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.