Baseball Top 20 in 2020: No. 12: Freehold Township
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. 12: Freehold Township
On a team full of seniors and sophomores, it was the swing of a junior that proved to be the difference-maker in Freehold Township’s biggest win of 2019.
Now a senior, Jarrett Urban is primed to use that memorable finish to his junior season as a springboard toward an entire year to remember – if only he and his teammates get an opportunity.
Freehold Township is in better position than most programs when it comes to missing the 2020 season, with a group of juniors that has already collectively gotten a significant amount of playing time as a class. This year, however, is the last chance to include the Class of 2020 and to watch potential breakout seasons for its members – like the one Urban hinted at with his finish to 2019 and his early-practice performance this spring.
“Jarrett is a year older, a year more mature and he really took on a leadership role over the offseason,” Freehold Township coach Todd Smith said. "He was a phenomenal athlete last year and this year, he looked like he was ready to be extremely good baseball player this year. He has the power, the speed, the arm and the overall strength to do everything there is to do.”
In only 41 at-bats as a junior outfielder, Urban hit .293 with a pair of home runs, a .512 slugging percentage and 13 stolen bases. He capped his season with a huge, go-ahead RBI triple in Freehold Township’s 10-7 win at Monroe in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Tournament.
With his combination of power, speed and an improving feel for his swing, approach and overall game at the plate, Urban was in line for a standout season within Class A North. He even had a role to play in Freehold Township’s pitching staff.
"He really wanted to pitch and he put the work in during the offseason to be ready," Smith said. "That was probably the biggest surprise about him during that first week. He was somebody we were going to look to use and probably in big innings, if not as a starter then as a reliever."
At the top of that staff would be junior right-hander Zach Gorman, who was an all-division pitcher as a sophomore and one of the Patriots’ top returning position players as well. Gorman went a perfect 5-0 as a sophomore and among those five wins were a complete-game win with 10 strikeouts over Class A North champion Middletown South and a four-hit shutout with nine punch-outs in a 1-0 win over Toms River North.
“Zach is a really good athlete and it all translates to baseball because he does the work,” Smith said. “He had a good year as a sophomore but there is no doubt he would be even better as a junior. What we always say with him that’s so impressive is that he is totally unflappable. He is just a mentally tough kid and he is always calm. When it comes to the mental side, he gets it. He is always in control of himself.”
Either Gorman and Urban can play a standout centerfield with the other manning right, except for when one of them is on the mound. That would give Freehold Township either one capable centerfielder or two standout defensive outfielders covering center and right.
The next two spots in the rotation lined up to be a pair of left-handed juniors, Luke Mulhern and Matt Villapiano. Mulhern entered camp with more strength on his 6-foot-4 frame and had found his comfort zone with a refined three-quarters arm slot, according to Smith.
A trio of seniors would be instrumental in rounding out the pitching staff. Left-hander Mason Weeks and right-handers Alec Schwartz and Brandon Lavelle all lined up to pitch important innings.
While the pitching staff has its share of key seniors involved, the lineup looks heavier on juniors to go with one key senior in Urban and another sophomore newcomer. First baseman Chris Corchado and third baseman Pat Burns return as the all-junior corner infield and classmate Griffin Murphy is back at catcher. Factor in Gorman and Freehold Township has four returning junior bats, with Urban making it five returning starters in the batting order.
Freehold Township’s biggest question heading into camp was who would emerge as the new double-play combination after the graduation of defensive stalwarts Cristian Corcione (second base) and Brandon Smith (shortstop). Ryan Keegan came into camp ready to win the shortstop job as a sophomore if he could hold off a challenge from senior Brandon Ramos, who could also factor into the pitching staff.
At second base, junior Joe Zappulla made an early impression, but senior Nick Schulman and junior Connor Morrie remained in the picture as camp came to a close after a week.
Senior catcher Andrew Reidy also returns with varsity experience and would be in the mix for at-bats, as would classmates and outfielders Mike Marino, Zander Ginter, Patrick Borromeo and Kyle Checkett – all of whom will work in at the open spots in the corner outfield. Catcher Andrew Czarrunchick is also competing for a role as a senior and hoping to get a shot.
With a trip to the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals and competitive loss to Hunterdon Central to cap 2019, Freehold Township appears primed for a move up the Shore Conference ranks after a young core got to experience coming back to beat Monroe in the first round and playing against one of Group IV’s top programs on the road in the following round.
“The experience (in the state tournament) was eye-opening for them,” Smith said. “We were losing to Monroe and they came back, which was a new feeling for them. We went to Hunterdon Central, with their tradition and their crowd and it was something different that our guys hadn’t experienced. Being in those situations and experiencing those scenarios would pay dividends this year.”
As a program, Freehold Township should come out of this ordeal intact but in many ways, the Patriots seniors are as desperate as any group for a chance to play in 2020. Only Urban had a chance to start last year out of that group and others had a real shot to contribute to the varsity cause for the first time this season.
“I feel terrible for the seniors for not getting opportunity they deserve,” Smith said. “All signs were we had 22 guys on the varsity team who were all-in. That’s a lot of guys but they all deserved to be there and they all had a role to play. A lot of seniors knew they were going to be role players but they all bought in, which isn’t always the case.
"It’s a tough situation and the worst thing is it’s nobody’s fault. When you lose at the end of a season or maybe you get beat out for playing time, there is always something you could have done. With this, you have seniors who may never get to play again and it’s because of something that’s entirely out of their control. At this point, it’s just a waiting game and a lot of uncertainty. All you can do is look after yourself, your family and try to stay as positive as you can.”
Head Coach: Todd Smith, 11th season
2019 Record: 12-11 (7-7, fifth in A North)
Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 stats)
|Zach Gorman (Jr., OF)||71||21||1||0||0||18||8||.296||.375||.310||16|
|Jarrett Urban (Sr., OF)||41||12||1||1||2||6||8||.293||.311||.512||13|
|Chris Corchado (Jr., 1B)||69||20||4||0||0||13||15||.290||.372||.348||6|
|Pat Burns (Jr., 3B)||57||14||3||0||0||10||8||.246||.413||.298||2|
Top Returning Pitcher (with 2019 stats)
|Zach Gorman (Jr., RHP)||5||0||39.2||28||14||13||39||2.47||1.03|
Big Shoes to Fill: Joe Zappulla, 2B
Corcione was Freehold Township’s All-Shore representative from 2019 but he was so much more than that. He was a leader and a spark plug for the team as its second baseman and no one player can replace all of that. Zappulla, though, can do the job at second base and should be a welcome addition to the lineup. The guy he would be replacing casts a long shadow but Zappulla will have plenty of help in filling it.
Top Newcomer: Ryan Keegan, SS
Like Zappulla, Keegan has to replace a steady defensive presence in the middle infield. Brandon Smith was a standout glove at shortstop for the past three seasons and Keegan is ready to step in an pick up that torch.
X-Factor: Jarrett Urban, OF/RHP
If Freehold Township and the rest of the state has a season in 2020, Urban has a chance to be a major difference-maker. He was Freehold Township’s best power bat once he cracked the starting lineup in the middle of last season and he also has the arm and competitive fire to be an x-factor on the Patriots pitching staff, despite not returning with any varsity experience on the mound.