The No. 1 spot has become the hot seat in the Shore Conference, with Jackson Memorial jumping off the spot after a loss to Central and Manalapan suffering its first three losses in the same week the Braves took over the top position in the rankings.

We are just getting into the part of the season in which teams can actually win something of substance in order to build their case for a higher ranking, with Jackson Liberty and Red Bank Catholic already clinching outright division championships. It appears as though Jackson Memorial, Wall and Middletown South are all primed to do so as well, while CBA and Ocean get set to battle for the Monmouth County Tournament Championship. That is a lot of teams looking to boost their case for No. 1 in the next week prior to the Shore Conference Tournament, which will be seeded on Monday.

In the meantime, with Manalapan faltering while playing five days in a row, the No. 1 spot is open again and the best thing at this point is to circle back to the beginning.

 

1. Jackson Memorial (14-2, 10-2) Last Week: 2

The Jaguars return to the No. 1 spot both because of an undefeated week, as well as attrition. Manalapan lost three games and while a handful of other teams have been building a No. 1 case, none have the dominant body of work (155 runs scored, 27 allowed) that Jackson Memorial has. The Jags can wrap up the Class A South title with two wins vs. Brick Memorial on Monday and Tuesday and will then turn their attention to the Ocean County Tournament, in which they have to be considered the heavy favorite.

2. Manalapan (15-3, 9-2) Last Week: 1

Although the Braves could not protect their No. 1 ranking, this week’s shortcomings were less about any fatal flaw and more the result of Manalapan’s own success. Once the marathon game with CBA pushed into a second day, the Braves pitching was facing a serious strain and it seemed to catch up to them by the end of the week. Jake Pellecchia made his first mound appearance in three years to beat CBA on Wednesday, then made his first ever start in Saturday’s loss to Ocean – which threw veteran Max Winters to beat the Braves. With a chance to reset its pitching and three big division games coming up, don’t be surprised to see Manalapan’s slide come to an abrupt halt.

3. Middletown South (11-4, 10-2) Last Week: 9

When the Eagles move, they sure do fly. After a sizable drop in the rankings a couple weeks ago, Middletown South makes a huge jump up the charts after a 4-0 week that ended with an impressive 8-4 win over Manalapan to move within a breath of a Class A South championship. Junior Chris Lotito has become a real weapon on the mound – mostly as a reliever – and the rest of the pitching staff continues to bend without breaking. The lineup has not let up much, if at all, after a hot start either an with an 11-4 record after 15 games, it looks like Middletown South is in it to win it.

CBA juniors Jason Arnott (left) and Mason Wolf (right) celebrate a win over Manalapan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

4. Christian Brothers Academy (11-4, 6-4) Last Week: 3

Two losses to Middletown South keep the Colts behind the Eagles for the moment, although CBA can make quite the case for No. 1 by completing a Monmouth County Tournament gauntlet that includes wins over Wall, Manasquan and, potentially, Ocean. CBA 2-3 seems a distant memory now and the more quality wins the Colts rack up, the more that start has to be considered an aberration. With junior Braedin Hunt and senior Joe Escandon starting to get hot on the mound, junior pat Reilly already in the midst of an All-Shore-caliber season, and seniors Evan Mahns and Anthony Pillari doing yeoman’s work as well, CBA has the makings of the Shore’s most imposing pitching staff.

5. Red Bank Catholic (13-3, 12-0) Last Week: 4

RBC wrapped up the outright Class A Central title by beating Monmouth Regional and ace Dante Ciaramella last week, with senior Vincent Bianchi leading the way on the rubber and at the dish. The Caseys still have some work to do to get back in the conversation for No. 1, but they also have the potential to catch fire at the plate and run out a hard-thrower four times per week – a great setup for when the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments are both in progress in two weeks.

6. Jackson Liberty (16-1, 13-0) Last Week: 6

Like Red Bank Catholic, Jackson Liberty picked up a pair of big wins this week to wrap up another division title. The Lions then capped the week with a pair of walk-off wins, the later of which avoided a first-round upset in the Ocean County Tournament. With Toms River North getting knocked off in the OCT first round, Jackson Liberty’s road to the championship game opened up even more and anything short of a trip to the final would figure to be a disappointment – at least at this stage of the season – for the experience-rich Lions.

7. Manasquan (11-4, 10-3) Last Week: 5

Losing two division games to Red Bank Catholic put Mansquan behind the pace when it came to winning the Class A Central title so losing to Raritan last week was not a particularly crippling defeat. After reaching the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals, the Warriors got a look at a recipe that works, which is a pitching staff built around Spencer Bauer and Mike Anthony with James Harmstead, Alex Galvan, Ryan O’Keefe and Alec Wells providing depth and flexibility. It also doesn’t hurt to have a slugger like Harmstead, who leads the Shore with seven home runs, 27 RBI and a robust 1.119 slugging percentage.

8. Wall (13-3, 10-2) Last Week: 7

Although Wall fell off the radar somewhat when it lost to CBA in the MCT, the Crimson Knights are back in position to win the B North title with two more wins over Middletown North this coming week. The offense remains a little more unpredictable than the Knights would like, but the pitching continues to deliver across the board. The MCT exit was a disappointment, indeed, but there is still a lot on the table to be won and Wall remains capable of winning all of it.

9. Ocean (16-3, 9-3) Last Week: 10

After losing to Neptune early in the week, Ocean was in danger of dropping out of the Top 10 again but the Spartans closed the week with a resounding win to move up a spot. Max Winters went the distance and fellow senior Ryan Toomey doubled twice with three RBI to lead an upset of Manalapan in the MCT semifinals, earning Ocean a trip to the county final for the first time since 2005. With Manalapan’s pitching depleted on Saturday, Ocean’s jump is not huge at this point but a win over CBA left-hander Joe Escandon would call for a serious climb for a team that already, along with Jackson Liberty, leads the Shore with 16 wins.

10. Toms River South (10-5, 8-5)

For the first time sine the preseason rankings, Toms River South is back in the Top 10 following a win over Toms River North. That one win likely would not have been enough were it not for Toms River North’s loss to Southern in the OCT first round and if the Indians can’t beat either Point Boro in the OCT quarterfinals or Toms River North in the second meeting, their return will be short-lived. With Matt Hartshorn and Gabe Driscoll heading up a pitching staff that has done the job throughout the year, Toms River South has a chance to cement a spot by making some serious noise next week.

 

Dropped Out

Toms River North (11-6, 9-3) Last Week: 8 – On overall resume, Toms River North still looks a bit stronger than Toms River South but after losing the first of two head-to-head meetings with the rival Indians, the Mariners will concede their top 10 spot. They will have a chance to take it back this week, although their elimination from the OCT limits the potential to climb in the near-term.

Freehold Township (10-7, 7-5) – Ryan Kurczeski has hit his stride on the mound and the Patriots bats are coming around as well, making them a real contender for a top-10 spot.

Point Pleasant Boro (11-4, 9-4) – The Panthers had Jackson Liberty beat until ace Nick Guzzi had to exit due to pitch count, at which point the Lions finished off a road comeback and dealt the first of two blows vs. Point Boro that clinched the B South title. Point Boro still has a shot to throw Guzzi twice this week – first against Toms River South in the OCT quarterfinals and again in Saturday’s semifinal round – potentially against Jackson Memorial.

Colts Neck (10-5, 8-4) – Although Colts Neck has cooled off, it still has a win over Wall to its credit and has won twice as much as it has lost – both overall and within Class B North.

Howell (8-7, 6-5) – Howell’s pitching has taken a hit with Ryan Bearse missing time on the mound (he is still hitting) and the Rebels haven’t quite been able to make the impact they did when they beat CBA in the first week of the season. They will get a chance to change that – and play spoiler in the A North race – with another meeting vs. Manalapan this week.

Neptune (9-6, 6-6) – The Scarlet Fliers picked up another win vs. a Top-10 team this week by knocking off Ocean and at this point, they need to be discussed as a team that belongs among the top 10 themselves.

Lacey (11-7, 7-6) – After nearly picking off Jackson Liberty on Friday, the Lions are looking at a week that could included two more games against the B South champs. The two teams will play their second divisional game and if both win at home in the OCT quarterfinals, they will meet again on Saturday with a trip to the OCT final on the line.

 

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