despite battling a high pitch count and multiple weather delays. Against Clearview, Schild departed trailing, 3-1, but his effort kept the Eagles close enough to come back and win to advance to the Group IV final. Once in the championship game, Schild returned to his dominant form, pitching a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and one walk to deliver the Eagles their first state championship since 1996. Schild will return one of the state’s top arms in each of the next two seasons.
Zach Crotchfelt, Jr., LHP, Jackson Memorial
In a Shore Conference stacked with hard-throwing pitchers with overpowering arsenals, no one was harder to hit than Crotchfelt. The 6-foot-5 Jaguars left-hander and Auburn commit entered his junior season on a mission after missing a chance at a breakout sophomore campaign in 2020 and dominated from the outset by pitching a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts in a six-inning win over Randolph, with the lone hit coming on an infield single. The low hit total was routine for Crotchfelt, who pitched at least 5 2/3 innings in six of his seven starts and allowed one hit in three of them. Crotchfelt’s 2.77 hits per seven innings was the top mark in the Shore Conference, edging out Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year Shane Panzini (2.95) for the top mark among Shore starters.
As one might expect, in addition to being hard to hit, it was hard just to make contact against Crotchfelt, who struck out more batters per seven innings (12.87) than every Shore Conference pitcher with 30 or more innings other than Panzini (13.05) and Manalapan junior Tyler Kane (13.02). Crotchfelt was the only pitcher in the Shore Conference to strike out 15 batters in a game twice this season – once in a four-hitter in a 3-1 win over Central Regional and another time while throwing 6 2/3 one-hit innings at Brick. The earned run vs. Central was the lone run allowed by Crotchfelt in his first six starts and he came out firing in his seventh before inclement weather halted the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV semifinal at Williamstown and suspended it until the following day. Crotchfelt came back to pitch one day later and gave up a season-high four runs on six hits pitching for a second day in a row. Now that the talented junior has experienced a full season, he is poised to return as one of the state’s top pitchers and an arm to watch in the 2022 MLB Draft.
Danny Frontera, Sr., RHP, Middletown North
Frontera appeared to be on his way to a decorated career at Middletown North after making a significant contribution for the Lions as a freshman in 2018 but a torn ulner collateral ligament (UCL) wiped out his sophomore season as a pitcher and his would-be return campaign in 2020 was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. In those two years, though, there were glimpses of what Frontera could offer, as he played designated hitter during the tail-end of his sophomore season despite undergoing Tommy John Surgery the prior November, then turned in a dominant pair of outings as a pitcher for the Lions in the Last Dance World Series in July of 2020.
Finally, Frontera returned in full force for his senior year in 2021 and made an all-around impact for Middletown North. He finished tied for fifth in the Shore Conference with 73 strikeouts and among pitchers with 30 or more innings, was third in strikeouts per seven innings with 12.46. In his second start of the year, Frontera surrendered a leadoff hit against Long Branch, then proceeded to strike out 17 batters in a six-inning, one-hit shutout. Frontera also picked up wins over Howell and Ocean, the latter of which was an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Playoff win in which Frontera blasted two home runs and drove in four. Two of Frontera’s best outings came in losses – one a 1-0 defeat at Manalapan in which the Seton Hall commit struck out 12 and another 13-strikeout performance in a hard-luck loss to Schild and Middletown South in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Colin Dowlen, Sr., RHP, Middletown North
Middletown North ended its season 11-10 and by losing six out of its last seven games despite boasting what was Monmouth County’s best one-two pitching punch. It probably did not help that the duo pitched only 19 of the 49 innings during that stretch, with arm discomfort on the part of Dowlen serving as a primary culprit for the lack of innings for the two hurlers. Dowlen closed the season with four solid innings in a state-tournament loss to Colts Neck, limiting the Cougars to one earned run on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts before exiting.
Prior to the limited outing to finish his and his team’s season, Dowlen pitched what was quite possibly the best game by any Shore Conference pitcher during the 2021 season. Facing eventual Group IV champion Middletown South on May 18, Dowlen mowed down the first 18 Eagles batters of the game before finally issuing a walk to lead off the seventh inning. Dowlen bounced back to strike out three of the next four batters to cap a 15-strikeout no-hitter against the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Dowlen also beat Red Bank, Howell and No. 5 Marlboro over the course of the season and took a shutout into the seventh inning against Manalapan before ultimately losing, 1-0, to the Braves and ace Joe Mazza. Dowlen has indicated he plans on taking advantage of the NJSIAA’s bridge year, in which he can attend a local junior college while playing for his high school team for one more season – all while college programs continue to gain interest.