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Friday marks the first day of the 2021 high school baseball calendar in New Jersey, with pitchers and catchers eligible to begin practicing just about one week before full practices begin on Thursday.

To mark the start of the first “Pitchers and Catchers Report Day” on record in N.J. high school baseball, let’s take a look at some of the Shore Conference’s best batteries due back in 2021. This list does not factor in any injuries that may wipe out any part of the season for any particular player – it’s just to recognize some of the talent still at the Shore at both positions and to note which teams appear to have the best combination of both.

Happy baseball season. It’s good to be back.

Jackson senior Matt Potok. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell)

1. Jackson Memorial

No team in the Shore Conference and not too many in the state can go toe-to-toe with the one-two punch of Matt Potok and Zach Crotchfelt at the top of the pitching rotation. Potok (committed to Coastal Carolina) has already been an All-Shore pitcher despite missing out on his junior season and he was the most impressive ace in the entire field of the Last Dance Tournament in July. Crotchfelt (Auburn), meanwhile, might be the best left-hander in N.J. and is just entering his junior season.

On the catching side, Jackson Memorial graduated two standouts in Tom Cartnick and Andrew Sefick, but brings back an exciting senior in Zach Rogacki. On top of standout athleticism for the position, Rogacki is a good leader and has the mentality to handle a staff like the one Jackson Memorial is going to boast.

Middletown North senior Danny Frontera. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

2. Middletown North

Last July, Middletown North unleashed a relentless offense on the field of the Last Dance Tournament but it is the Lions’ pitching that makes them a Shore Conference contender heading into 2021. Seton Hall commit Danny Frontera came back from Tommy John surgery last season and was pumping low-90’s gas and overpowering opposing lineups when he got the call. Senior classmate Colin Dowlen was also sharp on the mound and Ryan Frontera should add to the mix as a sophomore.

Middletown North also has one of the Shore’s best backstops in Andrew Lombardi, who has already shown a power stroke at the plate as a high-school freshman. Lombardi also came through with some big swings in the Last Dance and he will give the Lions a veteran catcher who also is one of the area’s better run-producers.

Red Bank Catholic senior Shane Panzini. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

3. Red Bank Catholic

With just its ace alone, Red Bank Catholic is in the conversation for the Shore’s best battery. Virginia commit Shane Panzini has been consistently reported at 96-to-97 miles-per-hour with his fastball and a number of publications have placed him within the top 100 players available in the next MLB First-Year Player Draft in July, with FanGraphs ranking him No. 46. He and Potok are the front-runners for Shore Pitcher of the Year and Panzini will be pitching in front of a throng of scouts in every one of his starts.

The rest of the RBC battery is unproven but promising. Senior Riley Supp and sophomore Shane Andrus give the Caseys two very good options to catch the staff, but neither has been a starting catcher at the varsity level and in Andrus’s case, he hasn’t had a chance to play any high-school baseball yet. Sophomore Alex Stanyek is another talented arm for the rotation that has touched 90 miles-per-hour and senior Dylan Wanagiel lines up as a dependable pitcher with a small helping of varsity experience.

Manalapan senior Joe Mazza. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

4. Manalapan

While there wasn’t a full season to showcase it, Manalapan offered a glimpse of the talent the Braves could coast on the mound even after graduating two aces from a 2019 sectional-championship staff. Rutgers commit and left-hander Joe Mazza broke through as a sophomore in the Manalapan rotation and right-hander Tyler Kane looked like he was primed to do the same if there were a season in 2020. Kane was dominant in his short stints during the Last Dance Tournament, while senior Justin Simone gives Manalapan three very strong candidates to lead the rotation.

The Braves graduated a dependable catcher in Dylan Hode but bring back a ready-made replacement in senior Anthony Matteis, who likely would have seen significant time in 2020 – if not behind the plate, then somewhere around the diamond and in the lineup.

St. John Vianney senior Ryan Sekman. (Photo by Matt Manley)

5. St. John Vianney

The Lancers could be primed for a breakout season and pitching and catching will be a big part of that if it indeed occurs. Juniors Jacob Ramirez and Kyle Pollack are both standout options behind the plate, with Ramirez already posting big offensive numbers two years ago. With two good hitters who can handle the defensive part of the game, both will likely see some time behind the dish and find a spot in the lineup when not catching.

Senior Ryan Sekman is a two-way talent for the Lancers and is a seasoned ace to lead what should be a solid pitching staff. Evan Pollack is a versatile, dependable right-hander while senior Thomas Wright showed what he could do in firing a six-inning no-hitter during the Last Dance Tournament. Right-hander Aiden Cody is a sophomore to follow, adding to a deep group of contributors for the Lancers at catcher and pitcher.

 

The Next Seven

Colts Neck

The Shore hasn’t seen much of the Colts Neck battery at the varsity level but catcher Joe Cilea has played varsity innings behind the plate and the right-left junior duo of Christian Rice and Anthony Gubitosi were likely primed for strong showings a year ago. Cilea projects as one of the Shore’s better all-around backstops and Rice (Wofford) and Gubitosi (Delaware) – who both transferred to Colts Neck last school year – are both already committed to play in college.

Red Bank

Every player is hungry to get back on the field after missing the 2020 season but likely none are as fired up as C.J. Paolino. The Bucs backstop played as a freshman, then missed most of his sophomore season due to injury. He came back ready to roll in 2020, only to have another year taken away. Paolino will catch a staff led by established senior arms in Nick Ferrogine and Andrew Glauber, who will spearhead one of Red Bank’s best rosters in the last decade.

Ocean

Senior Nick Vaughn has already shown flashes of his ability as the No. 2 catcher in 2019 as a sophomore and he is ready to be a middle-of-the-order hitter in his final year. Vaughn will catch a pitching staff that mixes in some experience and the exciting unknown, with senior Nick Callano bringing back a lot of innings of experience, Lucky Perrotto ready for an increased workload after pitching in relief as a sophomore and talented all-around sophomore George Krenkel in the 2021 mix as well.

Ranney

With 2020 a lost season, Ranney could go from an afterthought in 2019 to a force in 2021 thanks to its stacked young roster. Catcher Lou Spadafora started as a freshman and showed an advanced game behind the plate with the potential to add some offense as a junior. The arms, meanwhile, are potentially imposing – even beyond Duke commit A.J. Gracia. Marcello Mastroianni, Nick Coniglio, Jack Tallent and Jack Renaud are all arms to watch and all are young enough that they will be back in 2022.

Lacey

The Lions bring just about every player back from what would have been their 2020 team and their exciting roster starts with a one-two pitching punch of seniors Jacob Bowles and Nick Zarycki. Both are established varsity pitchers and will throw to senior Brandon DeAngelo – a returning starter who played out in the field while waiting his turn to catch behind All-Shore backstop Jorden Jurkiewicz.

Wall

Although Wall had some major innings to replace from its state-championship team in 2019, Monmouth commit Jay Bant looked ready to take on the challenge as the team’s No. 2 pitcher behind Teddy Sharkey – now lighting up the radar gun at Coastal Carolina. Bant is now the No. 1 on a staff that will throw to senior Max Harrell, a strong all-around catcher who is eager to show what he can do in a starting role after learning under former starter Dave Howarth.

Southern

The Rams pitching staff will be a bit of a mystery heading into the season, with experienced senior Jack Plesiarski likely heading it and a number of other seniors in the mix as well. At catcher, however, Southern has a known commodity in Mike Gallaro, who is one of the Shore’s top all-around players at the position.