As we endure yet another rainy day, let’s take a look at the teams that are on the bubble as the NJSIAA playoff cutoff looms on Friday and teams sweat out every passing day with no games. Also, I’ll take a quick look at the remaining divisional races and some players to watch.
Teams like Middletown South (7-6), Manasquan (6-5), Toms River East (7-7) and Neptune (6-5) are probably doing a rain dance to keep this up all week because for at least three of them, playing only one game by Friday means they are in. For Toms River East, a regular playoff participant, the only scheduled game right now is on Thursday against No. 1 Jackson Memorial, so I would guess the Raiders will try to reschedule one of the games from this week for tomorrow or Friday to hedge their bets. That would be the first time in a few years that the three Toms River schools weren’t all in the playoffs, as Toms River North and Toms River South, the latter of which was supposed to play East on Tuesday before the rain, have already qualified.
The teams praying for the weather to clear up are Middletown North (7-9), Raritan (6-8), Southern (5-8), Brick Memorial (6-9), Wall (4-7), Keansburg (4-7), Henry Hudson (3-6), Lakewood (5-6) and Point Boro (5-7). For the teams that are three games under .500, that might be a long shot unless they can convince someone to play a double-header because the rain has been so persistent that Wednesday’s games may be in doubt. Think about that in the case of Henry Hudson, which has Asbury Park, Keansburg and Ranney scheduled in the next three days, all winnable games, but it looks like their game against Asbury Park for tomorrow has already been postponed. The Admirals only had nine games to get themselves at .500 or closer, which is a tough break. Pitchers like Central’s Joe Rusk and RBC’s Matt Marley have almost as many wins (6) as Henry Hudson has games played.
I think the two teams that would be most disappointed if they didn’t get their shot are Brick Memorial and Middletown North, two senior-laden groups that entered this season with big expectations and play in tough divisions. Wall reached the Group III final last year, but graduated almost its entire starting lineup. I think if Lakewood could get in, the Piners would be one of the bigger surprise playoff teams, so we’ll see if they can beat playoff qualifier Monsignor Donovan on Thursday to sneak in.
Class A North
Christian Brothers Academy already has the overall title in the bag to the surprise of absolutely no one, so the real intrigue is the public title, which is between a host of teams (Manalapan, Freehold Township, Middletown South, Colts Neck) with Manalapan having a one-game edge in the loss column but also four more divisional games, compared to two for the other three contenders. I think Freehold Township has the most momentum right now, but the Patriots still have a game against CBA and who knows if this recent rain might slow down their good play.
Class A Central
This has come down to Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney, with Shore Regional still right on the periphery. The rain wiped out what would’ve been an interesting scenario, as the Caseys would most likely have faced Manasquan ace Karl Fiske on Monday before a potential showdown with the Lancers at Count Basie Field on Wednesday. Now they missed Fiske and we’ll see if the weather permits the game against SJV tomorrow. RBC has Matt Marley ready to go, while I’m sure SJV will want to start Villanova-bound ace Kevin MacLachlan, who is usually a reliever but takes the ball at the start in big games. Shore is two games behind in the loss column, so the Blue Devils would need both RBC and SJV to stumble, and that’s not looking likely. It also looks like there will be no Class A Central public champion because if RBC and SJV take first and second place in any order, there is no public champ per Shore Conference rule.
Class A South
Tuesday was supposed to be the big No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown between Jackson Memorial and Toms River North, but the rain erased that. Jackson needs to beat the Mariners and Toms River East to lock up the title for itself, while Toms River North could either tie or win its third straight division title outright if it can beat Jackson and win the rest of its divisional schedule and Jackson stumbles against East. If Toms River North beats Jackson, the likely scenario is a tie for the title, but this is A South, where nothing is guaranteed. If you don’t play hard to the end, you can spend a whole season at the top of the standings and watch it slip away in a matter of days because every game is a dogfight.
Class B North
Red Bank and Ocean are fighting for this championship in what has been a weird race considering Red Bank has beaten Ocean twice head-to-head. Right now, Red Bank has Freehold scheduled for Wednesday and then Neptune on Saturday, but Ocean can really put the pressure on if it can beat Monmouth in a scheduled game on Wednesday. If Ocean wins that game, it clinches no worse than a tie for the division title and it would force Red Bank to win its final three divisional games to tie for the championship. Even though I think B North is a little down this season because of graduation losses to several teams, that would be a great job by Ocean under first-year head coach Steve Rubin because the Spartans were somewhat of a young and unknown team before the season, and they bring back almost everyone next year. If tomorrow’s game gets postponed, Ocean and Monmouth will most likely play twice in three days in a divisional game and then on Saturday in a Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinal.
Class B Central
This was the no-brainer race of the year, as St. Rose has now won 66 straight divisional games. Mater Dei denied any team a shot at the public title by taking second as it qualified for the state and Shore Conference tournaments despite a nine-games-in-nine-days stretch. It went 6-3 in those games, and although that was a tough stretch, it looks awfully smart right now as some other teams sweat out whether they will get enough games to qualify for the postseason before Friday’s cutoff.
Class B South
A resurgent Central buzzed through this division unbeaten on its way to claiming its second straight Class B South title, this one all for itself after sharing it last season. A young Barnegat team that lost almost everyone to graduation is in second place, which is a good sign for the future of the Bengals program that they were able to cope with the loss of a lot of talent and still play winning baseball. They also play several freshmen and sophomores, so this program is not going anywhere any time soon.
Finally, I just wanted to get to some players who may not have entered the season as players who their teams were going to be heavily counting on or as known commodities by the rest of the Shore, but are ones you should keep an eye on.
I will start with Holmdel senior Jason Hyland, who recently committed to Wagner for football, and has been annihilating the ball for the Hornets. Last week, Hyland went 10-for-22 with five homers, a triple, nine RBIs, 10 runs scored, two stolen bases, and a .560 on-base percentage against a solid schedule. Senior pitcher Ian Wladika also has been hitting the ball well lately, and keep an eye on freshman infielder Eric Scamardella.
Marlboro’s Matt Weckerle is another player who has consistently produced in a solid Class A North division and has also been one of Marlboro’s better pitchers. Weckerle is only a junior and he has hit in the middle of the lineup since his sophomore year. I think next year he could be a player a lot of people are talking about, but he is good right now and should be a college player.
Colts Neck junior Charlie Lasky has been on fire lately and is a good all-around player on the mound and at third base who has stepped up for the Cougars this year. After going 0-for-5 to start the season, Lasky has gone 18-for-24 since then while also emerging as one of the team’s top pitchers. I think everyone knew that junior Mike Denlinger and catcher Mike O’Reilly would produce heading into this season, but Lasky has really emerged with a big season.
Freehold Township senior outfielder Steve Talbott is having a monster year, batting better than .500 with solid power numbers, although I think he was a known commodity coming into the season, much like Neptune senior catcher Blake Young-Park. Howell’s Ryan Weber also has been steadily productive at the top of the Rebels’ lineup after entering the season as someone to watch out for.
St. John Vianney’s Pat Christopher is someone else who seems to be putting up two hits or more per game on a regular basis and hitting for power, so he is one to watch as the Class A Central race heads into the home stretch. I don’t think Red Bank Catholic’s Matt Marley is much of a sleeper any more now that he is 6-0 and has hit five homers for the year. Manasquan freshman first baseman Tyler Saito has drawn notice from opposing coaches because of his size and power-hitting ability, so he should be a fixture for the Warriors for the next four years.
Like I mentioned in an earlier blog entry this season, Jackson senior outfielder Jon Kozlowski has the chance to be an all-conference player hitting that fifth spot, and he has 15 extra-base hits and has been killing any teams that try to pitch around Needham and Bryan Soloman. Lacey’s Vinnie Zarrillo and Pat Jensen, two sophomores, have been solid for a team that has been schizophrenic this year, taking teams like Jackson and Toms River South to extra innings and getting 10-runned by others, so keep an eye on those two.
Red Bank senior infielder Eric Raybon has quietly had some nice seasons the last two years, but this year he has emerged as one of Class B North’s top offensive players, with an on-base percentage over .500 and the ability to hit for power.
Mater Dei has a lineup with some power as well, as Travis Paulson, Pete Kwiencinski and James Ferber have been a big reason why the Seraphs are back in the state playoffs. Kwiencinski in particular has drawn notice from opposing coaches, who see him having a future at the collegiate level. He also is the team’s top pitcher.
Barnegat senior John Anderson has emerged as one of the team’s top pitchers and the linchpin in their order. He saw time last year, but has really raised his game as one of the few seniors on the team to help a young team continue to win. He also is a clutch player, as his grand slam in the top of the seventh in a wild, 13-12 loss to Monsignor Donovan recently has illustrated.
Speaking of Monsignor Donovan, how about senior shortstop Mike Bodden, whose .594 average leads the Shore Conference? Also, Lakewood’s Ryshon Rodriguez has quietly put together a solid season as well and has his team on the verge of a surprising state playoff berth.