Just like teams like Manalapan and Brick Memorial are heading south to Florida in search of warm weather, I am headed to the West to California and the Los Angeles/San Diego area for a vacation in the sun and will be back late on Tuesday night of next week. We will still have the scores posted every day, but obviously I won’t be getting to any games over the next few (possibly rainy) days as I re-charge the batteries before the final push of the spring season and beyond, but I will be back soon. I’ll make sure to stuff Jake Peavy into my suitcase and bring him back for any teams that might need a pitching boost early in the season. I’m sure he would rather be on your team than the Padres.
Anyway, I took in Toms River North’s 6-2 win over Toms River South on Wednesday that put the Indians into an 0-3 hole. Mark Leiter was solid and pitched a complete game on 89 pitches without his best stuff. Leiter is the definition of a pitcher, not a thrower, as he uses his brain as much as his stuff. He doesn’t overpower people, but he understands the value of movement as much as velocity, and his two-seam fastball gives him that.
As for the Mariners’ lineup, it’s relentless. They are batting Rutgers-bound star Steve Nyisztor at leadoff because he is a great on-base percentage guy and it also gets him more at-bats and forces teams to pitch to him. My philosophy against him would be to smile and then point to first base for an intentional walk because he is a line drive machine with a compact swing and great hands. Senior first baseman Billy Hoermann had a two-run double and Anthony LaCava and Brian Gilbert each slugged consecutive homers, and while Hoermann and LaCava we know about, Gilbert is one to keep an eye on. The junior third baseman, who has replaced the graduated Scott Shan, did a nice job in the field and showed a strong arm, which reportedly makes him a flamethrower on the mound as well. There’s just a bottomless well of talent at that program. North also did a good job of making adjustments to TR South starter Andrew McGee the second time through the lineup to generate some offense. The Mariners will take on TR East today on the road with senior Matt Mancini on the mound.
As for South, the pitching is there, but the offense has not been thus far. The Indians have not scored more than three runs in a game yet. I don’t think it’s time to panic yet because when you have pitching and defense, you always have a shot, but they need to get something going offensively. Veteran coach Ken Frank is remaining positive and I’m sure will get this team on a run. Don’t forget that they didn’t win Class A South last year (TR North did), but still hit their stride and won the Ocean County Tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament.
However, it looks they will be without starting first baseman Dan Davis for their next two games as he was ejected from Wednesday’s game for arguing and I’m pretty sure by rule has to sit out two games. Sophomore Kyle Perry continues to produce as the leadoff man, and I’ll tell you one thing, don’t think you are just going to start him off with an easy strike because he pounds fastballs early in the count or on the first pitch. He hammered a double off Leiter on the first pitch of the game on Wednesday. Pitchers think they are going to ease into the game off him in the first inning and against Jackson Memorial and TR North, he has crunched doubles to start the game. Third baseman Mitch Dressing also had a nice game with two hits, including an RBI double, so maybe that gets him rolling.
As for the rest of the Shore, some pivotal divisional games might have given us an early indication of some of the races. Manasquan edged Shore, 3-1, for a big Class A Central win between two teams expected to challenge for the title. Right now, I see the upper echelon of that division as being Manasquan, Shore, St. John Vianney and Red Bank Catholic. Manasquan senior Karl Fiske really only had his fastball as he struggled with his secondary pitches, but he battled his way to six innings without an earned run against the Blue Devils to outduel Shore ace Rob Corsi, a senior lefty headed to Duquesne. It looks like the race to lead the Shore in strikeouts this season is between Corsi and Manalapan senior Ryan Harvey thus far, as Corsi has 26 in 11 innings this season and Harvey has 24 in two games.
I think Shore has the pitching to compete in this division, but I am wondering if they have the offense. They have scored three unearned runs in their two games this season, and the book on them is that if you get senior star Todd Juliano out at the top of the lineup, you can beat them.
Rumson coach Kevin James was telling me to watch out for St. John Vianney because the Lancers swing the bats and have a deep array of arms on the mound. They slammed four home runs on Rumson’s field in a 10-2 win on Wednesday and look like they have the offense to be right in the mix all season, plus they have a bona fide ace in Villanova-bound senior Kevin MacLachlan and plenty of pitching behind him. SJV coach Mike Morgan was not at the game on Wednesday because his wife went into labor, so hopefully all is well with the newest addition to the Morgan family.
Jackson Memorial coach Frank Malta changed the lineup around a little and the Jaguars’ bats finally woke up as they rolled past Southern, 12-0, in five innings. Senior outfielder Jon Koslowski has now been moved into the No. 5 spot, which, for my money, is one of the best places in any lineup that a player could be put. You could make All-Shore from that spot because batting ahead of him are senior Kevin Needham and junior Bryan Soloman, two of the Shore’s top hitters. Koslowski is going to be up with runners on base a lot this season, so he will get his chances, and on Wednesday he smacked a grand slam.
Toms River East picked up a good Class A South win by edging Brick Memorial 4-2 heading into the Raiders meeting with No. 1 Toms River North today.
In a rematch of last season’s Central Jersey Group III final, Wall beat Monmouth, 3-2, in extra innings in what was essentially a replay of last year’s CJ III title game. That’s a great win and big confidence boost for the Crimson Knights in their season opener as the defending Class B North champs showed that they should be right in the hunt despite graduating almost their entire lineup. When you pitch well and play good defense, you can replace talent and keep winning.
Neptune, another B North contender, fended off Freehold, 10-8, in 9 innings. Senior catcher Blake Young-Park is drawing raves from opposing coaches early in the season and is one of the top 2-3 catchers in the Shore right now. He is the key to Neptune’s season. Freehold also looks like they could surprise some people despite being very young, particularly on the pitching side, after graduating a talented senior class.
Mater Dei finally started its season and a great sign for the Seraphs is that the offense that had been lacking for much of last season broke out with a 13-1 win over Point Beach in their opener. If they can score runs consistently, they have a great chance to finish second behind St. Rose in B Central.
Finally, there were some important Class B South games as Central edged Monsignor Donovan, 3-2, to stamp themselves as an early leader for a second straight division title. The names Joe Rusk and Shawn Kessler seem to pop up in any winning scenario for Central, so this team will go as far as those two seniors take it. Mon Don looks like it has the pitching to contend but just needs to muster a little more offense.
Also, Lakewood turned in a surprising 12-11 win over a Manchester team expected to be in the hunt. No one is hotter than Ryshon Rodriguez right now as he hit two homers in a loss to Jackson Liberty on the weekend and had another two hits and an RBI in the win over the Hawks.