Baseball Top 10 – There is a New No. 1 Team at the Jersey Shore
The Shore Conference Tournament is complete and because it was played earlier than usual, the tournament had a different feel this season. With a couple of exceptions, teams in the SCT pitched their best pitchers because it was the only tournament going on at the time. In a normal year, the SCT competes with the NJSIAA Tournament and most teams commit their best pitchers to winning a sectional championship, but with only a couple of teams saving pitching to win a division title, the SCT saw mostly aces.
Because of that, it feels like the Shore has a more definitely ranking coming out of the SCT than it usually does. The champion is a pretty clear No. 1 team and the teams that made deep runs are definitely rewarded.
The SCT, however, is not all that happened last week and the biggest jumps in the rankings belong to a pair of teams that either won big in the SCT or in their division. There are championships being decided all over the place and that will continue over the last three weeks of the season, during which there is still likely to be plenty of movement.
1. Red Bank Catholic (18-3, 10-2) Last Week: 2
After successfully defending their Shore Conference Tournament championship from 2019, the Caseys are the new No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – the first team to unseat Jackson Memorial this season. Shane Panzini is worthy of the headlines he has pitched his way to this season but Red Bank Catholic’s pitching beyond him has really rounded into form and the lineup has been dependable one-through-nine.
2. Jackson Memorial (15-6, 11-3) Last Week: 1
The Jaguars fall just one spot, but it’s a bigger fall when you consider they were lapping the field a mere two weeks ago. Still, the recent slide will all be forgotten if Jackson Memorial can get hot over the next two weeks – especially at the plate. Jackson Memorial’s top three pitchers have been sharp all year and Zach Crotchfelt and Matt Potok are going to be the starters who handle the NJSIAA Tournament for the Jaguars. Not a bad duo upon which to hand your championship hopes.
3. Freehold Township (14-7, 11-3) Last Week: 7
There are two big moves up the Top 10 this week and they are both by Class A North teams. Freehold Township got bounced from the Shore Conference Tournament by Manchester in the round of 16 but responded by rolling to the outright Class A North championship with an impressive 11-3 mark in the Shore’s deepest division. The Patriots won a tough road game at Manalapan and earned season sweeps over Middletown South, Middletown North and Marlboro. There are some shaky losses, but the Patriots locked in on the A North title, won it and deserve to be recognized for it.
4. Middletown South (15-7, 6-6) Last Week: 8
One of the reasons Freehold Township flies up the board is because the Patriots have two wins over this team. Middletown South is the opposite of Freehold Township in that the Eagles have played .500 baseball within the division but have been near-flawless outside of divisional play. They have not been pushover games, either, with Middletown North sporting wins over Red Bank Catholic, Toms River North and Ramapo, not to mention a run to the SCT final that included wins over Colts Neck, Middletown North and Rumson-Fair Haven.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (15-5, 8-4) Last Week: 4
Rumson continued to play well last week, but it was a tough week for the Bulldogs as far as winning championships. They had a chance to win two and fell out of the Class A Central division race when Ocean did not lose a game, then lost to Middletown South in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal. The good news now is Rumson is the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group II section of the NJSIAA Tournament, ace Charlie Jones is rested and there is a lot of pitching depth to go with one of the Shore’s deeper lineups.
6. Manalapan (14-6, 8-4) Last Week: 3
The Braves took a hit this week when they were eliminated from the Shore Conference Tournament in a extra-inning battle with Red Bank Catholic, then dropped out of the Class A North race with losses to Marlboro and Middletown South. An injury to senior ace Joe Mazza has had a huge impact over the last two weeks and his status in the NJSIAA Tournament will be a key factor in the Braves making a run as the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group IV. With Mazza and junior Tyler Kane making their starts, Manalapan is dangerous in any bracket.
7. Ocean (15-6, 11-3) Last Week: 5
Despite putting itself in pretty solid position to win a division share, Ocean slips a bit in the Top 10 while playing against the bottom half of the A Central division last week. The Spartans can pick up some momentum this week with a state-tournament opener against Middletown North and a Monmouth County Tournament opener against Colts Neck, not to mention a regular-season game vs. Wall. Ocean’s road to a sectional final in Central Jersey Group III is extremely difficult, so a deep state tourney run will result in a bump in the rankings, not to mention a shot at a sectional championship.
8. Wall (17-5, 12-2) Last Week: 10
Wall has been the best offense in the Shore Conference when you consider strength of schedule (only Ranney has scored more runs) and that offense will be put to the test in tournament play next week. The Crimson Knights will play against another imposing offense Thursday in the Monmouth County Tournament when they host Howell, while also preparing to make a state-tournament run as a No. 4 seed in Central Jersey Group III.
9. Central (12-8, 9-5) Last Week: 6
The last two spots in the Top 10 seemed to gain some clarity last week but they are once again up for grabs. Central keeps a spot for the time being despite dropping two games to Brick Memorial last week on the strength of a win over Jackson Memorial and a second-place finish in the Class A South race. The Ocean County Tournament and NJSIAA Playoffs will determine if the Golden Eagles can hold down the spot and with the way they have hit all year and the way Cam Leiter has pitched lately, Central can still feel good about its chances.
10. Middletown North (10-8, 6-7) Last Week: 9
The Lions quickly fell out of contention in the Class A North race and it has come as the offense has run into some struggles scoring runs. It’s also concerning that Colin Dowlen did not pitch this week after throwing a no-hitter against Middletown South, as Middletown North will need both he and Danny Frontera ready to go in order to make a run in the state tournament. Operating at 100-percent capacity, Middletown North will be a serious threat in Central Jersey Group III – even as a No. 9 seed.
Top 10 Watchlist
Donovan Catholic (14-6, 9-3) – An early exit in the SCT and settling for a tie for the Class B South title has Donovan on the outside at the moment, but the Griffins lead the B South field when it comes to cracking the Top 10 and they are not far off.
St. John Vianney (10-5, 9-4) – With wins over Wall and Freehold Township, St. John Vianney is worthy of a look for a Top 10 spot, especially if the Lancers can take down CBA in the opening round of the Non-Public A Playoffs.
Brick Memorial (12-9, 8-6) – Missing out on the Shore Conference Tournament hurt Brick Memorial, but the Mustangs went 3-0 vs. Central and Jackson Memorial after the cutoff to climb back into the picture.
Marlboro (12-7, 8-5) – The Mustangs have been on the cusp of the Top 10 for several weeks now and can barrel their way in with a good tournament showing this week, which could potentially include games against both Middletown South (MCT) and Manalapan (CJ IV).
Howell (13-9, 6-6) – Howell had a rough couple weeks in the middle of the season but has been very impressive both before and since. Prior to a five-game losing streak, the Rebels were riding their pitching and to snap out of it, the offense has led the way.
Ranney (15-4, 10-0) – The Panthers have a legitimate shot to win the Non-Public B championship, although it will take an exceptional effort. With that sort of run though, they could be hard to keep out of the rankings.
Colts Neck (16-6, 11-2) – A few ugly losses are still weighing the Cougars down, but the Central Group III bracket is deep and talented enough that making a long run within it and potentially winning it would make all those defeats secondary to what would likely be a decorated 20-win season.
Brick (10-9, 6-6) – Brick is among the teams to take out Jackson Memorial during the Jaguars’ recent slide and the Green Dragons should be considered dangerous heading into the Central Group III Tournament as a No. 11 seed.
Raritan (9-8, 7-4) – Wins over Ocean and Rumson-Fair Haven and an extra-inning loss to Red Bank Catholic have shown that Raritan can compete with everybody on the schedule, which is why the Rockets currently look the part over a pair of teams that beat them in Jackson Liberty and Barnegat.
Christian Brothers Academy (9-10, 6-7) – The Colts inched their way closer to .500 last week, but face a tough slate this week in St. John Vianney and Middletown North in tournament games. If the Colts beat Vianney, it gets even tougher: undefeated Bishop Eustace in the South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals.