Papalia Hiring at Holmdel Fills the Final Football Vacancy

May 27, 2009

As expected, Holmdel defensive coordinator Frank Papalia was approved as the Hornets’ head football coach on Wednesday night, replacing good friend Andy Carlstrom, which means that we head into the summer with every team knowing who its head coach is going to be.

Carlstrom was laid off as a math teacher earlier this month, and the Hornets turned to Papalia, a Central graduate who orchestrated one of the top defenses in the Shore Conference in 2007 when Holmdel won a school-record 10 games and the National Division title. Papalia is an enthusiastic guy who has a good rapport with the players, so I figured he would be the guy to replace Carlstrom. Holmdel went 1-9 this past fall, but the Hornets played a ton of sophomores, particularly on defense, and should be back on the rise in the next two years.

Papalia’s hiring comes one day after Point Beach confirmed Steve Sasse, who replaces Nick Giglio, who took the head job at Red Bank. I actually bumped into Giglio the other day at a Red Bank baseball game and the work has already begun in earnest in trying to turn around the Bucs. Sasse is a Point Beach fixture who is the school’s head wrestling coach, and in a Group I school, he will be dealing with a lot of the same athletes in both sports. It was assumed that Point Beach would stay in house with its hiring, so Sasse getting the head job makes sense.

So, to recap, here are the new head coaches heading into 2009: Sasse, Papalia, Giglio, Greg LaCava (Colts Neck); Pat Dowling (Brick); Skip Edwards (St. John Vianney); and Ron Raymond (Mater Dei). Giglio, Sasse, and Raymond inherit programs that are trying to dig out from the bottom of the standings, Edwards takes over an up-and-down SJV team that lost most of its top players when they headed for the hills and transferred after the resignation of coach John Amabile, LaCava takes over a team that lost a lot to graduation but still has talent, and Dowling inherits the toughest situation of anyone – following Warren Wolf in a town that is divided over his hiring. No shortage of plotlines there.


State playoff notes/MCT semifinals today/Hughes Commits to Albright

May 19, 2009

Before I get to the baseball action from the opening round of the NJSIAA Tournament, a quick football commitment: Congrats to Point Boro’s Ty Hughes, the running back/defensive back who was an All Shore Media All-Conference selection in the defensive backfield, as Hughes has committed to Albright College, joining a large group of former Shore Conference players.

As for Monday, the Shore Conference had a great showing, headlined by Toms River East’s 5-4 stunner as the 16th seed over top-seeded Millville in South Jersey Group IV. I was actually talking to Raiders head coach Bill Frank before their eventual extra-inning loss to Middletown South in the Shore Conference Tournament last week, and Frank was asking me about Millville and he said, “I think we’ve got a chance because they don’t see the kind of competition down there that we see up here.” Looks like he was exactly right, as having to rumble with Jackson Memorial and the other Toms River schools all year got the Raiders ready to slay the giant. I’m happy for Tyler Jones, too, as he was the hard-luck loser that day after a strong game against Middletown South but came back to pitch a great game and get the win against Millville for a nice highlight to his season. Senior first baseman Steve Pappalardo also continues to be clutch, as his RBI double proved to be the difference.

Also, in SJ IV, we will have Toms River South-Toms River North Part IV in the quarterfinals. All I’m asking is that these two teams could just make it to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals to face one another as well so that we can have a nice five-game series to decide the superior team this season once and for all.

As for Manalapan, if you’re going to get one hit in a game, make sure it’s a three-run double like Joe Ramirez hit in an unorthodox 4-2 win over Colts Neck in Central Jersey Group IV. That’s a tough one to swallow for Colts Neck’s Chris Leroy, one of the Shore’s most underrated pitchers, as he tossed a one-hitter but took the loss. Manalapan now has a winnable game at Monroe on Friday, and the Braves will have ace Ryan Harvey ready to go.

Brandon McCloskey can feel Leroy’s pain, as the Middletown North ace lost his third 2-1 game of the season as the Lions fell to Monroe and ace Andy Sullivan, a Division I-caliber player. McCloskey had one of the more deceiving 4-3 seasons you could have, as his ERA is under 2.00.

Speaking of miniscule ERAs, I got my first look at Manasquan ace Karl Fiske on Monday, whose ERA is now 0.36, which looks like the ERA of someone like Red Bank Catholic softball pitcher Brittany O’Donnell. When Fiske is around the plate, he is extremely tough to hit. His only rough spot has been walks, as he issued five in a 7-0 win over Spotswood in CJ II. However, when his curveball is on, he is borderline unhittable because he will unload it in any count and throw several in a row and coupled with a fastball in the high 80s, it just freezes batters. He still has a ton of untapped potential, and when he goes to play for Johnny Johnson and the strong program at Brookdale Community College, he has a chance to get himself drafted if he continues to progress.

I had a feeling Monmouth was going to have a lot of trouble with Middletown South and freshman pitcher Howie Brey in the first round of Central Jersey Group III, and Middletown South pulled out the 4-2 extra-inning win thanks to a two-run homer by Mike Farrell. This bracket is shaping up to be fairly interesting as Jackson Liberty will face Red Bank on the other side of the bracket after winning its first state playoff game in school history, so congrats to the Lions on that accomplishment. The good news for Monmouth is that it is still alive in the Monmouth County and Shore Conference tournaments, including an MCT semifinal against Christian Brothers Academy today at FirstEnergy Park.

Also, a big congrats to Neptune on its first state playoff win in more than 20 years, as the Scarlet Fliers knocked off Hamilton West in CJ III. This was a year that the Fliers had pointed to as a breakthrough season, and now they have concrete proof of it.

As for today, the big games are the MCT semifinals at FirstEnergy Park, starting with Monmouth vs. CBA at 4 p.m. and concluding with Freehold Township vs. St. Rose at 7 p.m. I’ll be interested to see who CBA throws out there, maybe Mike Hanlon or a combination of a few guys, because I would think the Colts are saving Pat Light for Toms River South in the SCT quarterfinals on Wednesday. Monmouth will be trying to shake off an opening-round loss to Middletown South in the state tournament when they face the Colts, who are ranked No. 1 in the All Shore Media Top 10.

The second game will have extra meaning for Freehold Township, which suffered a recent tragedy when former player Dan Buckiewicz, a 2005 graduate and former Patriots player, was killed in a car accident a week ago today. Buckiewicz was set to graduate from Ramapo only three days later and had already been accepted to NYU Law School. Buckiewicz’s organs were donated, and green bracelets were handed out to those at the wake inscribed with “Donate Life” in order to raise awareness about organ donation.

At tonight’s game, the players and coaches for the Patriots will all be wearing green bracelets in his memory and many of his friends will also be in attendance, so it’s sure to be an emotional evening for Freehold Township as it tries to dethrone St. Rose, which is the defending MCT champion.


Manalapan, RBC win titles/OCT final coming up/Dowling official at Brick

May 15, 2009

The Pat Dowling hiring at Brick became official on Thursday while I was down in a Philadelphia-area hospital awaiting the birth of my new nephew, 8-pound, 3-ounce Brody Stump (look for him on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s All-Star teams around 2025), so the whole Brick controversy has come to a conclusion as far as officially naming a new head coach.

That is a bitter end for Warren Wolf after 51 years as the school’s only head coach, as his request for a coach with Brick ties fell on deaf ears as far as the School Board was concerned. The question I’ve been asked the most about it is why the Board and the Superintendent would do this when just transitioning to an assistant with Brick ties for two years and then cleaning house if you want would have been a much easier way to go rather than alienating Wolf and all his supporters. The other feeling is that if they did this to clear the way for a coach with a blockbuster resume, like, for example, Middletown South’s Steve Antonucci, then people might understand more, whereas Dowling has had success at Monroe but does not have experience with a state championship team. I don’t really have an answer for those two questions.

Dowling comes over after coaching at Allentown last year and at Monroe before that, and he will have a lot of skeptics to convert, that’s for sure. There will be a lot of people rooting for his downfall, which is weird considering that means rooting against their own kids to succeed. I guess we’ll just wait and see, but the town is definitely fractured over this, so it will be interesting to see what the crowds will be like. I can easily envision a large group of disgruntled-looking people in green shirts standing with their arms folded as the game goes on. Like I said in a previous blog, winning will solve a lot, so the pressure will be on from Day One, and Dowling is not shrinking from the challenge, so good luck to him and the Dragons.

It’s also interesting to note that the Green Dragons open with Colts Neck, which also still does not have a head coach, although the latest indication is that it may be Manchester assistant Greg LaCava, who also is a former head coach at Allentown. I have to say that the football landscape has changed a little when putting “Allentown” on your resume is suddenly a good thing, considering this is a program that has traditionally been at the bottom of the standings.

Now, on to baseball. The Ocean County Tournament final will be starting in a few hours at Toms River East, where Toms River North and Toms River South will lock horns, with the added spice that legendary Toms River South coach Ken Frank is gunning for his 700th career victory as the Indians try to repeat as OCT champs. Tyler Gebler pitched in the semifinals on Tuesday and could see some innings tonight because he only threw four in a 11-0 win over Brick. Matt Mancini and Rudy Ferrentino are the two arms most likely slotted for Toms River North, and I’m sure it will be the usual nail-biting, Toms River showdown. The two teams split during the regular season in Class A South. I think I’m going to lay off the predictions because if I pick South and North wins, Mark Leiter might get me in a headlock. Kidding, kidding.

On Thursday, two more division titles were decided as Manalapan pulled one out in the bottom of the seventh to beat Middletown North, 7-6, to claim the Class A North public title, which head coach Brian Boyce said he was told was their first division title in nearly 30 years, so congrats to the Braves.

Red Bank Catholic, meanwhile, went down 8-1 to Rumson only to storm back for a 13-11 win that clinched at least a tie for the Class A Central non-public title. The Caseys showed a ton of resilience considering the factors: They had blown a 6-1 lead and gotten upset by Brick Memorial in the Shore Conference Tournament a day earlier; they trailed by seven runs early; and Rumson had ace Austin McAuliffe on the mound, whom RBC eventually scored eight runs against. That is a gutsy win in a game where they could’ve just folded. RBC can now clinch the overall title with a win over St. John Vianney next week. Shore and Manasquan are still in play for the public title if they can finish second in the division or tied with RBC for the best record in the division.


Frank Going for 700 on Friday/Jarmusz Gets 400/SCT Notes

May 14, 2009

It looks like Thursday’s game between Toms River South and Toms River East in which Indians head coach Ken Frank would be going for his 700th (!) career win has been postponed, according to highschoolsports.net. That means that a little extra spice has been added to Friday night’s Ocean County Tournament final against Toms River North at 7 p.m. at Toms River East, as that will now be Frank’s chance to get an incredible milestone. Nothing like a little extra motivation for the defending OCT champs.

Toms River East also happens to be coached by Frank’s younger brother, Bill, so maybe he didn’t want to get 700 at Bill’s expense. East also has a regular-season, nondivisional night game scheduled for 7:30 tonight against Middletown South for a Senior Night celebration, one day after losing to the Eagles in the Shore Conference Tournament, so it would’ve been the first of two games on the day had they played the Indians.

I’m glad the game today was postponed because I wouldn’t have been able to go because I actually am about to run over to the Philadelphia area because my younger brother’s wife is hours away from giving birth to their first child and the first Stump grandchild, so another Stump is about to be unleashed on the world. God help us all.

The NJSIAA brackets for the playoffs will be posted tonight, so you can check those out here.

This apparently is milestone week in the coaching ranks as Wall’s Todd Schmitt got his 200th victory on Monday and Monmouth’s Ted Jarmusz got his 400th win on Wednesday in a Shore Conference Tournament win over Barnegat and now Frank will be going for 700. Congrats to Jarmusz, who has built that Monmouth program into the most successful program, year-in and year-out, in the school, and a perennial winner in the Shore Conference. I’ve come to appreciate his work now that I am on the other side of it, as when I played at Red Bank Catholic in the early 1990s, Monmouth was our mortal enemy in the fight for the Class B North title. Just like they are now, the Falcons were scrappy and never stopped coming at you, so when you beat them in a big game, you know you earned it. Congrats again to coach Jarmusz, who has been tireless in his support of Shore Conference baseball.

Also, congrats to Schmitt, another tireless supporter of Shore baseball and a talented coach who has had Wall among the top in the Shore during his tenure. I know this season was tough with a sub-.500 record, but that can happen when your entire starting lineup except for one or two guys graduates. I’m sure the Crimson Knights will be back in a big way next year. Also, I think senior shortstop Frank DeSarno shouldn’t be overlooked this season. He has quietly put together a great year, and if Wall was in their customary spot among the top 10, you would be hearing about him more.

As for the SCT, a few quick things from Wednesday and a look ahead to Saturday:

  • I took in Middletown South’s 5-4, eight-inning win over Middletown South as the Eagles’ program took a symbolic step back in a winning direction with the victory. I got a look at freshman lefty Howie Brey, who opened some eyes immediately when he shut out Christian Brothers Academy in his first varsity start. Brey still has a lot of growing to do physically, but mentally he is already much more advanced than other pitchers his age. He showed a ton of composure in tough spots and the ability to bear down after giving up a big RBI hit, which is hard to teach without experience. He also throws four pitches – fastball, curveball, changeup and splitter. His fastball is not overpowering, but he changes speeds so well and has a deep arsenal to keep hitters off balance. He also is not afraid of pitching to contact, which a lot of young pitchers hesitate to do, especially when facing aluminum bats. I also liked what I saw from hard-throwing righty Will Siegfried, who is only a sophomore. He could be forming a strong 1-2 punch with Brey for the next two years.
  • Senior righty Brandon McCloskey continues to be outstading for Middletown North as he shut out Manasquan. He is 4-2 but could easily be 6-0 considering both of his losses were in 2-1 games. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I had a story on him in the latest edition of our free newspaper, the All Shore Media Sports Review, which you can also read online but just clicking on the image (with CJ Pratt on the cover) on our homepage.
  • Never underestimate a team that only has one tournament left to play for, as 22nd-seeded Brick Memorial upset No. 11 Red Bank Catholic, 9-8, to move on. The Mustangs have not qualified for the state tournament, so this is it for them. You really wonder how their season might have gone had the anchor of their lineup, senior first baseman Jose Ramos, not missed 11 games with a dislocated elbow. Ramos came back two games ago and had three hits in the win over RBC.
  • We have an old-school Class B Central match-up in the Round of 16 between fourth-seeded St. Rose and 12th-seeded Shore as the Blue Devils edged Colts Neck, 5-4, behind Rob Corsi and a monster day from Mark Britton, who had two homers and all five of the team’s RBIs. Shore was St. Rose’s main competition in B Central before moving up to Class A Central this year, and the Purple Roses have run their divisional winning streak to 66 games by going unbeaten this year in B Central. “Does this mean we end the streak if we beat them?” Shore coach Jeff Karpell said jokingly.
  • How about Monsignor Donovan’s Russ Gilliam? He now has 16 straight scoreless innings and shut out St. John Vianney for a 1-0 win that was the biggest upset of the first round. Big players step up when their teams need them most, and Gilliam has done that, as he also one-hit Brick Memorial in five innings in the Ocean County Tournament on Saturday.
  • Rough day for Class A Central – Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney were all higher-seeded teams, and all of them went down in the first round. Shore was the only one to escape.
  • As for the Round of 16 match-ups, here is a quick look at the eight games:

—An angry Jackson Memorial team that got knocked out of the OCT in the semifinals will face a Middletown North team that is playing its best ball of the season.

—Freehold Township at Red Bank is the 8-9 game and could be a match-up of the Patriots’ Matt Cadigan vs. Red Bank’s Jake Kalish on the mound, so that is one to watch.

—Central got a tough draw with Monmouth in the 5-12 game, as Monmouth is surging, having won 9 of 10. Meanwhile, Central is trying to regroup after an early exit in the OCT. The Golden Eagles will be out to prove themselves worthy of the No. 5 seed, so this should be an intense game.

—As I said before, Shore at St. Rose is almost always a nail-biter between two fierce rivals.

—Ocean is a heavy underdog against Toms River North, but maybe it can catch the Mariners in a hangover from Friday night’s OCT final.

—Manalapan drew a Brick Memorial team that has nothing else to play for other than continuing its SCT run, but if the Braves roll out Ryan Harvey on Saturday, that’s a tall order for any team.

—Well, Monsignor Donovan won’t have to travel far to face Toms River South, as the schools are right down the street from one another. Mon Don is the Cinderella squad, while Toms River South has a big, emotional game in the OCT final against TR North on Friday night that could be Ken Frank’s 700th win and then has to come back at noon on Saturday and face the Griffins.

—Finally, Middletown South heads to CBA, where Eagles head coach Ryan Spillane was an assistant before coming to South. These teams split during the regular season for one of only two losses this year for CBA, so the Eagles know they can beat them. However, they may see ace Pat Light, who has never lost a varsity game, so they will have to defy a lot of prior history to win this one.

A game to keep an eye on for tonight if it happens (thunderstorms are lurking) is Rumson at Red Bank Catholic at 7 p.m. The Caseys need to get this game to stay in first place in the race for the Class A Central title, while Rumson is throwing ace Austin McAuliffe, an NJIT recruit who almost beat the state’s No. 1 team, Don Bosco Prep, last week.


My Take on the SCT Seeds/A Look at the OCT semifinals

May 12, 2009

With the Shore Conference Tournament bracket now set, here are my initial thoughts about it:

—It seems like the results from Monday didn’t really factor into the seeding. St. John Vianney still got the No. 10 seed despite a loss to a Raritan team that did not qualify for the tournament, and Manasquan was still down at No. 16 even after a 13-4 win over the No. 4 seed St. Rose, which did not hurt the Purple Roses in any way because they were projected as a No. 4 seed.

—I think the team with the most to prove is Central as the No. 5 seed. When the Golden Eagles lost to a sub-.500 Brick team this past weekend and then had to go to extra innings to beat another sub-.500 team, Manchester, on Monday, many were questioning how valid that 15-1 record is and how they got a seed that high. The sentiment is that a team like Toms River South, which boasts a win over No. 3 Toms River North and has played a tougher schedule, should be higher than No. 7, possibly flipping with Central at No. 5 and then leaving Manalapan at No. 6. It looks like the win over No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy on Saturday proved to be huge for the Braves, who I don’t think get that 6 seed if they don’t knock off the Colts behind Seton Hall-bound pitcher Ryan Harvey.

—I thought Neptune at No. 24 was too low for a team that beat No. 8 Red Bank and No. 12 Monmouth. I think sometimes the past history of a program can hurt in these seedings because if it hasn’t been an elite program and has had a lot of years of struggling, they get pigeonholed by opinion rather than evaluated for what they’ve done this season.

—Some of the better first-round match-ups look to be Manasquan against a Middletown North team that has won four straight to qualify and could be a sleeper in this tournament; Brick Memorial, which boasts wins over Jackson Memorial and Toms River South but had to win on Monday just to qualify, against Class A Central leader Red Bank Catholic. This is a game that could show just how tough Class A South is if Memorial can win it against a good Caseys team; Shore drew a tough assignment with a dangerous Colts Neck team; and Jackson Liberty can make school history with its first SCT win in its first SCT appearance in its two-year varsity history when it goes on the road to face an Ocean team that has lost three straight through Monday.

As for the Ocean County Tournament semifinals today at Toms River South between the host Indians and Brick (4 p.m.) and then the nightcap between Jackson Memorial and Toms River North (7 p.m.), a few quick thoughts:

—Brick is playing with house money at this point as the 17th seed. Toms River South will try to throw the knockout punch early by getting a big lead and trying to turn this into a 10-run game. The longer the Indians let the Green Dragons hang around, the more confidence they will gain that they can continue this Cinderella run. A big key for Brick will be its defense, which has been better during this tournament run. The Dragons have lost two straight since their big Saturday in the SCT and this is all they have left to play for, so they will give it their best shot. Toms River South, meanwhile, is looking to defend its OCT title, and I would think the Indians would want to refrain from using Tyler Gebler on the mound until the championship game on Saturday at Toms River East. Usually at this point in the season, Toms River South and pitching coach Mitch Powitz like to use their depth and throw one guy for three innings and another guy for four or use a combination of pitchers so that they keep a variety of options as they start playing in multiple tournaments.

—As for the second game, that is the marquee game of the tournament as Toms River North looks to get the monkey off its back and vanquish Jackson after losing their two regular-season games to the Jaguars by a combined score of 10-2, including a 6-0 loss in their most recent meeting. I think Toms River North is going to come out angry after being somewhat embarrassed when Jackson mowed the Mariners over the last time. A big key in this game is going to be who scores first, as Jackson set the tone early the last time. Jackson hasn’t been trailing late into a game in a while, so it’s up to the Mariners to put some pressure on them. Jackson has already seen Mark Leiter and Matt Mancini, so we’ll see if the Mariners try to throw someone new at them. Jackson’s Kevin Needham has dominated North twice this season in complete-game victories and would be pitching on three days’ rest if he goes, but they also have Pete Kelich and Bryan Soloman in reserve. I will be curious to see if any of Jackson’s other pitchers can have the success that Needham has had against a fearsome lineup. It should be a good one, but if I had to pick it, I would say you are looking at at Jackson Memorial-Toms River South final on Saturday, but obviously no one would be shocked if Toms River North, which is still my No. 2 team in the Shore, finally got over the hump against the Jaguars. I just think Jackson’s lineup is so locked in right now that even if the pitching isn’t excellent, the Jaguars will score enough to win.


Weekend Wrap-Up

May 10, 2009

First off, I just want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the baseball moms out there who drive everyone all over the countryside, come to every game and somehow find a way to get out those grass stain/blood/chalk from the foul line/dirt combinations in the uniforms on a regular basis. I think Mrs. Stump was given an honorary chemistry degree for her work with the No. 18 Red Bank Catholic uniform back in the early ’90s.

Secondly, my condolences to the whole Matawan family and the family of former star Jawann Brown, a 2005 Matawan graduate and former player for the Huskies who lost his fight against leukemia and passed away on Saturday. I remember Jawann as one of the more underrated players in the Shore during his tenure and as a good kid who played hard even though Matawan didn’t get a ton of attention.

Huskies coach John Kaye, who coached Brown, had this to say in an e-mail: “Jawann was not only a great player but an outstanding young man from a tremendous family.  Jawann’s love for the game and pride in wearing the uniorm will be tough to duplicate.  He loved to compete and found a way to smile, win or lose.  Many of you surely remember his prowess as a power hitter.  If you get a chance, please share a moment with your teams and let them know how fortunate they truly are to be given the opportunity to don a baseball uniform and represent your respective programs.  We at Matawan have suffered a great loss.  The void in our hearts will be difficult to fill.  A moment of your prayers I’m sure will mean a lot.”

Brown wouldn’t want us to stop talking baseball because that was what he loved, so that is what I will do here as I have a bunch of stuff from a very busy weekend after waiting forever to play because of rainouts.

I’ll start with some Ocean County Tournament stuff, as I was at Brick’s 5-3 win over Toms River East on Saturday at Al Kunzman Memorial Field that put the 17th-seeded Green Dragons into the OCT semifinals for the first time since 2002. Brick’s pitchers, Sean Salsano and Dan Boyle, did a great job of pitching out of some jams and left fielder Matt Dornacker made the play of the game when he took a potential walk-off home run away from East’s Steve Pappalardo. I think the more that Brick was allowed to hang around later in the game, the more the momentum started to swing in its favor, and once Dornacker made that play, it seemed like that was the fuel to finish the job.

You have to give head coach Jason Groschel a lot of credit because this team was 1-11 heading into last Saturday before winning four of five. At 1-11, most teams will just shut it down and mail in the rest of the season, but Groschel kept them motivated and had them wearing their “bottom-feeder” status, as they put it, like a badge as they attempted to surprise everyone. A big reason is that Groschel plays everyone, pinch-hitting and pinch-running frequently to get everyone involved, so everyone feels like they have a stake in the team. The team is a mixture of seniors, juniors and about six sophomores who play regularly, and to the players’ credit, they stuck with it in order to show that they were a better team than their record.

One other thing from that game – while Dornacker’s play was great, Toms River East center fielder Kyle Snyder made the best catch I have seen this season in the first inning on a smash by sophomore Victor Wilenta. He was running full speed and made a Willie Mays-at-the-Polo-Grounds-style over-the-shoulder catch while also running up that quirky hill that is deep in the outfield at Al Kunzman Field. Just a great catch, which saved a run, and a great video highlight for our members to check out.

As for the rest of the OCT, its Toms River North-Jackson Memorial Part III as the two will meet again in the semifinals after Jackson beat the Mariners twice in Class A South this season. The Mariners predictably rolled past Lacey and Monsignor Donovan, while Jackson had a one-run win over Manchester and then beat Point Beach 17-0. The 8-7 win over the Hawks was a little deceiving as the Jaguars were up 8-3 in that game. The ball was flying out of Jackson’s home field, as the Jaguars hit a combined six homers in the two games, all of them coming in the first inning.

Jackson coach Frank Malta hadn’t looked it up when I talked to him, probably because he doesn’t want to jinx anything, but the Jaguars have to be averaging a run or two per game in the first inning alone. They scored 13 in the first inning against Point Beach, three the other day against Toms River North and five in a 14-0 win over Toms River South before that. They are like the old Mike Tyson character in “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” who goes for the uppercut repeatedly in the first round, and if he lands it, you’re not getting up. Now that the Jaguars’ offense has woken up to match its pitching and defense, they have been scary.

At least when the Jaguars play Toms River North this time, assistant coach Marc Fink can be in uniform and in the dugout. Fink was in plainclothes going stir-crazy while leaning on the fence for the big game with all the Jackson fans on Friday because he was not allowed to coach yet. Fink went to a wedding in Cancun, Mexico, a week earlier, and because of the whole swine flu issue in Mexico, when he came home he was informed that he had to sit out from coaching for four days because of a Board policy until it was determined that he was not infected with the flu in any way. I shook his hand and talked to him for a while, and I have not been coughing or anything for a few days, so it looks like things are all good. Fink’s buddy and fellow assistant coach, J.M. Gold, a former Toms River North star, took Fink’s place in throwing batting practice in his absence, even throwing lefty to simulate Toms River South’s Andrew McGee before the Jaguars battered McGee and the Indians in that 14-0 win two Saturdays ago.

Toms River South rolled past Lakewood and Southern to earn a meeting with Brick in the semis as it looks to defend its OCT title from last year. They are a heavy favorite now to be back in the final, and the semifinals are on the Indians’ home field. However, Brick showed that underestimating the Dragons is a bad idea. This would be vintage Toms River South – people kick a little dirt on them because they were third in A South, but then they show everyone by coming  back and winning an OCT title before going  for more in the Shore Conference and state tournaments.

It was a rough day for the reputation of Class B South, that’s for sure. Central, its flagship team and division champion, went down to a Brick team that was 3-12 entering the day, and Jackson Liberty, Barnegat, Lakewood, Point Boro and Manchester all lost in their first game, and Pinelands lost the play-in game earlier in the week to Brick. The lone bright spot was Monsignor Donovan’s 11-0 win over Brick Memorial in which Russ Gilliam pitched a five-inning one-hitter. The makes you wonder how Central fits in the overall top 10 picture in the Shore because its best win is probably a 2-1 victory over Pope John XXIII, but it doesn’t have that Shore Conference victory to really hang its hat on.

As for the other news from around the Shore, the Monmouth County Tournament has two of its semifinalists, as St. Rose, the defending MCT champ, and 13th-seeded Monmouth have both punched their ticket. There also could be a potential Kevin MacLachlan vs. Pat Light match-up in the quarterfinal between St. John Vianney and Christian Brothers Academy if the pitching rotation lines up right, which is never a given. That was a nice bounceback win for Monmouth, which upended Ocean 7-6 in extra innings one day after losing 9-1 to the Spartans in a Class B North game. Senior shortstop Andrew Pollina has really raised his game in the past few weeks for the Falcons, and he had a big triple in the win.

Henry Hudson and Middletown North made valiant charges to qualify for the state tournament by taking advantage of the one-day extension of the cutoff date by the NJSIAA, as Henry Hudson won three games in two days by beating Ranney on Friday and then Asbury Park in a double-header on Saturday. I know that’s not exactly running the gauntlet, but Asbury Park nearly stunned them in an 8-7 win by the Admirals in the first game of the double-header, which goes to show that things might look easy on paper, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Junior Jerry Vasto has been the mainstay for Henry Hudson all season and he had a big hitting day while also striking out nine in the second game of the double-header.

Also, fun fact of the day: The father of D.J. Miragliotta, who singled and scored the winning run in the last inning in the 8-7 win over Asbury, is Dan Miragliotta, who is a referee in the wildly popular mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship as well as a few other organizations. Dan is also 6-4 and 296 pounds, so I’m considering hiring him to come shut up the unruly parents at any big games I’m covering. “Hey, ump you’re the worst even though the game hasn’t even started! Hey, why isn’t my kid playing even though he struck out 10 times in a row and he yells back at the coach all the time?! Hey, this pitcher sucks! Get him out of the game!” Um, Mr. Miragliotta? Yeah, that guy, the big mouth in the third row of the stands. Sleeper hold, eyes rolling back in the head, and a relaxing afternoon of baseball. Sounds good to me.

As for Middletown North, the Lions knocked off Point Boro on Friday night and then went on the road and dropped South Plainfield, 12-8 in nine innings, to get to 9-9 and into the state playoffs. Ace Brandon McCloskey started it with a shutout against Point Boro on Friday, and then Joe Ciccone led the way with five hits, Connor Delepine had four and Pat Condon homered on Saturday. Never underestimate seniors with their backs against the wall when it comes to getting into the state playoffs. Also, talk about a varsity debut, freshman Russell Halbach picked up the win with 3 1/3 innings of relief and his first varsity hit with a key RBI single in the ninth inning. Nothing like being tossed right into the most pressure-packed stretch of the entire season and then delivering. Head coach Jon Scala said Halbach is going to be a good one, so he gave him a shot and it worked out.

Finally, some quick-hit stuff to wrap it up.

  • Just another reminder that the Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting is Monday at 7:30 p.m. at St. John Vianney, so look for those seeds and the SCT bracket later on Monday night. I’m considering doing a live chat on Monday night anyway to talk about everything that’s been going on, so I will post something in the morning letting everyone know.
  • Manalapan’s Ryan Harvey, a Seton Hall recruit, continues to impress, striking out 10 in a win over CBA. The Braves are extremely tough to beat with him on the mound, and the win over the Colts was a big hurdle in their quest to claim the Class A North public title. If Manalapan wins its last three divisional games next week – Marlboro, Colts Neck and Middletown North – it wins the public title. The Braves are also in the MCT quarterfinals, where they will face another Class A North foe, Freehold Township, for the right to play St. Rose in the semifinals on May 19 at FirstEnergy Park.
  • The Howie Brey phenomenon continues at Middletown South, as the freshman lefty has now allowed only one run in a combined 14 innings in two starts, against CBA and Marlboro, as he beat the Mustangs 3-1 on Saturday.
  • The most underrated ace in the Shore by far is Manasquan senior righty Karl Fiske. He has been a beast this season, and Manasquan is a Top 10 team in the Shore when he is on the mound. He went toe-to-toe with Villanova-bound St. John Vianney ace Kevin MacLachlan and beat him, 1-0, on Saturday for a big Class A Central win that had Red Bank Catholic smiling, because it puts the Caseys’ fate in their own hands as far as claiming the division title. Fiske pitched a four-hitter against a good hitting lineup, and no one has beaten him this year. He entered the game leading the Shore with a 0.56 ERA and then pitched a complete-game shutout. I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about this kid. He is having a tremendous season, and if the season ended today, he would have to be a first-teamer. His presence single-handedly affects the Class A Central race because opposing coaches always want to know, “Did Fiske pitch today for Manasquan?” because they want no part of him and they know the Warriors are a different team when he pitches. I’ll even give you a second underrated pitcher, although it’s hard to be underrated when you are on the No. 1 team in the Shore – Jackson Memorial senior righty Pete Kelich. He has been mowing people down and has pumped his fastball up to the mid-80s.
  • If Red Bank beats Long Branch on Tuesday, the Bucs will share the Class B North title with Ocean.
  • My Sleeper Player of the Year, Marlboro junior Matt Weckerle, had three more hits in a win over Raritan and homered in a loss to Middletown South on Saturday.
  • Carpenter Cup nominations are due in from all the coaches on Tuesday night, so I will try to post those after I’m done with the OCT semifinal games at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Toms River South.
  • Another player who has been a little under the radar but who has drawn praise from opposing coaches for his work behind the plate and his hitting ability is Colts Neck catcher Mike O’Reilly. He had a big two-run homer to beat Ocean on Saturday and also had a double and an RBI in the loss to St. Rose in the MCT. He was one of the few experienced returners this season for the Cougars and has done a good job of keeping this program winning despite some major graduation losses.

OK, that’s all for now, as it’s time to go say thanks to Mrs. Stump for putting up with a son who is essentially AWOL for nine months of the year every year. Enjoy the beautiful day out.


State Pushes Playoff Cutoff to Sat.; More Rain, More Notes

May 7, 2009

Updated 5 p.m.

The NJSIAA has extended the state playoff cutoff from Friday to Saturday because of the thunderstorms that wiped out much of today’s games. That makes things a lot more interesting because teams can try and fit doubleheaders in on Saturday in a bid to get to .500 and qualify.

As thunder claps and the sheets of rain pelt down outside the Stump Mansion, let’s get to some notes from the games that were played Wednesday and take a look ahead to this weekend, in case, you know, any actual baseball gets played.

Just one important factoid for you real quick: The Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting is at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at St. John Vianney, as Monday is the SCT cutoff.

On Thursday, Raritan knocked off Rumson, 8-1, and is now in need of one win by the end of Friday to qualify for the state tournament. The Rockets have a nondivisional game scheduled against Manalapan on Friday and are currently lighting votive candles and sticking voodoo dolls in order to get the rain to hold off.

Red Bank has quietly won eight straight and is two wins away from either clinching Class B North outright or tying for the title, depending on how Ocean does in its final divisional game against Monmouth. Ryan Kirman and Nick Hubbard have really started to heat up for the Bucs while Eric Raybon has continued a terrific season.

The Ocean County Tournament got started with a great game in which Brick edged Pinelands in 10 innings, 5-4, and now Brick will face undefeated Central when the OCT begins in earnest on Saturday (hopefully). I think everyone is wondering how well Central, the top seed, will do in a tournament that includes Jackson Memorial, Toms River North and Toms River South as heavyweight contenders.

Central could either have to face Class B South foe Jackson Liberty, who senior Joe Rusk just no-hit last week in a 2-1 thriller, or the alma mater of Central head coach John Scran, Toms River East, in the quarterfinals. If everything gets washed out on Friday again and they end up playing these games on Saturday, it will be interesting to see who teams pitch on Saturday. Will a team like Jackson use Kevin Needham and Pete Kelich knowing that there are still two huge divisional games looming against Toms River North and Toms River East early next week, after Noah’s Ark floats off? What pitchers will Toms River North use on Saturday?

Jackson and Toms River South look to have pretty winnable paths to the semifinals, while Toms River North could at least have to deal with some A South foes, including a Brick Memorial team that reached the OCT final last year and, barring a miracle, will not qualify for the state playoffs. That means the Mustangs will put their eggs in the OCT basket, and two wins on Saturday and another on Monday could qualify them for the Shore Conference Tournament.

This also will be a big proving ground for Class B South. Central is its flagship team, but if teams like Barnegat and Jackson Liberty can upset some of the big boys from A South, it will have people viewing this division in a whole different light. Also, just like Scran at Central with TR East, Barnegat coach Tom Sutaris could be facing his alma mater and mentor, Toms River South and Ken Frank, in the quarterfinals.

On paper, Jackson Memorial and Toms River North have the best balance between a fierce lineup and pitching depth, while Toms River South has the pitching depth to defend its OCT title, but it has to produce some offense in big games.

The Monmouth County Tournament is chugging along, as Manalapan beat Howell in a Round of 16 game on Wednesday to move into the quarterfinals. Keep an eye on sophomore Kyle Rubbinacio, who has a live arm and pitched a five-hitter against the Rebels. I saw him against CBA and even though he struggled at times against a veteran Colts lineup, he showed promise. Manalapan has a very good sophomore class that also includes outfielder Alex DeCastro, first baseman outfielder Marco Ferrante, pitcher/outfielder Nick Kreiger, and shortstop Rich Ricciardi. Even though the Braves lose senior ace Ryan Harvey, all of those sophomores have been important contributors and will return next year along with some talented juniors.

Christian Brothers Academy iced the overall Class A North title with a 13-3 win over Freehold Township as senior third baseman Dan Avella continues to cement a first-team spot when it comes to postseason accolades, as he had a pair of homers. Mike Hanlon, one of the sleeper players of the whole season, also homered along with another underrated player, outfielder Tyler Cuming. CBA’s lineup has turned out to be much better than I thought, as last season the margin for error for Pat Light was razor-thin, and now he is just cruising to wins.

St. Rose continues to maul Class B Central, as three pitchers combined for a five-inning no-hitter in a 10-0 win over Keansburg. While everyone knows Chris Bresnahan, Matt Rodgers, James Santoro, the Hueth brothers, Derek Peterson, Brian Beer, Kyle Kennett, John McGrath, etc., a player who has really stepped up and become a key ingredient is sophomore third baseman/pitcher Chris Napolitano. He has filled the shoes of graduated star Owen Stewart in the lineup and bolstered the pitching staff. He is the type of player who could be the difference between a good season and a great one.

Congrats to Jackson Liberty and coach Jim Rankin, who has done a great job in already getting the Lions into the state and Shore Conference tournaments in their second year as a varsity program. They picked up a solid win over Barnegat on Thursday to make the SCT for the first time ever, and the Lions could be a spoiler in the tournaments because they have solid pitching and clutch hitting. Dan Spall quietly has five wins on the mound for them.

Finally, we nearly had the upset of the year for the state and maybe even the nation when a Rumson team that is currently 3-11-1 nearly shocked the No. 1 team in the state, nationally-ranked Don Bosco Prep, in a 3-2 loss on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs led 2-0 in the top of the sixth on a two-run triple by Dave Robbins before the Ironmen rallied for three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Had they pulled that one off, that would have made the season in an otherwise rebuilding year. Senior lefty Austin McAuliffe threw the best game of his career, a six-hitter with eight K’s in what was Rumson’s second game of the day after losing to Raritan in the afternoon.

Why is Rumson playing Don Bosco you ask? The Ironmen needed to pick up some games before the state cutoff so that they didn’t get burned by the NJSIAA rule that mandates that teams must play 70 percent of their games against in-state competition by the cut-off date. Bosco played several out-of-state teams as part of a national schedule early on and had to scramble with so many games getting rained out. Rumson coach Kevin James attended Don Bosco Prep, playing on the 1988 state championship team, and played for the Ironmen before finishing up his scholastic career at Ramsey and then playing at Rutgers.

The game even had a special guest. Former New York Giants great Phil Simms, who lives nearby the field, wandered over to check out the game, according to James. Simms’s son, Matt, was a former star quarterback at Don Bosco, and Simms will be coaching the New Jersey squad in the upcoming New Jersey-Northeast Football Classic at Rutgers Stadium on June 7, on a team that includes Wall’s Blaze Caponegro, Toms River North’s Evan Regas and Red Bank Catholic’s Anthony Lubischer.