Baseball – Top Teams Holding Strong in the Return of the Shore Sports Network Top 10
Due to what we will call “off-the-field” circumstances, there has not been a Shore Sports Network Baseball Top 10 since April 24 and as you may know or might guess, a lot has happened since then. Three of the teams ranked at the back end of that latest poll – Howell, Central and Middletown South – missed the Shore Conference Tournament and are all now multiple games under .500. Meanwhile, one of the teams that made it to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals – which includes the top eight seeds in the tournament – has not been ranked yet this season (until today, of course).
Perhaps the most surprising part about the rankings today compared to three weeks ago is that save for a little bit of shuffling, the top seven is almost exactly the same. Jackson Memorial lost two straight games to Toms River East during the Top 10 hiatus, which might have dropped the Jaguars somewhere along the way, but for the most part, the top seven have remained steady for more than a month.
With no surprise teams in the SCT quarterfinals, there is not much of an opportunity for any new teams to break into the Top 10 by next Monday, but the NJSIAA Tournament next week will create new opportunities for teams on the outskirts of the rankings. Within the rankings, there is a chance for some movement as well, as the final eight teams left in the conference tournament battle it out and Southern attempts to take down Donovan Catholic in Tuesday’s Ocean County Tournament final on Tuesday.
With one more county championship, three rounds of the Shore Conference Tournament and some key Class A South divisional games still on the schedule, there is a lot of baseball to watch before the start of the state tournament a week from Monday.
1. Ranney (21-1, 14-0) Last Rank: 1
With its memorable win over Red Bank Catholic in the Monmouth County Tournament final this past week, Ranney solidified its spot at the top of the rankings – perhaps even for good. There is still a lot of season left, but with just one loss the entire season and wins already over Rumson and Red Bank Catholic in a tournament setting, the Panthers have done most of the work required to finish No. 1. The question at this point might not be “Will Ranney finish No. 1?” but rather “Will 2023 Ranney go down as an all-time team in Shore history?”
2. Red Bank Catholic (17-4, 10-2) Last Rank: 2
Although they failed to land the knockout punch vs. Ranney in Wednesday’s Monmouth County Tournament final, the Caseys are still positioned to make a bid for a Shore Conference Tournament title, which might require them to challenge Ranney in another championship game. While it might take more than a head-to-head win over the Panthers to get to No. 1, RBC still has the advantage of playing in Non-Public A in that any team that wins a championship in that group almost has to be the No. 1 team in the state.
3. Donovan Catholic (19-1, 12-0) Last Rank: 4
Now on a 14-game winning streak, Donovan Catholic has proven itself a worthy candidate for the No. 1 ranking, its head-to-head loss to Red Bank Catholic notwithstanding. That loss is the only one the Griffins have suffered this season and over the course of its schedule, Donovan Catholic has shown it always has the pitching to compete. That pitching will have to be sharp Monday against CBA, which will presumably start Wake Forest commit Chris Levonas when the teams meet in the SCT quarterfinals in Toms River. The Griffins got a very difficult draw and managed to survive the first leg by beating Manasquan on the second walk-off homer of the week by Gavin Degnan.
4. CBA (16-4-1, 9-3-1) Last Rank: 5
The Colts wrapped up the outright Class A North championship early last week and while enjoying a first-round bye in the Shore Conference Tournament, the Colts picked up a strong non-conference win by beating Seton Hall Prep in walk-off fashion. There have been some recent challenges to overcome as well: Marlboro swept CBA, including by an 11-0 margin in the second game, and the Colts had to scratch and claw to beat Toms River East in the SCT round of 16 Saturday, 3-2. Ultimately, though, the résumé is solid, the pitching is very good at the top and the bats can make it a miserable day for an opposing pitcher when they get cooking.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (15-4, 9-3) Last Rank: 3
On April 22, Rumson beat defending North 1 Group II sectional champion Caldwell, 8-0, to improve to 8-2 on the season. Since then, the Bulldogs have basically been just as good on wins and losses, with a 7-2 mark. The games themselves, though, have tested the team’s mettle: two of the wins were one-sided, one was by a two-run margin, three of the wins and both of the losses were by one run and the other game was an 11-7 win in 10 innings in which Rumson blew a four-run lead in the seventh, then scored four in the eighth. The Bulldogs have been through the ringer and usually find a way, which figures to be a good sign with huge tournament games set for the next two weeks.
6. Jackson Memorial (16-5, 10-3) Last Rank: 6
The Jaguars bounced back from a devasting loss to Southern in extra innings on Friday in the Ocean County Tournament semifinals by handling those same Rams, 8-2, the following day in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16. The Jaguars pitching staff will be put to the test Monday vs. Rumson-Fair Haven and to this point, Jackson Memorial has been able to rely on just about any arm they run out to the mound. With Charlie Meglio continuing to deliver huge hits and the hitters around them doing just enough damage to set him up, the Jaguars are not a comfortable matchup for anyone in any tournament.
7. Southern (13-5, 9-3) Last Rank: 7
For the fourth time in its history and first time since 2017, Southern will play for the Ocean County Tournament championship in the tournament’s final on Tuesday. The Rams battled past top-seeded Jackson Memorial in Friday’s extra-inning semifinal thanks to a huge game at the plate from Dom Miranda and standout pitching from Brady Lesiak and Roger Dreher. With Donovan Catholic awaiting in the final, Southern has a chance to make a statement win while claiming what would be its first county championship since 1977.
8. Middletown North (12-6, 9-5) Last Rank: Not ranked
The last time we posted a ranking around these parts, Middletown North was just starting to figure things out, but not really on the Top 10 radar. Since April 19, the Lions are 10-1, with the only loss coming against CBA. During that 11-game stretch, Middletown North has scored 10 runs or more in seven games, which has given the Lions a similar look to the one they had last June, when they won the Group III championship. The healthy return of R.J. Kernan has been a huge boost, with everyone falling into their roles since he came back.
9. Manasquan (11-10, 7-7) Last Rank: Not ranked
The Warriors enter the Top 10 coming off a heartbreaking loss to Donovan Catholic in extra innings in which Manasquan took its first lead in the top of the eighth and were just three outs from reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Unfortunately for them, one of those outs to get came in the form of Gavin Degnan, who remains on fire at the plate for Donovan Catholic. Manasquan suffered three straight loss to Wall and Matawan (twice) at the end of April that could call its Top 10 credentials into question, but those came after the Warriors beat Marlboro in the Monmouth County Tournament and were setting up their pitching to face Rumson in the next round. Throw in a head-to-head win over Brick Memorial and Manasquan has enough key wins to slip into this week’s rankings.
10. Marlboro (11-8, 8-6) Last Rank: Not ranked
In addition to a spot in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals against top-seeded Ranney, Marlboro and Brick Memorial were playing for a spot in this week’s Top 10. Marlboro won the battle of the Mustangs with a walk-off single by Alex D’Ambrosio, who continues to deliver in tournament games, whether on the mound or at the plate. Another Marlboro player to deliver? Alex Frank: the senior – who led Marlboro’s basketball team in scoring this winter – pitched four scoreless innings of relief with 10 strikeouts in two SCT wins over Point Boro and Brick Memorial.
Howell (7-11, 7-7) Last Rank: 8 – Neither the offense nor the pitching staff have been as deep as that of last year’s state championship team and it could be wearing on the Rebels after they got off to a strong start.
Central (7-12, 5-8) Last Rank: 9 – Central has lost a number of close games to quality teams and has not been able to find its way to the winning side of enough of those up-for-grabs games. On the bright side: senior shortstop Dom Masino has been incredible at the plate.
Middletown South (9-11, 7-7) Last Rank: 10 – The Eagles are hoping to get Ben Schild back on the mound for the NJSIAA Tournament, but without him available to pitch, they have been a much more ordinary team.
Top 10 Watchlist
Brick Memorial (14-8, 9-4) – A nine-game winning streak came to an end with a 14-4 loss to Donovan Catholic, following a 2-1, 10-inning loss at Marlboro in the SCT.
Matawan (12-10, 6-8) – The Huskies have proven to have to pitching required to make noise in a tournament setting, with only CBA and Ranney knocking them out in the two local tournaments.
Toms River East (9-9, 7-6) – The Raiders had major momentum after sweeping Jackson Memorial, but then lost an OCT first-round game to Manchester and were swept by Brick Memorial by a combined score of 18-3.
St. Rose (16-6, 13-1) – The Purple Roses have a few nice wins (Howell, Monmouth, Point Beach) and have challenged themselves in losses outside of B Central (Notre Dame, Brick Memorial, Rumson-Fair Haven).
Raritan (11-10, 5-7) – Since starting 3-9, Raritan has completely turned its season around by winning eight of its last nine, a stretch that began with a win over No. 5 Rumson.