Baseball – Howell Rises to No. 1 in Shore Sports Network Top 10
The first round of the Shore Conference Tournament is almost in the books and all but one top 10 seed is through to the next round and the one that is not will play on Tuesday trying to join the rest of the pack. Without any major upsets in round one, the Shore Sports Network Top 10 looks similar to our projected Top 10 in the SCT on Wednesday morning.
There are, however, a few noteworthy changes, most notably that there is a new No. 1 – the third different team to sit atop the conference in 2022. The other alteration is at the bottom of the rankings, where one of the prior Top 10 teams gets bumped for a team that just beat them.
With the weather looking like it might actually allow some games to get played this week, there should be some telling results over the next five days.
1. Howell (16-4, 12-2) Last Week: 2
Of all the teams in the Shore Conference this season, this is the one that has shown it can win in any kind of game that breaks out. Pitcher’s duel? They have Dan Furlong and Nick Gomes dealing right now. Slugfest? Thomas Strauch, Devon Smith and Russell Halvorsen lead a lineup that hits good pitching and routinely punishes mediocre pitching. Whether or not it holds up in tournament play – the Rebels are 0-for-1 after a Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinal loss to Wall – but at the moment, no team has been better at finding ways to win games than Howell has.
2. Middletown South (16-7, 10-4) Last Week: 3
If Howell has been the most well-rounded, consistent team this season, Middletown South is not far off. The Eagles split with Howell in the regular-season series between the Class A North foes and have also racked up wins over Cranford, Jackson Memorial, Red Bank Catholic and Ranney. Middletown South has more losses than all but one team in this week’s rankings, but only one team in the rankings has more wins. The Eagles challenge themselves and the results suggest they will be hard to beat in tournament play.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (15-2, 13-1) Last Week: 1
The Bulldogs drop from the top perch after losing to Red Bank Catholic and Howell last week. The offense has had some issues putting runs on the board against the better teams on the schedule, which was not the case when Rumson took on good pitchers a year ago. Factor in a schedule that lacks the same challenges that other teams in the top-half of the Top 10 have faced and the Bulldogs will have to concede the No. 1 spot for now.
4. Red Bank Catholic (16-6, 10-4) Last Week: 4
Red Bank Catholic has a collection of wins that warrant including the Caseys in the No. 1 discussion, but RBC also has three losses against teams with a record of .500 or worse. The other three losses, though, were all down to the wire: two nine-inning losses and a one-run loss to a Rumson-Fair Have team ranked No. 1 at the time.
5. Wall (15-3, 11-3) Last Week: 5
With a better overall body of work than Colts Neck, Wall has been ahead of its Class B North rival in each of the last two rankings and the Shore Conference Tournament agreed with our conclusion in giving the Crimson Knights the No. 5 seed in the SCT. Wall will have a full plate this week, but is hitting enough that regardless of how deep they have to go into the pitching staff against Freehold Township on Tuesday, Middletown South on Wednesday and in any other games they get to play, the Crimson Knights will be a threat to win.
6. Ranney (18-4, 11-0) Last Week: 6
Ranney came in at No. 10 in the SCT seeds and while that’s obviously a several spots lower than we have them slotted, it’s understandable. The Panthers had 11 comfortable Class B Central wins and prior to the win over Lacey in the SCT first round, they were 1-3 against Shore Conference teams outside the division. The reason Ranney is still comfortably off the fringe of the rankings is because those other non-conference wins are impressive: Delbarton (15-5), Ferris (17-4), St. Mary’s Rutherford (16-4) and nationally-ranked Poly Prep, plus a win over Northern Burlington (14-4) the day after the SCT was seeded.
7. Christian Brothers Academy (11-6, 8-4) Last Week: 7
It’s been a solid overall season for CBA but it has stalled lately, not because of wins and losses but simply by virtue of not playing. The Colts have played just once in the last 11 days and to their credit, they played a dominant all-around game in a 10-0 win over Manalapan on the day of the Shore Conference Tournament cutoff. The pitching is rested, perhaps to a fault, and if the arms can get locked right back in, the Colts could be dangerous in the Shore Conference Tournament, as well as the NJSIAA Tournament in June.
8. Colts Neck (12-5-1, 11-2-1) Last Week: 8
In the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament, Colts Neck picked up its first win outside of Class B North play and it needed to come back from down 3-0 against No. 25 seed Point Beach. The Cougars also needed to go to ace Anthony Gubitosi to plug the damn and while the Shore Conference strikeout leader will not be available until a potential SCT quarterfinal game on Friday, the good news is he could potentially line up to take the ball against top-seeded Rumson if both Colts Neck and Rumson advance.
9. St. John Vianney (14-4-1, 10-3-1) Last Week: 9
Unlike Class B North rival and SCT round-of-16 opponent Colts Neck, St. John Vianney does have its No. 1 starter – junior right-hander Aiden Cody ready to go for Tuesday’s showdown. Cody lost a head-to-head duel with Gubitosi during the regular season and the Lancers beat the Cougars in the second of the two head-to-head meetings , so SJV will be feeling very good about its chances to survive and advance to the final eight of the SCT.
10. Freehold Township (12-8, 6-7)
The Patriots are back in the Top 10 after two inspired, extra-inning wins to cap their week. Freehold Township outlasted Jackson Memorial, 3-2, in eight innings on Thursday and on Saturday, the Patriots won a back-and-forth game over Toms River South in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament that ended with a walk-off homer by sophomore Ryan Costello.
Jackson Memorial (13-7, 10-3) Last Week: 10 – With a head-to-head loss to Freehold Township, one win over a team not from Class A South and no wins against the Top 10 field, it’s hard to make a resume-based case for the Jaguars to stay in the rankings. On paper, they remain a team to watch and are technically the only Shore Conference team remaining with a chance to win every championship.
Top 10 Watchlist
Southern (11-6, 8-4) – The Rams still have a road to a Class A South co-title and survived a tough road through Barnegat in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament.
Central (15-7, 8-6) – The Golden Eagles have an interesting decision in front of them, with Cam Leiter eligible to face Howell on the minimum number of rest days, with the alternative option to pitch him in the Ocean County Tournament on Wednesday or even to hold him for Friday’s SCT quarterfinal if the Golden Eagles win without him on Tuesday.