Baseball – SSN Top 10, May 28
Last week’s Top 10 might have been the most clear-cut field of the season but with three road teams winning in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal round and some big-name teams losing in the NJSIAA Tournament, the Top-10 waters are a lot muddier this week.
More important that the actual order of teams this week is the potential each team has to rise. It could be that Team A is ranked ahead of Team B, but Team B has more to gain during the upcoming week while Team A is either finished with its season or playing in one fewer tournament.
With so much at stake this week, think of this week’s Top 10 as a walk-through leading up to the last one. Within a week, we will have a Shore Conference Tournament champion and perhaps even some sectional champions, which should make some of these decisions a little clearer.
1. Christian Brothers Academy (18-6, 10-4) Last Week: 2
CBA ascends to No. 1 despite being eliminated from the Shore Conference Tournament, finishing third in Class A North, and going a combined 1-5 against Middletown South and Manalapan. On the flip side, the Colts won the Monmouth County Tournament by beating Trey Dombroski (Wall), Spencer Bauer (Manasquan) and Kevin Schoenberger (Ocean) – all one-loss pitchers whose only loss came against CBA – in consecutive rounds. They are also still pushing in the loaded Non-Public A bracket of the NJSIAA Tournament and may have to at least get to the group final in order to finish No. 1 at the Shore, depending on how the rest of the locals fair.
2. Wall (23-3, 12-2) Last Week: 6
If not for a head-to-head loss to CBA with its ace in the mound, Wall would be the No. 1 team this week and might have even won the Monmouth County Tournament title. As it stands, the Crimson Knights are semifinalists in both the Central Jersey Group III and Shore Conference Tournaments and although there are still significant hurdles to clear in both, Wall seems to be clicking well enough to be considered favorites in both.
3. Manalapan (21-7, 11-3) Last Week: 8
In a week of drastic moves within the Top 10, the Braves make the biggest jump after marching into the semifinals of both the Central Jersey Group IV bracket and SCT. A come-from-behind win over CBA pushed Manalapan into the SCT semifinals, while wins over North Brunswick and South Brunswick secured a spot in the sectional semifinals vs. three-time defending champion Hunterdon Central. The Top 10 is still volatile enough that the Braves could finish outside the top five or rally to finish No. 1, so there Manalapan will have as much at stake this week as any team at the Shore.
4. Jackson Liberty (23-3, 14-0) Last Week: 5
With a large enough sample size at this point, it is safe to say Jackson Liberty is the best hitting team in the Shore Conference. The Lions are averaging 8.8 runs per game and could potentially play two more games in their hitter-friendly home park to pad those numbers even further. The pitching is still a bit of a wild card, but Shane Hickey has been steady over the past several weeks and senior Nick DeCarlo – who has the best stuff on the staff – was dominant in a short outing vs. Allentown on Friday. The pitching inconsistencies make beating aces tough, but it’s not because Jackson Liberty can’t score against them. The Lions have given up 10 runs in each of their three losses but have also won two tournament games in which they gave up 10. If they can find the formula on the pitching side for the last two weeks of the season, Jackson Liberty will be hard to beat.
5. Red Bank Catholic (21-6, 14-0) Last Week: 4
Although the Caseys did not get past the quarterfinal rounds of either the MCT or the South Jersey Non-Public A bracket, they still have a chance to finish No. 1 by winning the SCT and getting some help in the NJSIAA Tournament. Among the four SCT semifinalists – Manalapan, Wall and Manasquan being the others – RBC might be the favorite because of their ability to pitch their two co-aces in the final two rounds. Manasquan can do the same and Wall and Manalapan would likely follow suit if either lost in the state tournament on Tuesday, but the Caseys look like the tentative SCT favorite heading into the week.
6. Manasquan (17-5, 11-3) Last Week: 7
Like Red Bank Catholic, Manasquan will try to make the most out of an early NJSIAA Tournament exit by turning their deep pitching staff loose on the SCT field and capturing the program’s first ever conference tournament title. Ace Spencer Bauer will be plenty rested for Wednesday’s semifinal game against Red Bank Catholic – a team he one-hit in a 1-0 MCT quarterfinal win. If the Warriors can clear that penultimate hurdle, senior Mike Anthony will be ready to take the ball in the championship game, with senior James Harmstead and junior Alex Galvan waiting in the wings should Manasquan need relief help in either round. Despite a disappointing end to the Central Group II Tournament, Manasquan can still finish off a banner year with two more wins.
7. Jackson Memorial (20-5, 12-2) Last Week: 3
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.
8. Middletown South (17-7, 12-2) Last Week: 1
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.
9. Point Pleasant Boro (20-6, 9-5) Last Week: 9
At No. 9 in the rankings, Point Boro might seem on the outside looking in at the race for No. 1, but that is not the case. The Panthers are the sleeper to finish No. 1 if they can make the run at a Group II championship and with two big-game pitchers in Nick Guzzi and Sam Collins and a number of capable arms behind them, that’s not a radical notion. Point Boro has already won the Ocean County championship by beating Jackson Liberty and with two more wins in the Central Group II Tournament, the Panthers will have won a sectional title in a field that included Manasquan. That alone likely gets them into the top-five discussion and depending how things shake out, it could be even higher.
10. Ocean (20-8, 10-4) Last Week: 10
Ocean’s season came to an end in the Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals, capping a season that included 20 wins, a second-place finish in Class B North behind Wall and a trip to the Monmouth County Tournament championship game. The Spartans are comfortably ahead of the next group of teams vying for the No. 10 spot and the only unranked teams still playing are Point Beach, Toms River East and Marlboro. It would take a lot for any of those teams to jump Ocean so for the moment, it appears the Spartans can safely add “No. 10 in the final Shore Conference Top 10” to their 2019 resume.
Still in the Running
Marlboro (10-12, 5-9) – State playoff wins over Hillsborough and Hightstown give the Mustangs some momentum heading into a very tough game at Old Bridge. Marlboro would have to make it to the Group IV final to guarantee a .500 finish and that’s probably the bar the Mustangs would have to clear in order to be considered for a jump into the top 10.
Toms River East (10-13, 4-10) – By just about any measure, 2019 was a down year for Class A South but Toms River East is carrying the flag as a seventh-place team in the standings making good in the state tournament. The Raiders picked up two great road wins over Highland and Ocean City and will try their hand vs. top-seeded Triton next.
Point Pleasant Beach (12-10, 9-2) – With a 3-8 record outside of Class B Central, the Top 10 is out of reach for Point Beach this season. As it stands, if the Garnet can get to a sectional final with a team full of sophomores and freshmen, their season will be made.