Baseball Top 20 in 2020 – No. 4: Red Bank Catholic
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. 4: Red Bank Catholic
Not many teams have to replace the talent Red Bank Catholic graduated in 2019 but not many have the quality of players back that the Caseys do from a conference-championship-winning team.
That’s not some unusual phenomenon at RBC, where the Caseys have been a perennial contender for said SCT title during the 13 seasons of Buddy Hausmann’s tenure as head coach. While Red Bank Catholic almost always reloads, they have never been reloaded with a weapon at the top of their pitching rotation like the one they have for the next two seasons.
After an All-Shore sophomore season and a whirlwind offseason, junior right-hander Shane Panzini returns as arguably the top pitcher in a Shore Conference loaded with high-level arms that are on the radar of Major League scouts. The University of Virginia commit is set to be the hammer for an RBC team that returns a number of tools for a would-be 2020 season.
Hausmann can rest easy knowing he has Panzini in the fold for next year as well, but for a group of four returning senior starters in the field and a number of their classmates throughout the ranks of position players and pitchers, the anxious and agonizing wait to hear the fate of the 2020 high-school baseball season continues.
"I understand and I think they all understand the concerns about coming back," Hausmann said. "I think it's good that they (the state) are waiting and seeing what happens with the numbers before they make a final decision.
"I can definitely see both sides of the argument. In some ways it might be better for everybody if we just focus on keeping everyone in and opening again in September. But you do have seniors who have earned the chance to do all of the things that come with being a senior. Not just baseball but having those last couple of months or weeks or whatever it is. If there is any chance for them to get that and for sports to be part of it, that would be great and I think all the coaches would support it."
If there is a shortened season, Hausmann will have a chance to unleash one of the state's best weapons on the mound. Panzini was slated to be RBC’s big-game ace this year after capping his 7-2 sophomore campaign with a one-hit shutout in the SCT final against Manalapan. He struck out 73 in 53 innings, put up a 0.66 ERA for the season and over the summer was selected to participate in the Major League Baseball Player Development Pipeline, a showcase scheduled for late-June-early-July in Santa Clara, Calif. that includes some of the country’s top juniors.
“He was really good last year and he is even better this year,” Hausmann said of Panzini. “He really got serious about lifting and putting on some muscle in his lower body and he is consistently throwing 92, 93 (miles-per-hour) with his fastball. His breaking ball is much, much better this year and his changeup has really come along and his ability to locate everything is definitely improved. There were times last year when he would lose his command or maybe start overthrowing but from what I’ve seen so far, he has been spotting everything.”
The obvious backstory of the 2020 baseball season is that there currently is no baseball season, which continues to be a mental and emotional drain on players around the country – particularly seniors. In the case of RBC senior John Nimeth, an elbow injury eliminated the possibility of a season before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Nimeth would have been the Caseys’ No. 2 starter behind Panzini after going 6-0 with a 2.12 ERA as a junior.
Panzini alone would have given RBC a pitching edge over most teams at the Shore but the loss of Nimeth for the season would have been a major obstacle to overcome and a missed opportunity to run out one of the conference’s best one-two punches. If the 2020 season does unfold in some capacity, however, Hausmann is still comfortable with his collection of pitchers – both because Panzini is ready to shoulder a significant load and because the group behind him looks ready to fill in the necessary innings.
“We have Panzini to pitch in our big games and then I felt pretty good about the guys we have to handle the rest of the schedule,” Hausmann said. “A few of them got a chance to pitch a little bit last year and I think they all could have gotten more time if we didn’t have four guys who were all throwing 90. They aren’t the hard-throwers that those guys are but they are good high school pitchers who could have pitched at a lot of other schools and done well.”
Senior right-hander Tyler Birnbaum is set to move into the starting rotation after pitching 9 2/3 innings as a reliever last year. Birnbaum was effective in that spot duty a year ago and is one of those seniors hoping for a chance to play a more prominent role in his final high school year.
Two more senior right-handers – Brayden Kiel and Jared Terefenko – also entered March as key up-and-comers on the pitching staff, with Kiel having gotten a trial run of 2 2/3 innings as a junior. Junior Dylan Wanagiel is also in line to move up the depth chart and challenge for important innings when play resumes. With Panzini at the top, Hausmann was preparing to turn to that senior trio and Wanagiel for the bulk of the leftover innings.
The Caseys have a number of options to fill out the remaining work on the mound, with freshman Alex Stanyek a possibility for a role as a reliever in his first varsity season and perhaps more in the years to come. Seniors Evan Mottola and Anthony Colucci are also first-time varsity players with potential to pitch and junior Mike O’Connor could carve out some time as well.
The pitching staff is replacing 104 innings with the graduation of Vin Bianchi and Ryan O’Hara on top of the injury to Nimeth, but the offense might have even more work to do in picking up the slack of its graduating core from 2019.
Bianchi and second baseman Alex Gonzalez were a formidable double-play combination on the infield and RBC’s top two hitters by batting average – Bianchi hitting .427 with a team-high 37 RBI and Gonzalez hitting .417 with a team-high 38 runs scored. O’Hara was also the starting right fielder and a middle-of-the-order hitter and although he did not play a full season, center fielder David Glancy made a major impact during RBC’s SCT run.
Despite losing that productive group, the Caseys return powerful bats at the corner infield spots and one of the Shore’s top catchers. Chris Sparber had a big debut season as a varsity catcher two seasons ago and the Miami-bound backstop was aiming to regain his power stroke after hitting .282 with five extra-base hits and 17 RBI as a junior.
Rob Gonzalez and Jack Scrivanic were the two biggest bats coming back from last year, with Gonzalez returning to third base and Scrivanic at first. Gonzalez was also making an early-camp bid to move to the shortstop spot vacated by Bianchi, while Scrivanic trimmed down and tone up enough that Hausmann was considering giving him a look on the other side of the diamond at third base, particularly if Gonzalez grabbed the shortstop job.
“Jack lost about 25 pounds and came in great shape,” Hausmann said. “He has always had the footwork to play third base and now he is athletic enough to be really good over there if that’s the way we want to go.”
Panzini is Red Bank Catholic's other returning power threat after clubbing three homers to go with five doubles during his sophomore year. Panzini would again project to play left field but could also slot in at first base and potentially at designated hitter – particularly with the new rule that allows pitchers to stay in the game as the DH.
Terefenko and junior Anthony Borriello are both back after starting during parts of 2019 as well. Terefenko can play either corner infield spot while Borriello – a quarterback for RBC’s football team – is a leading candidate to play centerfield on account of his athleticism.
Junior Sean Ettore played shortstop when Bianchi pitched during 2019 and is the leading candidate to fill that spot when baseball resumes. His double-play partner is slated to be sophomore Matt Scrivanic, who has proven early on in camp that he is ready for a full plate of varsity action as he hopes to get a season to play with his older brother, Jack, before the elder Scrivanic heads to Wagner in the fall.
“There are a lot of kids who are playing varsity for the first time, including five seniors,” Hausmann said. “And there were opportunities for them to play if they showed us something in the preseason and in practice. Then you have the two Scrivanics and the two Gonzalez brothers (Rob and Nico) who were hoping to play together one last time before the older brothers go off to college. Guys like that who are getting that one last chance to do something like that, those are the ones you feel for the most.”
Senior Mark Lurie is also in the picture to play outfield, while juniors Scott Ungemash, Dan DeFlores and O’Connor entered camp on the outfield radar as well. Stanyek is also making a strong case to play as a freshman on a team that appears to have some playing opportunities in the outfield whenever spring sports resume.
Seniors Chris Disco, Devin Rodrigues and Justin DeAmbrose were also competing for at-bats early in camp, while junior catcher Riley Supp and sophomore middle infielder Nico Gonzalez are both names to watch as depth pieces this season and potential starters heading into 2021.
Although plenty of questions linger within the pitching rotation given the loss of those 104 innings between Bianchi, O’Hara and Nimeth, Panzini’s return to the top of the staff gives RBC instant credibility as a contender to repeat as Shore Conference Tournament champions. Throw in some experience in the lineup, particularly at catcher and around the infield, and the Caseys have the makings of a team that could make some serious noise in a potential NJSIAA Tournament.
“I had a lot of different kids with opportunities to play this year,” Hausmann said. “The everyday lineup was going to be different and we had to figure out where guys were they going to play and what they were they going to do. The nice thing is there isn’t really a huge gap between guys competing for those spots, so it might have been a situation where the ‘starter’ maybe plays 2 out of three games a week and then someone else gets a chance in the third game.
“The lower end was not real low on this team and that’s why I thought, coming in, we had a chance to be pretty good.”
Red Bank Catholic
Head Coach: Buddy Hausmann, 13th season
2019 Record: 23-6 (14-0, first in A Central)
Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 Stats)
|Chris Sparber, RBC||78||22||4||1||0||15||17||.282||.424||.359||5|
|Rob Gonzalez, RBC||93||33||5||1||2||26||17||.355||.413||.495||5|
|Jack Scrivanic, RBC||82||24||7||0||4||15||28||.293||.367||.524||0|
|Shane Panzini, RBC||74||22||5||0||3||15||21||.297||.388||.486||0|
|Anthony Borriello, RBC||28||9||2||0||0||12||5||.321||.441||.385||1|
|Jared Terefenko, RBC||28||8||3||0||0||7||2||.286||.444||.393||0|
Top Returning Pitchers (with 2019 Stats)
|Shane Panzini (Jr., RHP)||7||2||53||20||5||29||73||0.66||0.92|
|John Nimeth (Sr., RHP)||6||0||36.1||32||11||20||24||2.12||1.43|
|Tyler Birnbaum (Sr., RHP)||0||0||9.2||7||4||4||4||2.90||1.14|
Big Shoes to Fill: Jared Terefenko, 1B/RHP
With innings to cover in the rotation and some offensive production to replace in the lineup, Terefenko was being asked to help out in both areas as camp opened up. He made a strong first impression hitting in the bottom third of RBC’s order by the end of 2019 and would likely have climbed closer to the heart of the lineup after hitting .286 with three doubles in 28 at-bats as a junior.
Top Newcomer: Matt Scrivanic, 2B/SS
RBC opened up March practices with open spots up the middle and in the corner outfield but Scrivanic quickly made it clear that he was ticketed to win the second base job, perhaps even with a chance to move to shortstop. The sophomore is the younger brother of first baseman Jack Scrivanic and brings an element of speed and defense to the table to go with a promising bat.
X-Factor: Tyler Birnbuam, RHP
The whole pitching staff beyond Panzini would be a huge x-factor for RBC in a version of the 2020 season and within that group, Birnbaum is the one with some experience upon which to lead. Everyone other than Panzini would be looking at a greatly increased role and Birnbaum is the one with some varsity success from a year ago that could help propel him into that No. 2 spot in the rotation.