Sunday, April 7, 2013

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

The first set of our Open Mike area rankings are usually the toughest.

The first four teams are pretty set, not necessarily in this order, but from five on, it's completely wide open at this point. Phillipsburg wasn't even a thought for consideration after dropping its first four games, but Saturday's 13-7 win over Voorhees, which beat Delaware Valley, got the Stateliners in at the bottom.

This could be a very fluid situation this year as no team seems head-and-shoulders above the pack right now. But it's early folks, so stay tuned.

Among the games to watch this week will be No. 3 Pope John at No. 4 Sparta in the annual crosstown battle. Pope John has won four in a row in the series, including wins of 8-4 and 5-4 last year. Sparta hasn't won since its three victories in 2009, including a 6-3 victory in the now defunct Sussex County Tournament semifinals.

1. North Hunterdon (2-1) – Lions roared out of the gate with wins over Steinert (15-4) and Hunterdon Central (12-6) after a tough opening day loss to Bridgewater-Raritan (8-7). Senior outfielder C.J. Rasile went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and fellow outfielder Andrew Gianos had two hits and two RBIs in the win over Central, North’s six in the last nine meetings between the Hunterdon County schools. Coach Mike Kane's squad has two big Skyland Conference Delaware Division matchups to open this week.

Up next: at Montgomery on Tuesday; at Hillsborough on Thursday; Ridge at home on Friday; at Edison on Saturday.

2. Hunterdon Central (2-1) – Red Devils posted wins over Nottingham (12-1) and Watchung Hills (5-3) around the loss to North Hunterdon on Thursday. Senior second baseman and Delaware recruit Jeremy Ake belted a walk-off grand slam against Watchung. Billy Maier was the winning pitcher, allowing five hits and logging six strikeouts in seven frames. Ake had two RBIs in the loss to North Hunterdon. Big week on tap for coach Mike Raymond’s club, which earned a three-way share of last year's conference title, with two huge Delaware Division clashes.

Up next: Hun at home on Monday; at Immaculata on Tuesday; at Montgomery on Thursday; Randolph at home on Saturday.

3. Pope John (3-2) – Lions opened the season with a thrilling 7-6 win in eight innings over Roxbury before a 4-2 victory over High Point in an NJAC American Division showdown. Coach Vin Bello’s team also earned a 7-2 independent win over Demarest. In between, Pope John dropped a 3-1 decision to Morris Hills in an American Division meeting. Rob Sanders delivered a walk-off hit against Roxbury, which led, 4-0, through five innings. Axel D’Addario earned the win in relief, and also homered in the win over Demarest. Sophomore Ethan Collins tossed a three-hitter with six K's against High Point.

Up next: Montville at home on Monday; at Sparta on Wednesday; Vernon at home on Friday; at Bergen Catholic on Saturday.

4. Sparta (2-1) – Spartans opened with wins over Mount Olive (3-1) and Vernon (9-3) before a 7-3 non-league loss to Chatham on Saturday. Kevin Foulds fired a three-hitter with six strikeouts against Mount Olive, while Matt Chemis went 2-for-2 with two RBIs. Thomas Ruddy also had an RBI single. Austin Unglaub and Jon-Karl Widuch homered against Vernon, while Dylan Mendel struck out five in earning his first varsity win on the hill.

Up next: Morris Hills at home on Monday; Pope John at home on Wednesday; High Point at home on Friday; at Goshen (N.Y.) on Saturday.

5. Warren Hills (1-2) – Blue Streaks rebounded from an 11-8 loss to Somerville in their opener with an impressive 7-1 win over Voorhees in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division clash. Coach Mike Quinto’s team closed the week with a 13-2 road loss to Montgomery. Winning pitcher Nathaniel Capone held Voorhees to just five hits, while Shea Kohler (2-for-3, double, RBI) was among five Streaks with multiple hits. Big area clash with Delaware Valley, coached by Warren Hills alum Marty White, at Joseph Steinhardt Field this week.

Up next: Hillsborough at home on Monday; Ridge at home on Tuesday; Delaware Valley at home on Thursday.

6. Newton (3-0) – Braves are off to one of their best starts in recent years. Coach John Selitto’s club, coming off a six-win season in 2012, opened with a big 7-5 win in eight innings against nemesis Wallkill Valley in a key NJAC Freedom Division showdown and improved to 2-0 in the division with Friday’s 11-6 win over Hackettstown. On Saturday, Casey Thomas tossed a two-hitter and Anthony Morro drove in a pair of runs in a 5-0 independent win over Dover. Justin Smith plated the go-ahead run with a safety squeeze in the win over Wallkill, which snapped Newton’s five-game skid in the series.

Up next: Lenape Valley at home on Monday; North Warren at home on Wednesday; Jefferson at home on Thursday; at Vernon on Saturday.

7. Wallkill Valley (1-1) – After a tough 7-5 loss in eight innings to Newton in their opener, the Rangers rebounded with a 2-1 win over Kittatinny in another NJAC Freedom Division contest. Casey Jervis went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the loss to Newton, while Rob Stecher struck out five and walked one in the complete-game win over the Cougars. Rich Stecher scored the decisive run on Nick McWilliams’ squeeze bunt in the fifth inning.

Up next: Hopatcong at home on Monday; at Hackettstown on Wednesday; Lenape Valley at home on Friday; at New Egypt (doubleheader) on Saturday.

8. North Warren (2-1) – Patriots started off on the wrong foot with a 7-0 loss to Jefferson, but bounced back in a big way with a 7-4 win over Lenape Valley for the Warren County school’s first win in the NJAC Freedom Division. Dave Wilbur went 3-for-3 with two doubles, while winning pitcher Hunter Stevens logged eight strikeouts. Nick Meyer also homered in the win. Coach Jim Haupt’s team closed the week with a 7-4 win over Hanover Park.

Up next: Kittatinny at home on Monday; at Newton on Wednesday; Hackettstown at home on Friday; Whippany Park at home on Saturday.

9. Lenape Valley (2-1) – Patriots opened some eyes with a 4-0 win over Kittatinny in their opener, before a 7-4 loss to North Warren in its second NJAC Freedom Division tilt last week. Coach Bob Klinck’s team closed the week with a 3-1 non-league win over Boonton on Saturday. Drew Burke was the winning pitcher against Kittatinny, while Mike Deerfield tossed a two-hitter with seven K’s against Boonton.

Up next: at Newton on Monday; Hopatcong at home on Wednesday; at Wallkill Valley on Friday; at Delaware Valley on Saturday.

10. Phillipsburg (1-4) – Stateliners closed a very tough week with Saturday’s 13-7 win over Voorhees in a Skyland Conference interdivisional showdown at the Phillipsburg Athletic Complex. Alex Martin went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, including an inside-the-park home run. Bryan Gardner added two RBIs for the ‘Liners, who were outscored, 43-3, in its losses. Coach Dave Hinkle’s team lost, 18-0, to Ridge in the opener and 10-0 to Montgomery.

Up next: at Watchung Hills on Tuesday; at Immaculata on Thursday; Pius X (Pa.) at Phillipsburg on Friday; Stroudsburg (Pa.) at Phillipsburg on Saturday.

On the bubble: Hackettstown (2-1); Delaware Valley (1-4), Voorhees (1-2).

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