Monday, April 21, 2014

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

The high school baseball season is rounding the halfway mark in divisional play and the fifth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament kicks off on Wednesday with four preliminary round games:

Belvidere at Hopatcong; Vernon at South Hunterdon; Voorhees at High Point; and Sussex Tech at Phillipsburg.

I have to imagine that will be the first-ever meeting between the Mustangs and Stateliners. Talk about your long bus rides. Vernon to South and Tech to P'burg will be jaunts, while Voorhees to High Point will rack up the mileage. Let's hope the games are entertaining and worth the trips.

Hopatcong, South Hunterdon and Sussex Tech are the only schools that have never won a tri-county game at 0-4.

This year's tournament was seeded using power points for the first time and head-to-head came into play -- unbeknownst to some coaches -- involving teams seeded next to each other and using a ladder format -- for example, a No. 3 which had beaten a No. 1 could not jump up to the top spot unless it had also beaten the No. 2 seed.

In the H-W bracket, Hackettstown jumped Warren Hills for the No. 3 seed by virtue of the Tigers' 4-3 win last Thursday, the day before the cutoff, while Delaware Valley jumped over South Hunterdon for the No. 6 seed with the Terriers' 10-0 win on April 12.

On the Sussex side, Newton, which was the No. 5, jumped over Wallkill for the No. 4 seed and Kittatinny jumped over Wallkill for the No. 5 seed, dropping Wallkill to No. 6.

We will take a closer look at this year's tournament later in the week.

Now onto this week's rankings (records through Saturday's games):

1. Pope John (7-1) -- Lions were idle last week due to weather. Coach Vin Bello's team drew the top seed in the Sussex bracket for the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament that gets underway on Wednesday. The top of PJ's rotation -- Dan Cunico (3-0, 1.17 ERA, 25 K's, 18 IP), Ethan Collins (2-1, 2.33 ERA, 14 K's, 18 IP) and Jack Nelson (2-0, 0.82 ERA, 28 K's, 17 IP) -- is arguably the deepest in the tri-county tournament. Outfielder Mike Young (.478 average, .594 on-base, 11 hits) leads the offense, along with Kyle Malejko (.452, team-high 14 hits) and Axel D'Addario (team-high 15 RBIs).

Up next: at Roxbury on Tuesday; Sparta at home on Wednesday; at High Point on Thursday; Sussex Tech-Phillipsburg winner at home on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.

2. Hunterdon Central (9-1) -- Red Devils move up a spot despite a 6-1 loss to No. 3 North Hunterdon on April 3. Since then, coach Mike Raymond's team has won eight in a row, including back-to-back shutouts of Phillipsburg (12-0 on Wednesday) and Hillsborough (10-0 on Thursday) in a pair of Skyland Conference Delaware Division matchups. Central also won its own tournament on Saturday with wins over Robbinsville (7-3) and South Brunswick (15-1). Brett McManus had a great week at the plate -- going 3-for-3 with a double, homer and three RBIs against P'burg and 2-for-3 with an RBI vs. South Brunswick. Catcher Zac Vacca was 2-for-2 with a double and two RBIs, and 2-for-3 with a homer and five RBIs in those wins.

Up next: Edison at home on Monday; Bridgewater-Raritan at home on Tuesday; Watchung Hills at home on Thursday; Voorhees-High Point winner at home on Saturday in HWS.

3. North Hunterdon (6-5) -- Lions have hit a rough patch -- dropping three of their last four entering this week's slate of games. Coach Mike Kane's club started last week with a 4-2 loss to Watchung Hills before dropping a 2-0 decision to Immaculata in a pair of Skyland Conference Delaware Division clashes. North snapped a three-game skid with Saturday's 9-4 win over rival Voorhees. Outfielder Marc Monks went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Tom Schumacher had an RBI double. Losing pitcher John Wilson struck out eight in the loss to Immaculata.

Up next: at Phillipsburg on Tuesday; at Bridgewater-Raritan on Thursday; Belvidere-Hopatcong winner at home on Saturday in HWS.

4. Lenape Valley (7-0) -- Patriots jump up a few spots following a 6-3 win over previously-unbeaten Morristown-Beard last Thursday in their only action of the week. Nick Sabatini went 2-for-4 with a double, Pat Togno was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, while David DelSontro went 4-for-4 with three RBIs to lead the offense. Winning pitcher Jim Fluke continued his hot start on the hill with 14 strikeouts in improving to 4-0. In those four starts, Fluke had 38 K's overall. Coach Bob Klinck's club drew the No. 2 seed behind Pope John in the Sussex bracket of the HWS.

Up next: at Mount Olive on Monday; at Kittatinny on Thursday; at Jefferson on Friday; Vernon-South Hunterdon winner at home on Saturday in HWS.

5. Sparta (6-3) -- Spartans went 2-1 last week -- a 9-0 win over Kinnelon last Monday and an 8-4 victory over Goshen (N.Y.) on Saturday. Matt Chemis went 3-for-3 with a stolen base and an RBI, while T.J. Estanislau had an RBI double in the win over Goshen. Kevin Foulds and Nick Makowitz each had two RBIs. In last Wednesday's 7-6 loss to Newton at Memory Park, Makowitz went 3-for-3 with an RBI and both Thomas Ruddy and Austin Unglaub were 2-for-4. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team is the No. 3 seed in the Sussex bracket of HWS.

Up next: Jefferson at home on Monday; at Pope John on Wednesday; at Mount Olive on Thursday; at Morris Knolls on Friday; North Warren at home on Saturday in HWS.

6. North Warren (5-1) -- Patriots capped a 3-0 week with a nice 5-1 win over Warren Hills on Saturday. Earlier, coach Jim Haupt's team rolled to a 13-0 win over Hopatcong on Wednesday in an NJAC Freedom Division clash before an 11-6 win over Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg (Pa.) in an independent clash. Big week for senior outfielder Cam Esposito, who drove in a pair of runs against Hopatcong and NDES. Junior Matt Nicholoff had a double and three RBIs vs. Hopatcong and had an RBI double against Warren Hills. Ace pitcher Alek Hladik (3-0) had 13 K's in beating Hopatcong and added three more in picking up the save vs. Hills -- giving him 37 strikeouts for the season.

Up next: at Wallkill Valley on Monday; at Jefferson on Thursday; at Sparta on Saturday in HWS.

7. Warren Hills (7-4) -- Blue Streaks were rolling along on a four-game win streak -- beating Hopatcong (3-0 on Monday) and Franklin (11-5 on Wednesday) before back-to-back losses to Hackettstown (4-3 on Thursday) and North Warren (5-1 on Saturday) to close the week. Catcher Christian Stagaard had another big week at the plate, with a three-run homer against Hackettstown before going 2-for-3 vs. North Warren. Stagaard also got the win vs. Hopatcong with three strikeouts. Infielder Craig Lawson had three doubles, two against Hopatcong. Coach Mike Quinto's team is the No. 4 seed in the H-W bracket.

Up next: at Somerville on Tuesday; at Voorhees on Thursday; Kittatinny at home on Saturday in HWS.

8. Vernon (1-4) -- Vikings knocked off Newton, 7-2, last Monday in their only action of the week. 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. 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 is the No. 7 seed in the Sussex bracket and will be in action in Wednesday's preliminary round.

Up next: at Warwick Valley (N.Y.) on Monday; at South Hunterdon on Wednesday in HWS prelims; Morris Knolls at home on Thursday; at Lenape Valley on Saturday (with a win over South Hunterdon) in HWS first round.

9. Delaware Valley (5-3) -- Terriers went 2-1 last week -- opening with a 10-0 loss at Somerville in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division matchup. Coach Marty White's team rebounded with a 12-3 victory over Bound Brook before posting a 1-0 win at South River on Saturday in a pair of independent games. Joe Chiarino went 3-for-5 with two RBIs vs. Bound Brook and plated a run vs. South River. Nick Perna was 3-for-5 with an RBI vs. Bound Brook. Pitchers Chris Fiaschetti and Logan Brown got the victories, as Brown (3-0) struck out 10 in beating South River.

Up next: Voorhees at home on Tuesday; Ridge at home on Thursday; at Newton on Saturday in HWS.

10. Newton (4-4) -- Surprisingly, Braves enter for the first time this season. After returning six starters from last year's 18-win team, coach John Selitto's club struggled out of the gate. But the Braves may be turning a corner following a 7-6 win over Sparta last Thursday and a 3-0 victory over Kittatinny on Saturday. Against the Spartans, junior Nick Grant went 2-for-3 with an RBI and got the win on the mound with 12 K's against the Cougars. Catcher Charlie Grotyohann went 2-for-4 with an RBI vs. Sparta. Casey Thomas was 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI vs. Kittatinny.

Up next: Wallkill Valley at home on Thursday; Dover at home on Friday; Delaware Valley at home on Saturday in HWS.

On the bubble: Hackettstown (4-4); Kittatinny (3-3); Wallkill Valley (3-4).

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