Baseball – Wild Race for No. 1 at the Shore Begins This Week
There are still two weeks left in the 2021 season and seven of the 10 teams from last week’s rankings are still playing in the Shore Conference Tournament.
Shockingly, however, the top two teams from last week’s rankings are not.
With both Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic – the Monmouth County Tournament champion and the Shore Conference Tournament champion – both losing at home in the sectional quarterfinal round, the race for the No. 1 spot to finish the season just got really, really interesting.
To be clear, both Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic should still be considered contenders for the final No. 1 ranking, although Red Bank Catholic’s 0-2 record vs. Middletown South make the Caseys’ likely ceiling No. 2. With 13 Shore Conference teams still playing in the NJSIAA Tournament, the battle for No. 1 is likely to rage until the final Saturday of the season, even if no Shore Conference teams make it that far.
With that in mind, this week’s rankings consider not only what each team has already done to earn their ranking, but also considers the chances of each to finish No. 1. Including Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic, there are, conservatively speaking, eight teams that could land at No. 1 and if we’re keeping an open mind, that number could be more like 10. It should be an incredible race to the finish and, hopefully for their sake, a few Shore Conference teams get a chance to state their case all the way to a state championship.
1. Middletown South (21-10, 10-4) Last Week: 1
The Monmouth County Tournament champions got bounced from the NJSIAA Group IV Tournament in the sectional quarterfinal round and will have to sweat out the last two weeks of the season as it pertains to the final SSN Top. For now, the Eagles still have the best resume, but Saturday’s loss to East Brunswick means Middletown South is done adding to it.
2. Red Bank Catholic (20-9, 10-4) Last Week: 2
Similar to Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic has a second-place finish behind a strong division champion (Rumson-Fair Haven in Class A Central) and a tournament championship to its credit (Shore Conference Tournament) while also being eliminated from the NJSIAA Tournament in the sectional quarterfinals. The Caseys lost to a CBA squad they also beat in the Monmouth County Tournament and it’s certainly not a bad loss, but there will be teams adding to their case for the No. 1 spot while RBC hangs up its spikes for the season.
3. Jackson Memorial (21-8, 11-3) Last Week: 3
The Jaguars know own the inside track for the No. 1 spot among teams that are still playing, but there will be two major head-to-head obstacles to overcome. Jackson Memorial lost to both Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic and the RBC loss came in the SCT championship game with both teams throwing their No. 1 pitchers. The Middletown South loss is a little easier to dismiss, but it will probably require Jackson Memorial winning Group IV or at least getting to the state final in order to boast a better overall resume than the current No. 1 team.
4. Rumson-Fair Haven (20-4, 13-1) Last Week: 4
While Jackson Memorial is in front of Rumson at the moment, the Bulldogs might have the cleanest case for No. 1 should they complete a state championship run to end the season. Rumson does have a head-to-head loss to Howell, but it was with No. 4 starter Matt Bruno pitching against Howell’s No. 2 starter, Nick Gomes. The Bulldogs also dropped two games to Red Bank Catholic, but they also have a win over the Caseys. The question for Rumson is, “Will Group II offer enough top-level competition to push the resume over the top?” and the answer is probably, “Only if the Bulldogs win the whole thing.”
5. Wall (22-6, 11-3) Last Week: 5
Like Jackson Memorial, Wall has lost head-to-head to both Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic and neither game was particularly close. That means the Crimson Knights will be unlikely to make a case to be No. 1 even in the event that they win the Group II championship, but there are some conditions that could maximize their case. Going through Rumson would be a good first step and Howell – a team Wall beat in the MCT – winning the Central Jersey Group II championship would bolster the resume as well.
6. Howell (21-6, 12-2) Last Week: 6
A 19-2 loss to Central in the Shore Conference Tournament with ace Dan Furlong on the mound looked like a serious setback for Howell, but the Rebels have landed on their feet and now have a legitimate road to finish No. 1 in the Shore Conference. Howell won the outright Class A North championship, lost in the MCT with Furlong unable to pitch and still nearly beat Wall, and the Rebels play in Group IV. If Howell can beat the likes of Jackson Memorial, the team that emerges from the loaded South Jersey Group IV bracket and a North Jersey power to win the overall Group IV title, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep Howell out of that No. 1 spot.
7. St. John Vianney (18-6-1, 10-3-1) Last Week: 7
As a team still alive in the Non-Public A bracket, St. John Vianney has to be considered a contender to finish No. 1 in the conference. The Lancers will have a tall task on Tuesday when they travel to South Jersey to play the No. 1 team in the state, St. Augustine, but if they can pull off the upset and give the ball to Aiden Cody in both the sectional final on Friday and then the state final on June 15, SJV would have a real shot to shock the state and own the Shore in 2022. It’s a longshot, but there remains a shot.
8. Ranney (24-5, 11-0) Last Week: 8
The Ranney resume has been an enigma all season long and remains so at the moment. The Panthers have wins over two of the most talented teams in the northeast – Poly Prep and Don Bosco – plus wins over Middletown South and Delbarton. The Panthers also lost to St. John Vianney, Rumson-Fair Haven, Jackson Memorial and aforementioned Middletown South, played in an uncompetitive division, and will not play another Shore Conference team the rest of the way. Ranney looks like it has a really good chance to win its first ever state championship, but will adding Gloucester Catholic or Bishop Eustace to its list of wins be enough to vault the Panthers to No. 1? It’s hard to say, but it will probably require a lot of the teams ahead of them to lose in the next four days.
9. Christian Brothers Academy (17-9, 10-4) Last Week: Not ranked
With two strong performances in the state tournament last week, CBA re-enters the Top 10 and has to be considered in the running to finish No. 1 simply based on the teams the Colts could still face the rest of the way. At this point, CBA is well behind the teams at the top of the rankings overall, but the Colts have also already split with Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic and Howell. If they add St. Joseph Metuchen, St. Augustine and Don Bosco to that resume, how is CBA not No. 1? Again, it’s very unlikely a team survives that gauntlet, but as long as it’s a possibility, CBA finishing No. 1 is a possibility.
10. Central (20-9, 8-6) Last Week: 10
As a team still kicking in the South Jersey Group IV section, Central has to be seriously considered as a contender to finish the season ranked No. 1 at the Shore. To this point, it’s not much of a case. The Golden Eagles only went 8-6 in the Class A South division and got swept by both Southern and Toms River North. To its credit, however, Central has challenged itself outside the conference (lost to St. Augustine, 3-0, in April), made some major noise in the SCT (beat Howell, 19-2) and is also set to play in the Ocean County Tournament final. It’s a very similar situation to the one Middletown South created for itself last season and while that did quite not yield a No. 1 finish for the Eagles in 2021, there might be more of lane for Central this season.
Donovan Catholic (16-12, 10-4) Last Week: 9 – The Griffins got a big Shore Conference Tournament win over CBA and reached the SCT semifinals, but untimely exits in both the Ocean County Tournament and NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament get them bumped from the Top 10.
Top 10 Watchlist
Colts Neck (16-7-1, 11-2-1) – With Anthony Gubistosi lined up to potentially pitch three out of the last four games of the season, Colts Neck is right where it wants to be as a Group III contender. While finishing No. 1 is not on the table, a Top 10 finish absolutely is.
Middletown North (17-10, 6-8) – The Lions have not been a Top 10 team all year and the teams they have beaten in their eight-game winnings streak don’t exactly raise eyebrows, but they also have their ace (Colin Dowlen) set to pitch three out of four games to try to win a Group III title. If Middletown Noth can pull it off, that’s a 21-win season with a state title: in other words, top-10-worthy.
Freehold Township (14-13, 6-8) – The Patriots probably can’t find their way into the final Top 10, but they have beaten some heavyweights this season: Middletown South, Millburn, Jackson Memorial. It’s at least worth putting them on the board for consideration.
Southern (14-11, 8-5) – If Central and Jackson Memorial both make deep runs, Southern can claim wins over major power players in Group IV, not to mention a win over Middletown South. Again, Southern cracking the Top 10 without another meaningful game on the schedule is unlikely, but the Rams deserve to be in the conversation.