Five teams, four games and a dream

The Shore Conference is guaranteed to have at least one team playing this Saturday in a state final, as Christian Brothers Academy squares off with St. John Vianney in the NJSIAA Non-Public South A final this afternoon at Rutgers, so someone will be in the Non-Public A final.

The question is whether any other Shore team will be joining them in Toms River for all the marbles on Saturday.

On paper, the team with the best chance is probably Shore Regional, which faces a hot Haddon Township team in the Group II semifinals at New Egypt today. Haddon Township has won eight in a row and has averaged double-digit runs during that span, so it will be up to Duquesne-bound Shore ace Rob Corsi to silence a potent lineup. Haddon Township is coming off its first sectional title since 1979, while Shore won its first Central Jersey Group II title since 1993 and its first sectional title since 2000. Things couldn’t be lined up better for the Blue Devils. They wanted to be able to throw Corsi today and on Saturday if they reach the Group II final, which is a best case scenario.

Senior second baseman Todd Juliano may not see a whole lot of pitches to hit because he has 11 homers for the season and 26 for his career, and seemingly all of those homers this year have been important ones. If he has a big game, Shore almost inevitably wins. If Corsi can keep it low scoring, I think the Blue Devils will hang around and find a way, maybe 3-2 or 4-3 in the late innings.

I will be at the CBA-SJV game as it looks to be a match-up of stud pitchers, CBA senior Pat Light, who is 19-0 for his high school career and 8-0 this year, against SJV ace Kevin MacLachlan, a Villanova recruit who is 3-3 with 5 saves this season, having been used in various capacities. MacLachlan is a power arm and is going against a team that loves fastball pitchers, so we’ll see how he adjusts to CBA’s lineup. CBA beat him 5-0 in the Monmouth County Tournament, but several of those runs were unearned. We’ll see if the familiarity favors MacLachlan, who now knows how to attack CBA’s lineup, or the Colts, who have seen what MacLachlan throws firsthand.

As for Light, he is chasing history. The last time a Shore Conference pitcher with more than 15 career decisions finished undefeated for his career may be never. Just like Shore with Corsi, CBA wants to pitch Light today and on Saturday in pursuit of just their second overall Non-Public A title in school history. SJV, meanwhile, is in its first sectional final since 1981, so this would be a big milestone win for the Lancers under coach Mike Morgan.

The Lancers have come back from the dead after a nine-game winless streak, and with a determined group of seniors that does not want to see its season end, they will put up a fight today. The key to me is defense. When SJV doesn’t kick the ball around behind MacLachlan, he is awfully tough. The key will be getting to Light early and putting the pressure on CBA to respond. This is a reputation-making game for MacLachlan. If he can become the first and only opposing pitcher to go toe-to-toe with Light and win in Light’s career, it will raise him in the estimation of a lot of people.

CBA is coming off a loss to Freehold Township in the Monmouth County Tournament championship and the Colts have to play Jackson Memorial in the SCT final on Wednesday, so this is a huge stretch for them. They don’t want to walk away empty-handed after all the hard work they put in to reach these various championship games. It’s also clear that they want that state title more than anything because they are pitching Light today, rather than saving him for the Jaguars on Wednesday.

Another parochial team, St. Rose, will have its hands full at Mercer County Park against Bishop Eustace in the Non-Public South B final. The Purple Roses are the defending overall Non-Public B champs, and they will be facing a team that rocked seven home runs in its victory in the sectional semifinals. It will be up to junior righty Kyle Kennett to keep the ball in the park today. St. Rose wants to be able to start Kennett today and on Saturday, so things have lined up for them as well. This comes down to how much Kennett can limit the damage against a good hitting team and how well senior shortstop Chris Bresnahan plays. Whenever St. Rose wins big games, Bresnahan is usually crucial while batting out of the leadoff spot. If he is neutralized, Bishop Eustace will have a big leg up, because he is the catalyst to everything St. Rose does. The Purple Roses have struggled to produce offensively in big games this year, often winning 2-1 or 1-0 in extra innings or losing like they did against Jackson Memorial in the SCT, 5-1, against a quality team.

Finally, a marquee game that is being held locally is Toms River North vs. Hunterdon Central in the Group IV semifinals at Raritan. The Red Devils beat the Mariners, 5-1, in this spot last year, and come in averaging nearly 10 runs per game. Toms River North is probably going with Mark Leiter, the senior righty who has been their big game pitcher this year. Leiter has stifled Jackson Memorial and Toms River South on two occasions, but this is his tallest order yet. Not only will the Red Devils most likely have Hofstra recruit Jared Hammer (7-0) on the mound and has Jared Rogers (9-0) ready to go if Hammer runs into any early trouble, but this is an explosive lineup for a team considered to be the No. 1 squad in the state.

Hunterdon Central, which is the defending Group IV champion, hits the living daylights out of the ball. Manalapan threw Seton Hall-bound ace Ryan Harvey against them in the sectional semifinals, and Hunterdon Central won 16-2. Sophomore first baseman Chris Suseck is hitting .463, senior catcher Dillon Tagle, who had a big game in the win over Manalapan, is at .424 and Hammer is hitting .420. The whole team is hitting close to .400.

For Leiter, who has committed to NJIT, this is a career-making game. Stop a lineup like this, and people will be talking about it for a long time. The onus is on Toms River North’s lineup to make some noise against Hammer, and Rutgers-bound shortstop Steve Nyisztor has to have a strong game out of the leadoff spot. He is batting over .500 this season, and the more he is on base, the more TRN can apply some pressure. A big game out of senior first baseman Billy Hoermann, who will be up with runners on base if Nyisztor does his usual thing, is also a must.

All in all, on paper it looks like the CBA-SJV winner might be the only Shore team to reach Saturday, with CBA as the favorite to do that. However, I wouldn’t count out Shore Regional with Corsi on the mound because the Blue Devils have been extremely hard to beat when he is starting. St. Rose definitely has a shot to beat Bishop Eustace, but I would put them as the underdog even though the Purple Roses are the defending champs. Toms River North is the biggest underdog, which is an unfamiliar spot for the potent Mariners, so we’ll see if they relish their underdog status for a day and turn it into a big win over Hunterdon Central.

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