Baseball – Ranney Opens 2023 as the No. 1 Team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10
With three of the six defending NJSIAA group champions from 2022 residing in the Shore Conference, the reputation of Shore area baseball has never been greater. Not only did Ranney, Howell and Middletown North win championships, but Rumson-Fair Haven, Point Pleasant Beach and Christian Brothers Academy each finished one win shy of making it to a state championship game.
Heading into 2023 season, a number of Shore Conference teams are on the statewide radar, including a few that were not among those final teams playing in 2022. Last year, Ranney opened the season No. 6, Howell at No. 10 and Middletown North unranked, to being a preseason top-five team was not a prerequisite to win a state championship. Still, the teams that are opening the season near the top of the rankings in this conference at this period in history are immensely talented teams that have legitimate shots to win multiple championships and make a run at a top ranking in the state.
Teams listed with final 2023 record
1. Ranney (26-5)
Ranney's first ever No. 1 ranking is to open the 2023 season and holding onto the No. 1 spot, the Panthers will find, is often harder than getting there in the first place. Now out of the Shore Conference Class B Central division and into the deep, pitching-rich B North division, Ranney will have to live like the other top teams in the Shore Conference: survive 14 all-out battles during the division schedule while maintaining a challenging non-divisional schedule, all while gearing up for three postseason tournaments. Fortunately for the Panthers, they have the kind of depth on the roster – particularly on the mound – that helps teams thrive against a relentless schedule. They also lost just one starter from last year (All-Shore outfielder Charlie Chropuvka) and brought in another All-Shore outfielder (Freehold Township transfer Ryan Costello) to replace him. Coming off a 26-win season, Ranney should be more prepared for the challenges the schedule presents and when all is said and done, a roster with seven Division I commitments should be in the running for the top spot in the state.
2. Red Bank Catholic (20-9)
If Ranney is No. 1, RBC is more 1-A than No. 2. The Caseys also bring back a stacked roster with seven Division I commits, including almost 100 percent of their 2022 innings on the mound. The pitching staff will also have three transfers, led by Marist commit and St. Joseph by the Sea transfer Ethan Marzo, and while the offense is not as ready-made as Ranney’s is to open the season, it still has three Shore Sports Network All-Shore hitters returning in Alex Stanyek, Shane Andrus and Sean Griggs, plus two other Division I hitters in Frank Scrivanic (Seton Hall) and sophomore Dylan Passo (Notre Dame). Ranney and Red Bank Catholic are not scheduled to play this season, but between the Monmouth County and Shore Conference Tournaments, the two powerhouse teams figure to clash at least once and will be battling for the top ranking for most of the season.
3. Middletown South (21-10)
One potential foil for either Ranney or Red Bank Catholic will be running into Middletown South ace Ben Schild. The UConn commit has been one of the state’s best performers on the mound and the best part about Schild – more than the numbers, the stuff and the physically imposing, 6-foot-5 frame – is that he relished the big game. The Eagles have fed off their ace for each of the last two seasons and will do so again with a team that brings back most of its pitching staff and lineup. The offensive dynamic will be different this season without record-setting slugger Joe Stanzione in the middle of the batting order and new head coach Jeff Karpell will have big shoes to fill after Chris LeMore led Middletown South to 43 wins in two years with a Monmouth County Tournament and NJSIAA Group IV championship, but the Eagles will again be the top public school in the Shore Conference heading into 2023.
4. Rumson-Fair Haven (22-5)
Coming off what might have been the best season the program has ever had and in the midst of what is almost certainly the best two-year stretch the program has ever had, Rumson is looking to put a exclamation mark on what could be a remarkable three-year run for the Group II school. The Bulldogs won the Monmouth County Tournament championship in 2021, then won an outright Class A Central title and its first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship in 18 years in 2022. This year’s team returns two of the three starting pitchers – Rutgers commit John Goodes and Richmond commit Jackson Hinchcliffe – that made Bulldogs so good in 2022 and will also have enough impact back in the lineup to back up the pitching.
5. Donovan Catholic (16-12)
It has been a swift-yet-steady climb from the bottom of the Class B South division standings to the upper echelon of the Shore Conference and now, Donovan Catholic enters the 2023 season ready to break into the conference’s inner circle. It began with a run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals a year ago and with all but one starter back in the lineup and every pitcher back except injured junior Hunter Lefkus, the Griffins will have their sights set on winning everything this season.
6. Christian Brothers Academy (18-10)
Injuries have already taken a toll on CBA, with Maryland commit Luke Rocessano and fellow senior pitcher Anthony DeJohn both likely out for the season. The silver lining for CBA is that they are CBA and there is no shortage of talent in the program ready to step up. Junior right-hander Chris Levonas battled minor injuries a year ago but is ready to take over as a dominant front-line pitcher and senior Nick Harnisch shares a similar story after missing most of his junior year. Even with some inexperience on the mound, CBA returns an All-Shore shortstop and Wofford commit in Harrison Campi and several Division I hitters around him – giving the Colts a lineup that will slug its way to plenty of wins.
7. Jackson Memorial (22-9)
Despite graduating its top two starters – including Auburn freshman Zack Crotchfelt – and four players who routinely batted in the top five of the batting order, Jackson Memorial brings back a talented group that again expects to lead the Class A South field and contend for more championships this season after winning the Ocean County Tournament title and finishing runner-up in the Shore Conference Tournament. Campbell commit Charlie Meglio is one of the best returning bats in the conference and left-hander Anthony Mehmet is ready to lead the rotation after becoming a dependable starter last year.
8. Wall (23-7)
A 23-win 2022 season ended in heartbreak for Wall, which finished a half-game behind Colts Neck for the Class B North championship and lost in the finals of both the Monmouth County Tournament and NJSIAA Central Group II championship games – the latter of which Wall was one strike away from ending on three consecutive batters in the bottom of the seventh at Rumson. This year’s group is now ready to dust itself off and make another run, led by two returning workhorses on the mound in Matt Johnson and Zach Szatkowski. Seton Hall commit and shortstop Gabe Cavazzoni and junior catcher Jake Howlett will lead the offense, which was one of the Shore’s best a year ago.
9. Marlboro (13-13)
Although Marlboro is the least familiar name on the board this year, the Mustangs are only two years removed from making it to the Central Jersey Group IV final and will have designs on finishing the job in 2023 with a deep pitching staff that returns off a strong showing in 2022. Seton Hall commit Alex D’Ambrosio will lead both the rotation and the lineup after an All-Shore junior campaign and he will be backed by an experienced group in the outfield to go with three other returning contributors – Chris Collina, Lawrence Elinson and Alex Frank – on the mound.
10. Central (20-11)
The Golden Eagles will have to account for the graduation of their two best two-way players – most notably Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Cam Leiter – but bring back two All-Shore hitters in shortstop Dom Masino and catcher Cristian Soto who are also top-notch defenders. Throw in a solid supporting cast and a reliable left-handed starter in Tyler Bell and Central should again be a threat once the calendar pushes into May.
The Next 10
Monmouth (14-10) – With both Christian Zito and Aiden Denton back for their fifth year in high school, the Falcons will compete in very difficult fields in both Class A Central and the Central Group II section.
Howell (25-6) – The defending Group IV champs lost almost all of their innings on the mound, but the bats should remain dangerous.
Ocean (12-13) – After some growing pains in 2022, Ocean returns a group that has a mix of established senior players and promising underclass talent that is close to breaking out.
Manasquan (13-14) – Seniors Cullen Condon and Brett Patten are an exceptional pitcher-hitter duo and if the supporting cast can rise to the occasion, the Warriors will push into the Top 10 at some point.
Manalapan (12-13) – The lineup will look much different and All-Shore ace Tyler Kane has graduated, but Manalapan always reloads and the return of Cristian Bernardini in the outfield and Dylan Shaffer on the mound set the Braves up nicely.
St. John Vianney (18-7-1) – Ace Aiden Cody will get off to a late start while dealing with an injury and if the Lancers can hold the fort with a new-look lineup, they will be getting back one of the Shore’s best pitchers for the stretch run.
Middletown North (21-10) – The Lions rode Colin Dowlen to a Group III championship last year, but they also scored runs at a feverish pace over their final 12 games and return some key hitters from that attack.
Southern (14-11) – The Rams re-emerged in Class A South last year, finishing second in the division standings and making it to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals with an upset of Middletown South.
Brick Memorial (13-15) – With the return of All-Shore two-way standout Brady Leach, Brick Memorial has a pitcher and lineup staple to make them a Class A South and Ocean County contender.
Toms River South (13-12) – As is usually the case at Toms River South, the Indians will have a scrappy team that has enough proven experience to make a run at titles in Class A South and Ocean County.