Monday, May 30, 2011

West Jersey Baseball rankings

1. Pope John (21-4-1) -- Lions went 3-1 last week, including a 13-4 win over Montville on Tuesday in the battle for for the NJAC American Division title. PJ followed that up with a 5-3 win at No. 10 High Point in another division showdown as winning pitcher Mike Liegel (5-1) struck out eight. Coach Vin Bello's team must replay a suspended game against No. 5 Sparta and win to capture at least a share of the American title. Montville travels to High Point on Wednesday. But first, PJ gets underway in state playoff action this week.

Up next: Tuesday at home against St. Peter's Prep in North A playoffs.

2. Voorhees (17-3) -- Vikings went 3-1 last week, including wins over Shore (13-3 on Monday) and North Plainfield (5-3 on Friday) in the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs. Ace pitcher Sean Keselica (9-1) struck out 11 in the win over North Plainfield and went 4-for-6 with a double, homer and six RBIs at the plate in the two state victories. The Virginia Tech-bound lefty also homered in the Vikes' surprising 12-5 loss to Pingry. Trey Conroy (4-1) earned the win against Shore. Coach Spark Mattson's club, which also beat No. 6 Warren Hills, 3-2, on Tuesday in a key Skyland Conference Raritan Division matchup, can clinch the title with a Somerville loss to Pingry on Wednesday or a win over Somerville on Thursday .

Up next: Tuesday at home against Middlesex in Central, Group 2 semifinals; Thursday at Somerville.

3. Hunterdon Central (20-7) -- Red Devils enjoyed a 4-1 week with wins over Bridgewater-Raritan (4-3 on Monday) and Ridge (5-3 on Friday) in the North 2, Group 4 playoffs after going one-and-done last year following back-to-back Group 4 titles. Pitcher Greg Scassera (7-1) picked up victories in both state games. Coach Mike Raymond's club also split with those teams, beating Bridgewater-Raritan and losing to Ridge, in regular season matchups last week.

Up next: Tuesday at Westfield in North 2, Group 4 semifinals; Wednesday at Ridge.

4. Hackettstown (19-1) -- Tigers posted a pair of wins in the North 2, Group 2 playoffs -- 9-1 over Cliffside Park on Monday and 12-2 over Garfield on Friday. Justin Knight (6-0) struck out seven and got the win against Cliffside Park and ace Matt Reynolds (6-1) fanned six to beat Garfield. Catcher Mark Feci was a combined 6-for-8 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs in those wins. The Tigers also beat Hopatcong, 18-8, on Thursday for the third time this season and sixth in a row dating to 2010.

Up next: Tuesday at home against Madison in North 2, Group 2 quarterfinals; Wednesday at Warren Hills.

5. Sparta (14-10-1) -- Spartans went 1-2 last week, beating Old Tappan, 10-5, in the North 1, Group 3 opener and falling 5-4 to Montville in the quarterfinals. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team also fell, 2-1, to Morris Hills in an NJAC American Division contest. Devon Livingston had a double, homer and three RBIs in the win on Monday. Spartans must complete their suspended game against No. 1 Pope John at a date to be determined and there's nothing the crosstown rivals would like more than to spoil the Lions' division title hopes.

Up next: at home against Pope John, TBA.

6. Warren Hills (12-11) -- Blue Streaks had a rough week, going 0-3, including a 5-1 loss to Belleville in the North 2, Group 3 playoff opener. Coach Mike Quinto's team closed the week, and possibly the season, with losses to No. 2 Voorhees (3-2 on Tuesday) and North Plainfield (4-2 on Thursday). Mark Apgar struck out eight, but took the loss against Voorhees and had a double and an RBI in the loss to North Plainfield.

Up next: Wednesday at home against Hackettstown.

7. North Hunterdon (10-12) -- Lions went 2-1 last week, beating Bayonne, 4-2, in Monday's North 2, Group 4 playoff opener and Bridgewater-Raritan, 14-3, on Tuesday, before ending on a sour note with Friday's 6-3 loss at Woodbridge in the state quarterfinals. Steve Bloodworth (6-1) got the complete-game win over Bayonne, while Derek Jenkins went 2-for-3 with a grand slam and five RBIs against Bridgewater-Raritan. Lions coach Parker Snare, who stands at 498 career wins, has three shots this week to reach the coveted 500 mark.

Up next: Tuesday at Phillipsburg; Wednesday at West Morris; Thursday at home against Montgomery.

8. Phillipsburg (11-12) -- Stateliners went 1-2 last week, beating East Orange, 15-0, in the North 2, Group 4 playoffs before losses to Immaculata (6-3 on Thursday) and Westfield (5-4 in the state quarterfinals). Coach Dave Hinkle's team, the No. 10 seed, nearly pulled off the upset of No. 2 seeded Westfield, which scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to win. .

Up next: Tuesday at home against North Hunterdon; at home against Bridgewater-Raritan; Thursday at Hillsborough.

9. North Warren (14-8) – Patriots went .500 last week, beating River Dell, 11-10, in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs, as winning pitcher Nick Macaione (6-1) struck out eight and belted a pair of doubles. Kevin Kelly added a three-run homer for the Patriots, who lost to Dumont, 8-2, in the quarterfinals on Friday. In between, coach Jim Haupt's club lost to Bound Brook, 5-4, and beat Manville, 15-0, to gain at least a share of the Skyland Conference Valley Division title with one game remaining against Bernards.

Up next: at home against Bernards, TBA.

10. High Point (13-9) – Wildcats went 1-2 last week, beating Indian Hills, 4-3, on Monday in the North 1, Group 3 playoffs, before an 8-2 loss to Paramus ended their state run in Friday's quarterfinals. Coach Mickey Thomas' club can help Sussex County rival Pope John with a second win over Montville this week.

Up next: Wednesday at home against Montville.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conference races, playoff chases

Hello everybody, I've been away too long, but other duty called and rendered me unable to find spare time to blog. But I'm back, if only briefly, to update you on what's going down in the world of West Jersey baseball.

First, with only a few regular-season games remaining, none of the three divisional races in the Skyland Conference have been decided. And only one local race in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference is over, as Hackettstown claimed the Freedom Division title weeks ago. That leaves the American Division title up for grabs.

Let's take a closer look at the Skyland:

Watchung Hills is still on top in the rugged nine-team Delaware Division. The Warriors, at 9-4, still have three division games to play: at Bridgewater-Raritan (May 31), at Hunterdon Central (June 6) and home against Immaculata (June 7).

Hunterdon Central (8-5 division) and Immaculata (7-5) are also in play here.

Central was in good shape until recent losses to Hillsborough (6-1 on May 20) and Ridge (7-2 on Wednesday). Coach Mike Raymond's team has two games left with Montgomery (Thursday, May 26 and May 31), at Ridge on June 1 and Watchung Hills home on June 6.

The Raritan Division race is much more simple. Voorhees (9-2 division) can claim the title with a win over Somerville on June 2. But, if coach Spark Mattson's Vikes stumble, as they did in Wednesday's 12-5 loss to Pingry (where did that come from?), Somerville (7-3) could earn a share of the title with wins over Pingry on June 1 and the Vikes the following day.

A Somerville loss to Pingry, automatically gives the title to Voorhees.

Over in the Valley Division, North Warren was in firm control needing two wins this week to claim the championship. But coach Jim Haupt's team went 1-1, losing 5-4 to Bound Brook on Tuesday before a 15-0 win over Manville on Wednesday.

At 10-1 in the division, North Warren can still wrap up the title with a win over Bernards. A date for that game has not been determined as the Patriots are still involved in state playoff action. A North Warren loss and it would share the title with Gill St. Bernards's (10-2), whose two losses are to the Patriots.

In the NJAC, Pope John posted a big 13-4 win over Montville on Tuesday. Both teams now have two losses in the American Division and both still have a division game left with High Point.

The Lions play High Point on May 26 and may have to replay a game with Sparta that was suspended by darkness in April. Montville faces High Point on June 1. Both PJ and Montville are also alive in state playoff action.

If the Lions lose to High Point and Montville beats High Point, then the Mustangs will be the champs and PJ will not have to replay that game with Sparta.

Playoff fever

The local contingent took a hit in the opening round of the state tournament on Tuesday -- Warren Hills, South Hunterdon, Lenape Valley, Hopatcong and Sussex Tech all made quick exits.

The most surprising and disappointing was Warren Hills' 5-1 loss to Belleville in the North 2, Group 3 draw. The Blue Streaks had been playing well and were hosting a state game for the first time since 2008. But coach Mike Quinto's team ran into a tough pitcher and didn't help themselves either by accounts, so that makes for a tough go during state time.

You have to feel for Hopatcong and coach Chris Buglovsky, who suffered a 17-3 loss to Pequannock in a game moved to Wednesday because Hopactong's field, the notorious Homer Dome, has been under water most of this season. "My field is like an extension of Lake Hopatcong," Buglovsky said in an e-mail this week when asked why his team hadn't played since May 11.

The Chiefs close out the slate on May 26 against Hackettstown, looking to snap a five-game losing streak against the Tigers dating to last season. Hopatcong's last win in the series was, 6-5, on April 9, 2009.

Speaking of Hackettstown, coach Gary Poyer's club was among eight winners in the opening round of states, as the Tigers rolled Cliffside Park, 9-1, in the North 2, Group 2 bracket.

Voorhees, Phillipsburg, North Hunterdon, Hunterdon Central, Sparta, High Point and North Warren were all victorious.

Voorhees, the top seed in Central Jersey, Group 2, will host North Plainfield in Friday's quarterfinals. It will be the rubber match for these Skyland Conference Raritan Division rivals. The Vikes lost their first meeting, 4-3 on April 26, and won the rematch, 6-0, on May 21.

Pope John, the No. 2 seed in Non-Public North A, will begin state play on Tuesday. The Lions get the winner of the Paramus Catholic-Delbarton first-rounder on Friday, May 27.

Here's Friday's schedule:

North 2, Group 4

Phillipsburg at Westfield
Ridge at Hunterdon Central
North Hunterdon at Woodbridge

North 2, Group 2

Garfield at Hackettstown

North 1, Group 3

Sparta at Montville
High Point at Paramus

North 1, Group 2

North Warren at Dumont

Central, Group 2

North Plainfield at Voorhees

West Jersey Baseball standings

As of May 25
Skyland Conference
Delaware Division
Watchung Hills
Hunterdon Central
North Hunterdon
Raritan Division
Warren Hills
North Plainfield
Delaware Valley
Valley Division
North Warren
Gill St. Bernard's
Bound Brook
South Hunterdon
Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference
Freedom Division
Lenape Valley
Wallkill Valley
American Division
Pope John
High Point
Mount Olive
Morris Hills
x-division champion

Sunday, May 22, 2011

West Jersey Baseball rankings

1. Pope John (18-3-1) -- Lions went 3-1 last week, including an 8-1 win over No. 3 Hunterdon Central on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final. MVP Brendan Mayers fanned seven for his third tourney win and catcher Alex DeBellis belted a three-run homer as coach Vin Bello's team won its first tri-county title. PJ is still chasing the NJAC American Division title, but a 5-3 loss at Mount Olive on Friday hurt its chances.

Up next: Monday at St. Joseph's-Metuchen; Tuesday at home against Montville; Wednesday at home against Morristown; Thursday at High Point.

2. Voorhees (14-2) -- Vikings blanked North Plainfield, 6-0, behind ace pitcher Sean Keselica (8-1), who fanned 12 and also doubled in a run at the plate in the Vikings' lone game last week. Coach Spark Mattson's club is in control of the Skyland Conference Raritan Division race with an 8-1 mark and is the No. 1 seed for the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs.

Up next: Monday at home against Shore in state playoffs; Tuesday at home against Warren Hills; Wednesday at home against Pingry.

3. Hunterdon Central (16-6) -- Red Devils saw their 11-game win streak end with Friday's 6-1 loss to Hillsborough and coach Mike Raymond's team also fell 8-1 to Pope John in Saturday's HWS final. Central had outscored its opponents 97-29 during the streak and was outscored 14-2 in the two losses. That's baseball, folks. Central is the top seed for the North 2, Group 4 playoffs after going one-and-done last year following back-to-back Group 4 titles.

Up next: Monday at home against Bridgewater-Raritan in state playoffs; Tuesday at Bridgewater-Raritan; Wednesday at home against Ridge; Thursday at Montgomery.

4. Hackettstown (16-1) -- Tigers posted a 5-4 win over Mount Olive on Sunday in their own Diamond Classic tournament final. Coach Gary Poyer's team is the No. 1 seed in the North 2, Group 2 state playoff bracket after a runner-up finish in 2010.

Up next: Monday at home against Cliffside Park in the state playoffs; Wednesday at Hopatcong.

5. Sparta (13-8-1) -- Spartans beat Wallkill Valley, 3-2 on Saturday as Devon Livingston had a homer and two RBIs. Winning pitcher Gaveric Back struck out 10. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team drew the No. 8 seed in the North 1, Group 3 playoffs.

Up next: Monday at home against Old Tappan in state playoffs; Tuesday at Morris Hills.

6. Warren Hills (12-8) -- Blue Streaks beat Delaware Valley, coached by former Warren Hills wrestling champ Marty White, 9-4 on Saturday as coach Mike Quinto's team ran its win streak to five on the cusp of the state playoffs. Scott Paulus was 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs in the win over Del Val. Warren Hills will host its first state game since 2008 on Monday.

Up next: Monday at home against Belleville in state playoffs; Tuesday at Voorhees; Wednesday at home against North Plainfield.

7. Phillipsburg (10-10) -- Stateliners didn't play this past week, but coach Dave Hinkle's troops earned the No, 10 seed for the North 2, Group 4 playoffs.

Up next: Monday at East Orange in the state playoffs; Tuesday at Ridge; Thursday at Immaculata.

8. North Hunterdon (8-11) -- Lions suffered a 12-3 loss to Hillsborough o Saturday in their only contest of the rainy week. Coach Parker Snare's club, despite a sub-.500 mark at the cutoff, drew the No. 12 seed in the North 2, Group 4 playoffs.

Up next: Monday at Bayonne in state playoffs; Tuesday at West Morris; Wednesday at Bridgewater-Raritan.

9. North Warren (12-6) – Patriots didn't play last week and coach Jim Haupt's team drew the No. 7 seed in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs. Lefty Nick Macaione will be on the hill for Monday's state opener and the Pats can clinch the Skyland Conference Valley Division title with division wins on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Up next: Monday at home against River Dell in state playoffs; Tuesday at home against Bound Brook; Wednesday at Manville.

10. High Point (12-7) – Wildcats and coach Mickey Thomas earned the No. 7 seed for the North 1, Group 3 playoffs

Up next: Monday at home against Indian Hills in state playoffs; Tuesday at home against Jefferson; Wednesday at home against Montville; Thursday at home against Pope John; 

On the bubble: Lenape Valley (11-8); Hopatcong (12-4).