Baseball Top 20 in 2020: No. 1 Jackson Memorial
Shore Sports Network is counting down its top 20 baseball teams heading into the would-be 2020 season by profiling each one. You can read the division-by-division previews and the other top-20 profiles here.
Shore Sports Network Baseball 20 in 2020 – No. 1: Jackson Memorial
When Jackson Memorial won the 2018 NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championship starting five sophomores in the field and one at the top of its pitching rotation, it looked like the start of something special for what has been a decorated Jaguars program under 16-year coach Frank Malta.
It’s not often a core of players gets to construct a body of work as lengthy as this talented Jaguars Class of 2020 has and that large sample of games has come with both big-game triumphs as well as big-game failures.
As sweet as the 2018 championship was, the last taste the returning group of Jaguars had in their collective mouth was no so pleasant. Jackson Memorial suffered surprisingly early losses in all three postseason tournaments – Ocean County, Shore Conference and South Jersey Group IV - in 2019.
Not everyone gets a chance to both win a championship, fall short of that standard the next year and still have one more shot at redemption, but that is the opportunity most of the 2019 starters were banking on heading into 2020. The Jaguars returned two out of three All-Shore starting pitchers and six of nine starters in the batting order, with 10 committed college players – eight at the Division I level.
Now, their chance at redemption is in serious jeopardy and a group of seniors may learn the hard way to never take a chance to win a championship for granted.
“I think about those program guys,” Malta said. “Those are guys who have put in the work and done everything the right way with the team in mind. You think about them, they might never get to see their name on the preseason preview in the paper or on the website or get their name in a recap or those little things you don’t always think about.”
If, on the other hand, there is a season to be played, Jackson Memorial is as imposing as any public-school roster in the state. The Jaguars have everything: athleticism, power, pitching, speed, sure-handedness. There were times in 2019 in which their hitting disappeared or the defense faltered, but on most days, Jackson Memorial was a well-oiled machine and what made the Jaguars even scarier is they started only three seniors.
With eight bats returning with starting experience, the Jackson Memorial lineup had a chance to be special over a full season in 2020. Despite graduating one of the Shore’s best hitters and current Elon freshman Alex Iadisernia as well as All-Shore shortstop Ahmir Cournier, the Jaguars come back with a lineup that had a chance to be even better and with backup options emerging thanks to a talented sophomore class.
“This year is the most seniors we have ever had here,” Malta said. “Those are the guys you feel for – this was supposed to be their last ride. It doesn’t matter whether they were going to be All-Shore kids or whether they were going to get three or four at-bats or throw an inning or two, it’s a thrill to get to experience playing your senior season.”
Centerfielder Ryan Lasko is the marquee prospect in the lineup coming off an All-Shore junior campaign and an eye-opening summer. The Rutgers commit had the best slugging percentage (.747) of any Shore Conference outfielder other than Iadisernia and Ranney’s Charlie Chropuvka last year and his seven home runs were the most of any Shore outfielder. According to Malta, Lasko worked out for scouts for multiple Major League teams prior to the shutdown, including the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays.
First baseman Carmine Petosa is the other returning All-Shore hitter in the Jackson Memorial lineup and the Wake Forest commit is coming off a junior season in which he finished among the top 10 in the Shore Conference in both on-base percentage (.538) and slugging percentage (.754). The left-handed slugger is one of the Shore’s most imposing hitters, with his destructive-looking swing and the way he hovers over the plate.
On the numbers, returning starters Tom Cartnick and Christian Pellone were on the cusp of All-Shore status as well. Cartnick is back at catcher after taking over the job last season, during which he finished ranked in the top 10 in average (.368), on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.515), home runs (three) and RBI (21) among a loaded field of Shore Conference catchers. Pellone, meanwhile, would be starting at second base for the third straight season and in two seasons, the Kean University commit has collected 60 hits and scored 55 runs and as a junior in 2019, he smoked 10 extra-base hits.
Senior Jake Wendell and junior Ty Beck return to the left side of the infield, with Wendell back at third base and Beck taking over the shortstop job on a full-time basis after playing both shortstop and third in 2019 as part of his utility role. Beck – a Radford commit – entered his freshman year with a chance to start at shortstop but then-senior Mike Dimino won the job in camp to jumpstart an All-Shore season and last year, Cournier transferred from Toms River East and also had an All-Shore campaign. Wendell is headed to Caldwell and is in his third season as a starter at the hot corner.
Senior Andrew Sefick has also spent time starting at catcher and in addition to working in there, is a designated hitter candidate. Matt Feld is another senior who contributed throughout 2019 (.454, two doubles in 12 plate appearances) and would be in the mix for one of the open spots in the corner outfield.
"These seniors are a group of guys you just really want to be around,” Malta said. “They come to practice, they work their butts off and give you everything they have in the game. The Laskos, the Cartnicks – this was their last hurrah. They have grown up playing and doing this with each other and have been really successful as a group.”
Sophomore Zach Crotchfelt is the lone returning two-way player from last season, when he cracked the opening-night starting lineup in the outfield and was Jackson Memorial’s No. 4 starter. The left-hander committed to Auburn in the offseason and was a likely starter in a corner outfield spot and one of the team’s top three starting pitchers for the 2020 season.
While Crotchfelt and Feld were in the mix to start in the corner outfield, junior Zach Rogacki is a newcomer Malta is looking forward to penciling into the lineup – most likely in right field on this year's team. Rogacki is a catcher committed to Bucknell with the versatility to move around the field and likely would have made his mark last year were it not for a leg injury he suffered early in the season in a junior varsity game.
Seniors Zach Appuliese, Jared Caruso, Bill Petrina and Austin Parikh are also part of Jackson Memorial’s deep varsity roster, which will have some up-and-comers to watch. A number of standouts from the Holbrook squad that reached the Little League World Series in 2017 are now in the program, including Chris Cartnick. The younger brother of the starting catcher, Chris Cartnick was one of the breakout stars of that Little League run and will be a key part of the Jaguars program going forward.
Sophomores Andrew Patire, Tom Kendrick and J.R. Osmond are the other bats to watch from the Class of 2022 if there is a 2020 season, while freshman Charles Meglio also adds to Jackson Memorial’s crowded varsity depth chart and up-and-coming young core.
“We’re getting to the next group that won as younger kids and I thought this was a great opportunity for them to learn from these seniors and just to soak everything up that they can,” Malta said. “I wanted them to have that opportunity to learn from a group that has done it and was totally committed to having a special season. You can’t replace that experience for a young group and I think that’s one thing I think the younger guys will miss out on even though they’ll have a chance to continue their careers next year.”
With so much firepower at the plate, it might be easy to overlook the Jackson Memorial pitching staff but that would be a mistake. Only Christian Brothers Academy allowed fewer runs overall and per game in 2019 than Jackson Memorial and the Jaguars bring back all but one of the pitchers – All-Shore left-hander Joe Princiotta – from that staff.
Senior left-hander Nick Beetel is headed to Lehigh next year and is hoping for one more chance at turning in an All-Shore season, which did in each of his varsity seasons in 2018 and 2019. Beetel is the co-ace along with junior right-hander and Coastal Carolina commit Matt Potok, who emerged as one of the best pitchers in the Shore Conference in 2019 by posting a pristine 33-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and the No. 4 ERA in the Conference (0.62) among pitchers with at least 20 innings.
Crotchfelt is hoping to do what Potok did last year by moving into one of the top spots in the rotation after impressing during a shorter stint as a freshman. While those three names top the list of returning pitchers, seniors Rocco LaVista and Dan Greenwood were also set to be important contributors on the staff. Statistically, LaVista and Greenwood were even better than Crotchfelt in a similar number of innings, with LaVista posting a 1.17 ERA while allowing only seven hits and two walks in 12 innings and Greenwood putting up a 0.78 ERA over nine innings.
Senior Joe Santoriello and junior left-hander Greg Carillo are also poised to be part of the pitching rotation. Right-handers Jordan Naffaa and Nick Storaci are the juniors in the wave of new pitchers looking to pick up innings over the next two years, while the sophomore class has a trio of left-handers in Dave Foderaro, Sage Goeke and Zach McCabe to help build around Potok and Crotchfelt heading into a hopefully-more conventional 2021.
Malta plans to be there when baseball resumes and he is sorely hoping that his current senior class is there with him. Jackson Memorial is set up for success beyond this spring and there will be other chances for championships, but this group had a chance to be Jackson Memorial’s best team ever. Those chances don’t come around often.
“They are upset by it,” Malta said. “They understand it. There is still that excitement in their voices when we talk and we are all trying to stay positive. You look at what’s going on out in the real world and it knocks you back to reality.
“If we are able to give the kids some kind of season, I think it would be awesome. You would have a newfound emotion – a happiness and an appreciation that would be different than most years and that would be cool to see. Even if we just give the guys a chance to go off for a few weeks, that would be great. Just get out there and let the horses run for a little while.”
Head Coach: Frank Malta, 16th season (21st overall)
2019 Record: 20-5 (12-2, first in A South)
Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 Stats)
|Carmine Petosa (Sr., 1B)||61||25||6||0||5||23||21||.410||.538||.754||3|
|Christian Pellone (Sr., 2B)||81||30||5||1||4||30||9||.370||.464||.605||6|
|Ryan Lasko (Sr., CF)||79||30||8||0||7||24||33||.380||.423||.747||14|
|Tom Cartnick (Sr., C)||68||25||1||0||3||16||21||.368||.460||.515||6|
|Jake Wendell (Sr., 3B)||29||10||1||0||0||7||5||.345||.488||.379||2|
|Andrew Sefick (Sr., C)||61||17||1||0||1||9||11||.279||.359||.344||2|
Top Returning Pitchers (with 2019 Stats)
|Matt Potok (Jr., RHP)||6||0||34||25||3||3||33||0.62||0.82|
|Nick Beetel (Sr., LHP)||2||2||35.2||23||6||18||46||1.18||1.15|
|Rocco LaVista (Sr., RHP)||2||0||12||7||2||2||12||1.17||0.75|
|Zach Crotchfelt (So., LHP)||2||1||12||6||3||7||13||1.75||1.08|
Big Shoes to Fill: Zach Crotchfelt, LHP/OF
Iadisernia is undoubtedly the toughest loss the Jaguars suffered from last year’s team, but they also must replace Cournier and Princiotta as All-Shore contributors. Beck stepped in admirably when Cournier got hurt at the end of the 2019 season and should be ready to do it on a full-time basis this year. Crotchfelt, meanwhile, will not only have to take over one of the full-time corner outfield spots but will now be the No. 3 starter in the rotation as well. The Auburn commit should be up to the task and then some, but being the guy to replace the team’s best hitter and its leader in innings and wins on top of that is a tall order for a sophomore.
Top Newcomer: Zach Rogacki, OF
An injury kept Rogacki from being an impact sophomore on last year’s team and he is one of multiple talented varsity catchers in the program. With the arm and athleticism to play other positions and a potent bat that will lengthen the lineup, Rogacki was a candidate for a breakout year on a team full of proven varsity players. With Crotchfelt, Rogacki and Beck taking over starting spots in the order, Jackson Memorial had a chance to be even more balanced and imposing as a lineup.
When things went wrong for Jackson Memorial last year – which happened only five times – the bats went cold and the defense became uncharacteristically shaky. Critical errors cost the Jaguars in both of their Class A South losses, one to rival Toms River North and another to last-place Central in one of the upsets of the season in the Shore Conference. In the three tournament losses, the Jaguars committed a total of eight errors, including four vs. Toms River East in the OCT quarterfinals. Jackson committed 14 errors in the five losses and 28 in its 20 wins so cleaning up the defense will be a key to the Jaguars regaining their big-game form from 2018.