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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. 8: Manasquan

Manasquan seniors Will Hopkinson and Alex Galvan know what it takes to win a championship and what it takes to contribute to a championship team as a young player.

Both Warriors veterans were freshman starters on the 2017 team that won the overall NJSIAA Group II championship and coming off a handful of bitter tournament disappointments in 2019, the duo was motivated to captain their team toward one more run at a championship.

Now that the 2020 spring season of high school sports is in limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two senior leaders are facing the realization that their freshman-year triumph might have to be enough for them. After heartbreaking losses to CBA in the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals, Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and Robbinsville in the Central Group II quarterfinals in 2019, the Warriors seniors are staring down a different kind of heartbreak in 2020.

“They were hungry eager to get out there,” third-year Manasquan coach Brenan Gordon said. “Robbinsville was a tough one. Our guys thought Central Jersey should have gone through us in Group II but we lost one we thought we should have won. We ran into RBC in the Shore Conference (Tournament) and lost that one. We played (RBC) four times and every game was a battle.

Manasquan senior Will Hopkinson. (Photo provided by Manasquan Baseball, courtesy: Chris Rice)

“They all remember how it felt to lose those games and they were eager to get out there. We were looking forward to battle for the (Class A Central) division and compete for Shore, Monmouth and states. We really felt like we had a chance to win all those and they didn’t forget losing them last year. That’s what was driving them.”

Hopkinson, in particular, has invested a lot into this season, running practices and workouts in the offseason, according Gordon. Hopkinson is primed for his fourth year as the team’s starting shortstop and is projected for the top of the lineup after leading off last year, when he was voted one of the final five members of the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Team.

“It’s like having a coach out there,” Gordon said of Hopkinson. “If someone is not working hard, Will would have sent them home. You could see the guys were ready to go on the first day of practice and Will deserves a lot of credit for that. All the coaches, we were so impressed with effort and energy out there.”

Galvan was not part of those offseason workouts because of his place on Manasquan’s Shore Conference Tournament boys basketball team, whose season ended when the team withdrew from the NJSIAA Tournament as the pandemic was just starting.

That could mean Galvan, after missing out on a chance to finish his basketball career with a conventional end to the season, could lose an important senior baseball year as well. Galvan is a two-time SSN First-Team All-Shore basketball player and has yet to be selected to the SSN All-Shore Baseball Team, and yet it is on the diamond where he is on track to continue his athletic career.

Galvan is committed to play at the University of Louisville and projects as a pitcher for the Cardinals despite the fact that he enters his seniors season having thrown only 11 2/3 innings as a high-school pitcher.

Manasquan senior Alex Galvan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

“Galvan changes the game so much,” Gordon said. “He got hurt for 2 weeks and we missed his energy. There is never a moment too big for him. He keeps things loose for the rest of the guys.”

With a fastball that has been clocked in at 93 miles-per-hour, Galvan was set to ease into the rotation last season but suffered a sprained ankle in April that knocked him out of action for two weeks. When he came back, rather than ramp up and join the rotation, Galvan remained a reliever and finished the year with 10 2/3 innings – albeit impressive ones. (1.31 ERA, 16 strikeouts, four walks).

“We went into last year planning to ease him in and after he got hurt, that plan had to change a little bit,” Gordon said. “He is still learning the mental part but he’s got the fastball, the breaking ball, the athleticism. He was ready to be our horse and there’s no question the innings would have helped him this.”

Although he has only flashed his pitching over a short workload, Galvan has done his share of damage at the plate as a three-year starter in the lineup. The ankle injury slowed Galvan after a hot start to his junior year but he still posted his best offensive season.

Both the lineup and pitching staff have major pieces to replace from a team that reached the semifinals of the Monmouth County Tournament, the quarterfinals of both the Shore Conference and Central Jersey Group II Tournaments and finished second in the Class A Central divisional race. The most notable graduation losses were mound ace Spencer Bauer and First-Team All-Shore slugger James Harmstead, but Manasquan will also miss the presence of two-way talent Mike Anthony, catcher Alec Wells and second baseman Sam Del Guercio.

In Galvan and Hopkinson, Manasquan has an ace and a steady shortstop to build around and hopes to rely on a few more veterans and a number of up-and-coming sophomores in an abbreviated 2020 season.

In addition to Hopkinson, Manasquan returns senior centerfielder John Foreman to the middle of its defense after his All-Shore junior season. Foreman missed almost his entire sophomore season due to illness and injury but came back strong as a junior to post an average over .400 and a quality body of work at the plate during Manasquan’s tournament play.

Manasquan senior John Foreman. (Photo provided by Manasquan Baseball, courtesy: Chris Rice)

“We knew he had talent, but he also missed the year,” Gordon said of Foreman. “He was seeing basically seeing a curveball for the first time he had to adjust. I knew he would be good, but I didn’t know he would be as good as he has become. The ball jumps off his bat at the plate, he covers a lot of ground in the outfield and he’s just a hard-working kid.”

Galvan is likely the team’s best third baseman, but Gordon planned on him spending most of his non-pitching innings at first base, as he has done for most of his career. Senior Hayden Kunz is another returnee at a corner position, with Kunz coming back in right field.

The rest of the batting order will feature new starters, headlined by senior catcher Cam Teza and sophomore outfielder Pat Woodford – both of whom Gordon highlighted as players who came in looking ready to hit the ground running based on their taste of varsity action last year coupled with strong work in the offseason and preseason.

“We’re confident in Cam Teza to step right in at catcher,” Gordon said. “He did a very good job when he had to go in last year. Defensively, we feel great about him. He is a varsity quarterback, so being in the spotlight and having the responsibility on his back won’t scare him.”

Woodford is one of several players from the Class of 2022 in the mix for playing time when high school baseball resumes. Mike Antonucci – the younger brother of former Warriors standout Tommy Antonucci and the son of Middletown South football coach Steve Antonucci – has angled for a starting job in the outfield as well.

Sophomore Ryan Deegan is the front-runner to replace Harmstead at third base, although he could also wind up at second, according to Gordon. Senior Jake Brown returns as an infield candidate with a dose of varsity experience and junior St. Rose transfer David Frost will also be in the picture on the infield as well.

The pitching staff does not return a whole lot of innings following the graduation of its top two horses, Bauer and Anthony. Senior left-hander Ryan O’Keefe was solid over 18 innings before coming down with an injury and entered the current shut-down as the projected No. 2 behind Galvan. Kunz was also set to build on 12 strong innings as a junior by challenging for the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

Manasquan senior Ryan O'Keefe. (Photo provided by Manasquan Baseball, courtesy: Chris Rice)

“O’Keefe has been great for us when he has been healthy and Kunz has been pitching for us since he was a sophomore and doing a really nice job,” Gordon said. “We feel like we have a big-three we can throw up against anyone, with Galvan at the top and two really solid seniors behind him, plus some good young arms who are ready to step up.”

Sophomore James Cosgrove could wind up the top two-way talent among the sophomore class and is likely to carve out a key role in the pitching staff in a potential 2020 season. Classmate Zach LaVigna also looks like a contender for innings in what would be a talented-but-unproven Warriors pitching staff. Cosgrove can also play the outfield or first base when a spot opens up and LaVigna could see time at first as well when Galvan is on the mound.

Last year’s loss to Robbinsville at home in the Central Group II playoffs was a heartbreaker for Manasquan, which has the key pieces back to redeem itself for that defeat, as well as losses to CBA in the MCT semifinal and Red Bank Catholic in the SCT semifinal. With a pair of seniors who have both championship experienced and the motivation to atone for last year, Manasquan has the makings of a dangerous beast if there is an opportunity to play.

If not, the Warriors will lose an accomplished senior class that will be hard to replace in the short-term future.

“It’s unfortunate,” Gordon said. “We had big expectations for this year. We had some key guys to replace, but the leadership on this team is as good as it can be and we really feel like we had the talent to have a great season.”

 

Manasquan

Head Coach: Brenan Gordon, third season
2019 Record: 17-6 (11-3, second in A Central)

Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 Stats)

PlayerABH2B3BHRRRBIAVGOBPSLUGSB
John Foreman (Sr., CF)70296011719.414.494.5435
Will Hopkinson (Sr., SS)84224401814.262.323.4053
Alex Galvan (Sr., 1B/3B)59202021314.339.418.47510
Hayden Kunz (Sr., OF)47130001211.277.393.2771

 

Top Returning Pitchers (with 2019 Stats)

PlayerWLIPHERBBSOERAWHIP
Ryan O'Keefe (Sr., LHP)311811313201.171.33
Hayden Kunz (Sr., RHP)10121218100.581.67
Alex Galvan (Sr., RHP2010.2724161.311.03

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Hayden Kunz, OF/RHP

Manasquan lost not one, not two, but three excellent two-way players in Spencer Bauer, James Harmstead and Mike Anthony. Bauer was the team’s top pitcher and second-best hitter, Harmstead its best hitter and dominant reliever and Anthony a top-four hitter and No. 2 pitcher. While Galvan will have to pick up plenty of slack, Kunz could be the key for Manasquan as a guy who posted a sub-1.00 ERA as a pitcher and an on-base just under .400 at the plate.

Top Newcomer: James Cosgrove, OF/RHP

Manasquan would need its sophomore class to collectively come up with a big season in order to meet its lofty goals and the early indications were that Cosgrove, Woodford, Antenucci, Deegan and LaVigna were ready to help. In the case of Cosgrove, the junior right-hander lined up to occupy a spot in the pitching rotation and might have found a spot in the order as well.

X-Factor: Alex Galvan, RHP/1B/3B

In most cases, a coach might be a little uneasy relying so heavily on a player who has pitched only 11 2/3 innings at the varsity level but Gordon and the rest of the Shore know what Galvan is. The 6-foot-7 senior is one of the state’s best athletes, a fierce competitor and when healthy, he is more than capable of carrying a rotation. Manasquan and Galvan are just hoping he gets the chance sometime before the end of June.