Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

New season and very different results for Newton's baseball team -- projected by many to repeat as Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division champions.

With the bulk of an 18-win team returning, the Braves' 2-4 start certainly has a lot of people scratching their heads, including coach John Selitto.

Selitto said it certainly hasn't been from a lack of effort during practices.

"The practices have been fantastic. Their preparation is great," the coach said following Monday's 7-2 loss to Vernon at Memory Park. "We've dug ourselves a big hole."

With Lenape Valley atop the standings at 6-0, Newton sits three games back in the loss column at 1-3 in divisional play. The Patriots pounded the Braves -- 14-4 on April 5 in Stanhope.

Selitto said it's been a combination of things -- poor relief efforts and sometimes a lack of offense, which produced just one hit against Vernon. Despite allowing 35 runs in six games, the coach insists the starting pitching has been good.

Ace Nick Grant got the win on Opening Day -- 11-1 over Wallkill Valley, but has curiously pitched very little since. Senior Steve Kelly fired five shutout innings in the Braves' 3-2 loss to Hackettstown on April 3, but the tall right-hander didn't make it through the first inning in the loss to Vernon, which erupted for seven runs in the first. Sophomore Cole Van Luvender, who Selitto is high on, struck out three for the win in the team's 11-3 victory over Boonton on Saturday.

There's plenty of baseball left, but Selitto knows his team has to put it together soon if it expects to make a run at the division title and make some noise in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs.

"We're too talented to play like this the whole year," he said. "But it's getting late. We've tried some things like juggling the lineup a bit. It's more about the approach [at the plate] and trying too hard. You have to be relaxed at the plate."

Now onto this week's rankings:

1. Pope John (7-1) -- Lions went 4-1 last week, dropping a 17-5 decision to Bergen Catholic for their first loss in an independent clash. Pope John trailed, 6-5, before the Crusaders put up an 11-spot in the top of the seventh. Second baseman Axel D'Addario continued his red-hot hitting, with a homer and three RBIs in last Tuesday's 3-0 win over Montville. He also drove in a pair of runs, while ace Dan Cunico (2-0) struck out 11 in a 7-2 win over Morris Knolls in another NJAC American Division matchup. Ethan Collins (2-0) struck out nine in beating Montville. Coach Vin Bello's club, which also scored a 1-0 win in 10 innings over Vernon, closed the week with an 8-4 win over Immaculata.

Up next: at Mount Olive on Tuesday; at West Milford on Wednesday.

2. North Hunterdon (5-3) -- The Hunterdon County Lions also went 4-1 last week, opening with an 11-1 win over previously-unbeaten Warren Hills last Monday which started a four-game win streak as coach Mike Kane's team defeated Montgomery (1-0 on Wednesday), Hillsborough (4-2 on Thursday) and Edison (9-6 on Saturday) before a 9-6 loss to Red Bank Catholic on Sunday at Diamond Nation. Outfielder Marc Monks is on fire at the plate -- going 2-3 with a triple and two RBIs against Warren Hills and belting a solo homer against Montgomery. He was 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the loss to RBC. Senior Austin Arndt went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and struck out six for the win vs. the Blue Streaks.

Up next: at Watchung Hills on Wednesday; Immaculata at home on Thursday; at Voorhees on Saturday.

3. Hunterdon Central (5-1) -- Red Devils rebounded from a 6-1 loss to North Hunterdon with four straight wins, including a 5-1 victory over Westfield on Monday. Coach Mike Raymond's squad opened last week with a 6-2 win over Immaculata in a Skyland Conference Delaware Division showdown. Christian Carey belted a homer and had three RBIs, while Matt Toke went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Toke leads the team in batting average (.389) and RBIs with six. Catcher Zak Vacca, who is hitting .385, went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Toke went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in a 4-3 win over Randolph on Saturday.

Up next: Phillipsburg at home on Wednesday; at Hillsborough on Thursday; Rancocas Valley, Robbinsville, South Brunswick in Hunterdon Central Tournament on Saturday.

4. Sparta (5-2) -- Spartans extended their win streak to four with victories over High Point (5-3 on Wednesday), Morris Hills (8-1 on Thursday) and Montville (8-7 on Friday) before an 8-1 loss to Minisink Valley (N.Y.) on Saturday. Leadoff hitter Thomas Ruddy, the school's career stolen base leader, swiped a pair in the loss. The Yale-bound outfielder is batting a team-best .381 with five stolen bases. Second baseman Austin Unglaub is hitting .333 with seven hits, while shortstop T.J. Estanislau leads the team with seven RBIs. Ace Kevin Foulds is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. No. 2 Dillon Mendel is 1-0 with a 0.78 ERA.

Up next: at Morris Knolls on Tuesday; Newton at home on Thursday; Goshen (N.Y.) at home on Saturday.

5. Lenape Valley (6-0) -- Patriots stayed in the driver's seat with three more NJAC Freedom Division wins -- 10-6 over Hopatcong, 10-2 over Wallkill Valley and 8-0 over Hackettstown. Outfielder Nick Sabatini has been unconscious at the plate, going 2-for-4 with an RBI against Wallkill. Dan Rafferty improved to 2-0 on the mound with five K's against the Rangers, while Jim Fluke went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in that one. Coach Bob Klinck's club, which is off the program's best start since winning its first four to go 5-1 in 2011, can run the division table in the first half with a victory at Jefferson on Tuesday. The Pats have outscored their opponents 58-18.

Up next: at Jefferson on Tuesday; at Morristown-Beard on Thursday; Boonton at home on Saturday.

6. Warren Hills (6-2) -- Blue Streaks have rebounded from back-to-back losses to start last week -- 11-1 to North Hunterdon and 8-4 to Ridge -- with three straight wins, including Monday's 3-0 blanking of Hopatcong at Joseph Steinhardt Field. Craig Lawson went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, while winning pitcher Christian Stagaard struck out three and drove in a run. Stagaard has been hot at the plate, driving in two runs in the loss to Ridge and going 2-for-4 in the team's 5-3 win at Delaware Valley last Thursday. Winning pitcher Anthony Veneziano (2-0) fanned eight in that one. Coach Mike Quinto's club posted a 4-2 win at Watchung Hills on Saturday -- the Streaks' first win over the Warriors since 2003. Quinto is a Watchung alum.

Up next: Franklin at home on Wednesday; at Hackettstown on Thursday; at North Warren on Saturday.

7. Delaware Valley (3-2) -- Terriers went 2-1 last week, capping it with a 10-0 win over South Hunterdon on Saturday night at Riegel Ridge Park. Sophomore Jake Brogan drove in two runs, while senior Adam Novotny went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Junior Logan Brown struck out 10 for his second victory on the mound. Earlier in the week, Brown struck out six in a 6-2 win over Franklin in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division clash. Coach Marty White's team gave up three runs in the top of the first en route to a 5-3 loss to Warren Hills last Thursday. Nick Perna was 3-for-5 with a triple and an RBI.

Up next: at Bound Brook on Tuesday; at Somerville on Wednesday.

8. Vernon (1-4) -- Vikings enter here for the first time this season following a 7-2 win over Newton on Monday at Memory Park. Winning pitcher Anthony Germinario (1-1) fired six solid innings and helped himself by going 2-for-3 with the bat, including a two-run single in a seven-run first inning as the Vikings sent 12 batters to the plate. It was his second two-hit game as Germinario went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the Vikes' 6-4 loss to Morris Hills on Thursday. First baseman Dave Baxter also had a pair of hits as Vernon beat Newton for the third straight time dating to last year. Coach Scott Berge's team also lost a 1-0 heartbreaker in 10 innings to No. 1 Pope John last Tuesday. Starting pitcher Mike Harboy struck out six.

Up next: at Montville on Tuesday; High Point at home on Wednesday.

9. North Warren (2-1) -- Coach Jim Haupt's Patriots rolled to a 15-0 win over Hackettstown last Tuesday in an NJAC Freedom Division contest and were rained out the rest of the week. Senior Nick Meyer had a double and four RBIs and Matt Nicholoff had a double with two RBIs. Senior ace Alex Hladik (2-0) struck out 10 and has 21 in his two starts. Senior catcher David Wilbur also had a double with two RBIs.

Up next: at Wallkill Valley on Tuesday; Hopatcong at home on Wednesday; at Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg (Pa.) on Thursday; Warren Hills at home on Saturday.

10. Kittatinny (3-1) -- Cougars went 2-0 last week -- 12-5 over Hopatcong on Tuesday and 3-2 over Parsippany on Saturday. Cowan Sikora and Joe Repasy each had two hits, while Adam Goriscak drove in three runs against the Chiefs. Repasy went 2-for-2 and Goriscak had an RBI double to back senior ace David Moyer (1-1) in his first victory against Parsippany. Moyer and Repasy combined to throw a two-hitter for coach TJ Orlando's club.

Up next: Hackettstown at home on Tuesday; Jefferson at home on Wednesday.

On the bubble: High Point (1-3-1); Hackettstown (3-4).

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