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.