Monday, April 7, 2014

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

Lenape Valley's 3-0 start is no fluke -- or is it?

Well, credit No. 1 pitcher Jim Fluke for the early success coach Bob Klinck's Patriots are enjoying this season. Fluke struck out 14 in seven solid innings for the win in Lenape's 6-2 victory over Kittatinny in the opener last Tuesday, before holding Newton's offense in check for his second win in the team's 14-4 rout on Saturday in a Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division clash.

"He had great stuff on Opening Day," Klinck said of his right-hander, who outdueled St. John's University-bound David Moyer, who is Kittatinny's ace. "[Fluke] has a great curveball and his velocity is around 81-82 [mph]. But his curve breaks down very sharply."

Klinck elected to start Fluke against Newton despite pitching on three days' rest. The move paid off, as Lenape overcame an early 3-0 deficit and scored six runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to envoke the 10-run mercy rule.

"He didn't have his best stuff, but he played shortstop [against North Warren] and his arm felt 100 percent by Thursday," Klinck said. "He pitched in five scrimmages, so he's been building up [innings] all along."

Also credit a potent offense that combined to produce 30 runs and as many hits in the three victories, which also included a 10-4 win over North Warren. Both Newton, last year's Freedom Division champion, and North Warren figured to be chief challengers for the division this season.

"The kids are really swinging the bats well," Klinck said. "I can't complain. We played a lot of preseason games -- six in Florida and five more up here. My kids got a lot of swings in."

Senior outfielder Nick Sabatini -- the Pats' No. 2 hitter -- and cleanup man David DelSontro have been doing the most damage at the plate early on. Sabatini went 5-for-8 (.625) with two doubles and five RBIs, while DelSontro was 6-for-11 (.545) with four doubles and four RBIs through three games.

"Both are returning seniors and hit well last year," Klinck said. "Opening Day we faced a really tough pitcher [Moyer] and we had 14 hits [against Newton]."

At 3-0 in the division standings with the wins over three top contenders, Lenape is sitting in the driver's seat, though it's still very early.

"I was hoping we would win all three, but we could've been 0-3, too," Klinck said. "North Warren and Newton are the class of the [division]. I knew we'd have a chance to do well if could swing the bats. You don't expect to hit as well as we have. We have a very competitive group of kids."

Here are the first set of area rankings:

1. Pope John (3-0) -- Lions are another team swinging the bats well early on, outscoring its opponents, 21-3, in their three wins over High Point (5-0), Morris Hills (10-2) and Demarest (6-1). Kyle MalejkoAxel D'Addario and Cyrus Ahmadi all had three hits, while winning pitcher Ethan Collins struck out three against Morris Hills, while D'Addario also had six RBIs in the NJAC American Division matchup. Coach Vin Bello's club has a big showdown with crosstown rival Sparta on tap to start a brutal six-game week.

Up next: Sparta at home on Monday; at Montville on Tuesday; at Vernon on Wednesday; Morris Knolls at home on Friday; at Bergen Catholic on Saturday; Immaculata at Diamond Nation on Sunday.

2. North Hunterdon (1-2) -- The Hunterdon County Lions open here following a big 6-1 victory over Hunterdon Central on Thursday in a battle of Skyland Conference Delaware Division contenders. Seniors Marc Monks and Jon Scott each had a double and two RBIs, while sophomore pitcher John Wilson struck out four for the win. Monks also had an RBI in the club's 5-4 loss to Bridgewater-Raritan in the season opener. Coach Mike Kane's team closed the week with a 1-0 loss to South Plainfield.

Up next: Warren Hills at home on Monday; Montgomery at home on Tuesday; at Hillsborough on Thursday; at Edison on Saturday.

3. Sparta (1-1) -- Spartans rebounded from a 3-2 loss in their opener to earn a 3-2 win over Vernon on Thursday in an NJAC American Division matchup. No. 2 pitcher Dillon Mendel fired six strong innings, allowing just five hits and one walk with three strikeouts for the win, while senior second baseman Austin Unglaub went 2-for-2. Senior center fielder and Yale recruit Thomas Ruddy saw his 32-game hitting streak dating to 2012 snapped with an 0-for-2 day with two walks. He hit safely in all 27 of the team's games last season.

Up next: at Pope John on Monday; at High Point on Wednesday; Montville at home on Friday; at Minisink Valley (N.Y.) on Saturday.

4. Hunterdon Central (1-1) -- Red Devils opened the season with a 9-2 win over Watchung Hills last Tuesday before dropping a 6-1 decision to North Hunterdon on Thursday in a pair of Skyland Conference Delaware Division contests. Sophomore first baseman Matt Toke went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs against Watchung, while senior outfielder Chris Carey drove in the lone run against North.

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

5. Warren Hills (3-0) -- Blue Streaks are the other area team off to a 3-0 start following wins over Skyland Conference Raritan Division foes Somerville (2-0) and Voorhees (6-2), along with Saturday's 9-2 blowout of Montgomery in a crossover contest at Joseph Steinhardt Field. Sophomore outfielder Anthony Veneziano enjoyed a big week with homers against the 'Ville and Voorhees, while junior Jake Larsen struck out five in the win over the Vikings. Nathaniel Capone tossed a five-hitter against the Pioneers.

Up next: at North Hunterdon on Monday; Ridge at home on Tuesday; at Delaware Valley on Thursday; at Watchung Hills on Saturday.

6. Lenape Valley (3-0) -- Patriots are off their first 3-0 start since 2011, when they went 4-0 en route to an 11-11 campaign. Coach Bob Klinck's teams have won no fewer than 11 games the last four seasons with two appearances in the North 1, Group 2 semifinals. Senior outfielder Tyler Rogers was 2-for-4 with four RBIs, as senior Dan Rafferty fired 5 1/3 shutout frames with four strikeouts to earn the win over North Warren on Thursday. Nick Sabatini plated three runs in Saturday's 10-run win over Newton.

Up next: at Hopatcong on Monday; Wallkill Valley at home on Wednesday; at Hackettstown on Friday.

7. Delaware Valley (1-1) -- Terriers scored a 5-2 victory over Voorhees in their opener last Tuesday -- snapping a six-game skid in the series dating to 2011. Senior Chris Fiaschetti went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs, while starting pitcher Logan Brown struck out five. Senior third baseman Joe Chiarino went 3-for-3 and Fiaschetti fired seven solid innings -- allowing three runs on eight hits -- in the team's 3-2 loss to Ridge on Thursday in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division clash.

Up next: Franklin at home on Tuesday; Warren Hills at home on Thursday; South Hunterdon at Riegel Ridge Park on Saturday.

8. North Warren (1-1) -- Patriots opened their season with a 2-1 win over Jefferson in an NJAC Freedom Division clash last Tuesday, as junior Matt Nicholoff belted a solo homer to back winning pitcher Alex Hladik, who struck out 11. Coach Jim Haupt's team followed with a 10-4 loss to Lenape Valley on Thursday. Junior outfielder John Vuz went 2-for-4 with an RBI, while sophomore Sean Thornton hit a double.

Up next: Newton at home on Monday; at Hackettstown on Wednesday; Hopatcong at home on Friday.

9. Hackettstown (2-1) -- Tigers opened with a 5-4 win over Hopatcong last Tuesday before stunning Newton, 3-2, on Thursday. Coach Gary Poyer's club closed the week with an 8-4 loss to Jefferson. Senior Justin Nicholls had an RBI double and struck out five for the win against the Chiefs, while juniors Taylor Karnis and Joe Lake plated runs against the Braves.

Up next: at Wallkill Valley on Monday; North Warren at home on Wednesday; Lenape Valley at home on Friday; at Whippany Park on Saturday.

10. Kittatinny (1-1) -- Cougars rebounded from a tough 6-2 loss to Lenape Valley in the season opener last Tuesday to produce a 5-1 win over Wallkill Valley on Thursday. Senior pitcher Joe Repasy tossed a five-hitter with six strikeouts and went 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, while junior shortstop Cowan Sikora had two walks and a pair of runs scored. Sikora had a pair of hits and losing pitcher David Moyer struck out six against Lenape.

Up next: Jefferson at home on Monday; Hopatcong at home on Wednesday; at Newton on Friday; at Parsippany on Saturday.

On the bubble -- Newton (1-2).

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