Baseball – Shore Sports Network Final Top 10
The parity we saw over the last two months that makes the high school baseball season at the Shore so unpredictable and exciting can also leave plenty of unanswered questions. The simultaneous tournaments at the end of the season and the scrambled pitching rotations make it harder to answer the question: “Who is No. 1?” Last year, it was Jackson Memorial taking the No. 1 spot despite losing in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals and the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and this year’s No. 1 team has a similar profile. What separates the final No. 1 teams of the past two seasons is success in both the methodical division season and during the NJSIAA Tournament sprint.
Sorting through this list of 10 is an arduous task but there is no doubt about which 10 teams should be included to end the year. No team outside the Top 10 finished with more than 15 wins while the lowest win-total within the Top 10 is 17, which belongs to the regular-season champion from the division that very well could have been the Shore’s best in 2019. That is baseball at the Shore: some questions were answered, some were not but the journey to the finish line did not lack for memorable moments.
1. Wall (27-4, 12-2) Preseason: 2
Wall is not the slam-dunk No. 1 team of 2019 on account of the Shore Conference Tournament loss to Manalapan, but as the only team to win an overall NJSIAA Group championship, the Crimson Knights are the only team to win the prize that every team seeks when the year begins. With the Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA Tournaments running concurrently, that forces teams to prioritize tournaments and Wall won the tournament it prioritized. Its first three losses were all by one run and the SCT loss to Manalapan was the result of a poor first inning. Other than that, Wall did exactly what every team enters the season thinking of doing when it won the Group III championship and celebrated on the final day of the high school season in N.J.
2. Red Bank Catholic (23-6, 14-0) Preseason: 3
Although the Caseys did not get past the quarterfinal rounds of either the MCT or the South Jersey Non-Public A bracket, they finished off their first Shore Conference Tournament championship in eight years and made a compelling case to be the Shore’s No. 1 team. RBC has three wins over Manasquan, one over Jackson Memorial and the capper vs. Manalapan to headline its resume, while its losses have to come to heavy-hitters in Delbarton, Middletown South, Manasquan, Jackson Memorial, Bergen Catholic and Notre Dame. If the SCT were earlier in the calendar to give every team the opportunity to go all-out in winning it, RBC’s case for No. 1 would be undeniable. Instead, it is unsettled business and the No. 2 spot in the final SSN rankings for 2019.
3. Manalapan (24-9, 11-3) Preseason: 9
To say that Manalapan’s finish to the 2019 season was emotional would be an understatement. The Braves watched their pursuit of a Group IV championship end on the heels to a controversial call that took the tying run off the board in the seventh inning of a 1-0 Group IV semifinal loss to Eastern. The next day, the team learned of the passing of a sophomore teammate in the program, then had to turn around and play the Shore Conference Tournament final vs. Red Bank Catholic one day later. Before the two losses in three days to Eastern and RBC, Manalapan proved itself to be as well-rounded as any team at the Shore, with a 2-1 record vs. CBA, a head-to-head win over Wall and a Central Jersey Group IV championship to its credit.
4. Christian Brothers Academy (18-7, 10-4) Preseason: 5
CBA was eliminated from the Shore Conference Tournament in the quarterfinal round, finished third in Class A North, lost at home in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals to St. Joseph of Metuchen, and went a combined 1-5 against Middletown South and Manalapan. On the flip side, the Colts won the Monmouth County Tournament for the ninth time by beating Trey Dombroski (Wall), Spencer Bauer (Manasquan) and Kevin Schoenberger (Ocean) in consecutive rounds – all of whom suffered their first losses of the season vs. CBA in the MCT (and in the case of Dombroski and Schoenberger, their only losses). In some cases, County Tournament runs can end up watered down because of a cluttered schedule, but CBA got no breaks during their title run and should be rewarded for it.
5. Point Pleasant Boro (23-7, 9-5) Preseason: 7
The Panthers showed they are a complete team in the Group II semifinals when senior Christian Aurin stepped up to take the ball on the mound with ace Nick Guzzi and No. 2 Sam Collins both ineligible and picked up the win thanks to 5 2/3 strong innings of his pitching and seven strong innings by the Point Boro offense in an 8-4 win over West Deptford. With an Ocean County Tournament, Central Jersey Group II title and a first ever trip to a Group II final on the 2019 resume, Point Boro makes the jump into the top five over a team that finished five games ahead in the division and won two out of three meetings against the Panthers. At the end of the season, Point Boro played like the better team, beat quality Governor Livingston, Robbinsville and West Deptford teams on the way to the championship and had one of the Shore’s best pitching staffs. After coming up short in the regular season, the Panthers rose to the occasion with championships on the line.
6. Jackson Memorial (20-5, 12-2) Preseason: 1
After finishing 2018 No. 1 and beginning 2019 in the same spot, the Jaguars had a head-scratching season. They won 20 games, won the Class A South title and scored a number of resounding victories during the regular season against Jackson Liberty, Somerville, Bayonne, Red Bank Catholic and Manalapan. On the other hand, Jackson Memorial failed to get past the quarterfinal round in all three tournaments and were eliminated in two of them by teams that currently sport a losing record (Toms River East and Cherokee). Throw in a regular-season loss to Central (3-18) and three of the five losses are to teams well below the .500 mark. It was a shocking end for a team that won a South Jersey Group IV championship with basically the same cast and looked so dominant at times in 2019. Most of the group will be back again next year, but replacing hit machine Alex Iadisernia, shortstop Ahmir Cournier and left-hander Joe Princiotta will be plenty challenging.
7. Jackson Liberty (23-4, 14-0) Preseason: 4
For the third straight year, Jackson Liberty’s season ended on its home field in the Central Jersey Group III semifinal round and for the second time in three years, it came against a double-digit seed. No. 11 Northern Burlington quieted the Shore Conference’s highest-scoring team during 2019 in a 5-3 Greyhounds win before going on to lose to Wall in the sectional final. The Lions have given up 10 runs in each of their first three losses and pitching was a concern heading into the late stages of the state tournament, but it was an off-day hitting and some untimely defensive miscues that doomed the Lions. Despite the bitter finish, Jackson Liberty enjoyed the best season in its young history, breaking the single-season school record for wins, going unbeaten in B South play and reaching the Ocean County Tournament final for the first time.
8. Manasquan (17-6, 11-3) Preseason: 7
Manasquan’s bid for a championship season ended with a loss to Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, which followed a sectional quarterfinal exit in the Central Jersey Group III bracket. Despite those losses, the Warriors took a significant step forward this year and returned to the ranks of Group II contenders behind a deep pitching staff and a monster offensive season from senior third baseman and Monmouth University commit James Harmstead (.470 average, 9 home runs, 5 triples, 34 RBI in 89 plate appearances).
9. Middletown South (17-7, 12-2) Preseason: Not ranked
Like Jackson Memorial, Middletown South could not get past the quarterfinal round in any of the three tournaments, losing in the final eight in the MCT, SCT and Central Jersey Group IV – all at home. While that may seem like a disappointment, Middletown South entered the year with an untested pitching staff and 2018 First Team All-Shore shortstop and Seton Hall commit Aurelio Licata played in one game this season due to a shoulder injury. Throw in the fact that the Eagles were coming off a losing campaign in 2018 and the 17-7 finish with an outright Class A North championship become even greater accomplishments. The graduation of second baseman Robby Zega and catcher Trevor Brey will leave two big holes to fill in the lineup but the Eagles are set to return a strong core of current juniors and sophomores in 2020.
10. Ocean (20-8, 10-4) Preseason: Not ranked
Ocean’s season came to an end in the Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals, capping a season that included 20 wins – one of seven Shore teams to do so – a second-place finish in Class B North behind Wall and a trip to the Monmouth County Tournament championship game. The Spartans ran into a hot Northern Burlington team in the Central Group III Tournament to end their season but they are still significantly ahead of the rest of the field when it comes to locking up the No. 10 spot in the rankings.