Baseball – SSN Top 10, April 23
The tournament season officially began this week with Matawan’s 12-inning win over Freehold Township and the Monmouth County Tournament will really get going when the round of 16 commences on Saturday. There have been a few teams that have surprised early this year, but one dynamic that has not been a surprise is the strength of B North. Preseason favorites Red Bank Catholic and Middletown South are both on the brink of falling out of contention for the top spot, but both are perfect outside of division play.
Meanwhile, the Shore’s No. 1 team appears to have taken kindly to the label and while a change is always a week away, the defending No. 1 is entrenched at the moment.
1. Toms River South (7-0, 6-0) Last Week: 1
The difference between the Indians and the No. 2 team right now is wide enough that Toms River South could lose a game or two in a week and still likely be safe in the top spot. They were the No. 3 team to open the year and have been far more consistent than the two teams (Toms River North and Red Bank Catholic) ranked ahead of them to open the year. The Indians have not had to delve too deep into the pitching staff to this point, so maybe opponents will have a better shot to beat them if the staff gets stretched out at any point.
2. Wall (9-2, 6-2) Last Week: 5
Wall is the second team in as many weeks to go from unranked in the preseason to No. 2 at the Shore and the Crimson Knights got here by beating the other team to do it. Wall topped Monmouth, 3-2, on Friday and scored two in the seventh on Saturday to beat Jackson Liberty for its sixth straight win. All six of the wins on Wall’s current streak are by margins of one or two runs and eight of the Crimson Knights’ nine wins are by margins of three runs or fewer. Both of Wall’s losses are also by one and two runs, respectively.
3. Monmouth (8-2, 6-2) Last Week: 2
Monmouth has two different four-game winning streaks this season and the latest just ended with a well-played 3-2 loss to Wall. The Falcons offense cooled off a bit this past week as they scored 11 runs in three games – a much tamer pace than the 10 runs per game they scored over the five games prior. Even in its lower-scoring games, though, Monmouth has had the pitching and defense to pull them out and as long as that continues, the Falcons will have staying power in a crowded B North race.
4. Toms River North (5-2, 4-2) Last Week: 4
The beginning of the week started with a humbling 11-2 loss to No. 1 Toms River South, but another two wins to finish it up, plus a couple of losses by CBA help the Mariners hold at No. 4. Toms River North bounced back from the Toms River South loss by beating Toms River East, 6-2, and handling Brick, 9-1, while snapping a six-game winning streak by the Green Dragons. The Mariners and Toms River North are set for a rematch Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Park.
5. St. Rose (8-0, 6-0) Last Week: 8
The Purple Roses continue their slow climb up the rankings and push into the top 10 this week, although that is more thanks to what Manasquan has done. St. Rose overwhelmed Keyport and Henry Hudson by a combined score of 30-0 this past week, but should get a much better challenge this coming week. The Roses open the week with a trip to Point Beach and will also play one-loss Lacey on Thursday, which is a big game for the rankings for both teams.
6. Manasquan (7-3, 6-2) Last Week: Not ranked
With a strong top-two pitchers in place, Manasquan’s season was supposed to come down to its offense and that offense has started to deliver over the last two weeks. Since losing a 14-0 decision to St. Rose, the Warriors are averaging eight runs per game and have gone 5-1, with just one 5-3 loss to Wall as a blemish. Throw in the fact that Tommy Sheehan is still looking to hit his stride on the mound, and there is potential for Manasquan to continue to improve.
7. Christian Brothers Academy (8-3, 6-3) Last Week: 3
Including Sunday’s win over Westfield, CBA has played six straight games that were decided by one run and has gone 3-3, making them 4-3 in such games this year. The last two before Sunday were losses, as Colts Neck beat the Colts 1-0 and Marlboro scored in the bottom of the seventh to win 6-5. The losses at the end of the week dropped CBA behind Manalapan in the Class A North standings, but the Colts still own a 9-1 win over the Braves and are slated to play them again on Tuesday at the Academy.
8. Middletown North (6-4, 4-3) Last Week: Not ranked
The Lions appeared to be in some trouble after losing 9-1 to Monmouth with Tyler Ras on the mound, but have since won four straight while watching the hitting start to come around. The Lions beat Red Bank Catholic behind Chris Price and his knuckleball, then scored 12 runs in a win over Middletown South. They capped the week by beating Red Bank in the Monmouth County Tournament and head into a big week with some momentum.
9. Red Bank Catholic (6-4, 4-4) Last Week: 6
The No. 2 team in the preseason top 10 was in some danger of sliding out of the top 10 altogether, but a win over Delbarton on Saturday night kept the Caseys in position to get back into the top five with a good week. Although the pitching hasn’t quite materialized and the defense could stand to improve, RBC still has an imposing lineup that could swing the Caseys back to the top of B North before the race is decided.
10. Manalapan (10-2, 6-1) Last Week: Not ranked
The Braves hold the Shore’s longest winning streak at nine and will have a chance to avenge lopsided losses to CBA and Red Bank Catholic this week. The Braves play at CBA on Tuesday in a critical Class A North game and will could earn a trip to Count Basie Park to play RBC on Sunday if they can beat Long Branch and Wall on Saturday in the Monmouth County Tournament.
Freehold Boro (6-4, 5-3) Last Week: 7 – A loss to Manalapan leaves the Colonials on the outside looking in but the offense has come alive recently, which could make Freehold a dangerous draw as the calendar turns to May.
Ocean (4-6, 2-5) Last Week: 9 – The Spartans have not won since returning from Myrtle Beach and face an uphill climb to get back into the Top 10.
Middletown South (5-5, 2-5) Last Week: 10 – The Eagles’ 3-0 mark outside of B North and 2-5 record within it highlight how tough the division is this year.
On the Bubble
Lacey (9-1, 5-1) – The Lions are still on the doorstep and can kick the door in by beating St. Rose this week while maintaining their lead in the B South standings.
Matawan (8-3, 6-1) – The Huskies are the new frontrunner in A Central after beating Raritan 1-0 and followed that win up with a memorable 12-inning, walk-off win over Freehold Township in the MCT.
Brick (6-2, 3-1) – A 9-1 loss to Toms River North ended a six-game winning streak, but the Dragons still remain a player in A South.
Colts Neck (6-4, 4-3) – The Cougars have come on with consecutive wins over Marlboro, CBA and St. John Vianney, the latter of which earned them a game at Red Bank Catholic on Saturday in the MCT round of 16.