With an All-Shore right-hander back atop the rotation and a lineup packed with senior returnees, the Central Regional baseball team entered 2018 with healthy expectations.

Even with the bar set higher this year under third-year coach Mike Casale, the Golden Eagles' start to the season went better than few people outside of their dugout thought it would.

During the first week of the season, Central beat Pinelands junior ace and Monmouth University commit Joey Ventresca, knocked off preseason No. 1 Toms River North and edged defending NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV champion Southern to start 3-0, surge to No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, and earn the first Jersey Mike's Team of the Week Award of 2018.

During a "Spring" that saw rain and inclement weather limit how much work teams could get in prior to the season, Central's senior made sure the group was ready to compete from the outset. The Golden Eagles scored five runs off Ventresca - an All-Shore performer as a sophomore a year ago - to back their ace, A.J. Smith, on opening day.

The pitching beyond Smith was an unknown for Central, but senior shortstop Colin Stacy has ascended to the role of No. 2 starter early on. Stacy pitched a scoreless seventh inning to save the 5-4 win over Pinelands, then threw 5 1/3 innings of one-run relief against Toms River North to lock up a win for himself and an 8-4 victory for his team.

The bats have also come through for Central, led by Stacy, senior third baseman Vance Pelino, senior catcher Tom Ruscitti and senior center fielder Shane Black - all of whom hit .400 or better over the first week. Central began this week with a 7-3 loss to No. 5 Jackson Memorial but the bats woke up again in a 12-10 win over Brick.

After five games, Pelino leads the team in batting (.471), slugging percentage (.765) and RBI (9) and he is tied with Ruscitti, Black and senior Tyler Aires with two doubles. Pelino and Ruscitti have each homered once as well.


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