Friday, April 18, 2014

Baseball: Projections for HWS Tourney (UPDATED)

The fifth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament gets underway on Wednesday, April 23 with preliminary round games and the winners advance to first-round action on Saturday, April 26.

Quarterfinals will be played Saturday, May 3 and the semifinals are scheduled for Saturday, May 10. The championship game will be contested at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 17 at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

Hunterdon Central is the defending champion after a 10-0 win over Vernon in the 2013 final. Coach Mike Raymond's Red Devils also won the title in 2010. Pope John (2011) and Phillipsburg (2012) are the other schools to win the tournament.

The official seeds and pairings for this year' tournament will be released in the next few days, using a team's power points through only its first nine games or by today's cutoff. No games are scheduled for Good Friday.

Using the teams' current points, let's take a look at the 20-team field. Preliminary and first-round pairings pit Sussex vs. Hunterdon-Warren in the split brackets. Sussex teams are seeded 1-10 in one pool and Hunterdon-Warren teams are seeded 1-10 in another pool. The groupings are then combined in the two brackets (example: Sussex No. 7 plays Hunterdon-Warren No. 10, etc.).

Top seeds

North Hunterdon and Pope John should be the No. 1 seeds in the H-W and Sussex groupings.

North Hunterdon (5-4), which has made back-to-back trips to the semifinals and in three of the four previous events, had won four in a row, but has since dropped its last three games -- 9-6 to Red Bank Catholic and 4-2 to Watchung Hills and 2-0 to Immaculata in Skyland Conference Delaware Division matchups. Outfielder Marc Monks leads the offense, while John Wilson is 2-0 on the mound.

Pope John (7-1) won its first six games before a 17-5 loss to Bergen Catholic last weekend. Coach Vin Bello's Lions, who lost to Hunterdon Central in last year's semifinals, have the deepest pitching rotation among the field with Dan Cunico (3-0, 1.17 ERA, 25 K's, 18 IP), Ethan Collins (2-1, 2.33 ERA) and Jack Nelson (2-0, 0.82 ERA). The staff had yielded a total of five runs in six games before the loss to BC. Second baseman Axel D'Addario is on fire at the plate -- batting .321 with 15 RBIs -- while shortstop Jay Sanford (.423) and outfielder Kyle Malejko (.452) have been major contributors. Outfielder Mike Young is batting a robust .478 with a team-high 11 hits.

Lenape Valley and Hunterdon Central are in line to be the No. 2 seeds.

Coach Bob Klinck's Patriots are currently 7-0 and on top of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division standings. Lenape Valley has never been past of the first round of this tournament and is 1-4 overall in county games. But his this year's squad is doing serious damage at the plate, while getting quality efforts on the mound. Outfielder Nick Sabatini (.400, six RBIs) and David DelSontro (.500, seven RBIs) are pacing an offense that's scored 58 runs in six games. Tyler Rogers leads the club with 10 RBIs and is hitting .421. On the hill, ace Jim Fluke is 4-0 with 38 K's in 23 innings. No. 2 Dan Rafferty is 2-0 and hasn't allowed an earned run 12 1/3 innings.

Central (7-1), which is a tournament-best 14-2 in county games, is seeking its third title. The Red Devils are heating up after a bit of a slow start -- reeling off six straight wins since a 6-1 loss at North Hunterdon on April 3. Matt Toke (.389, six RBIs), Zac Vacca (.385) and Christian Carey (.375, 1 homer, seven RBIs) are enjoying hot starts at the plate, as Central has outscored the last five opponents, 31-9. On the mound, Pat Clare (2-1, 2.57 ERA), Mike Novello (1-0, 2.70 ERA) and Toke (2-0, 0.00 ERA) are all quality arms.

Best of the rest

Rounding out the top five seeds are Warren Hills and Sparta as the No. 3s, with Hackettstown and Wallkill Valley as the No. 4s. Newton and North Warren look like the No. 5s.

Coach Mike Quinto's Blue Streaks (7-3), who reached the quarters in 2010 and '12, had won four in a row since back-to-back losses to North Hunterdon (11-1 on April 7) and Ridge (8-4 on April 8), but dropped a 4-3 decision to Hackettstown on Thursday. Hills scored a big 4-2 win over Watchung Hills last Saturday and the Warriors did the Streaks a favor with Wednesday's 4-2 win over North Hunterdon -- giving Warren Hills a boost in power points. Catcher Christian Stagaard (.435, 12 RBIs) and infielder Craig Lawson (.393, 11 hits) are pacing the offense, while Nathaniel Capone (1-1, 1.50) and Anthony Veneziano (3-0, 1.80 ERA) have been the top pitchers.

Sparta (5-3), which lost to Central in last year's semifinals and in the 2010 title game, had won four in a row before an 8-1 loss to Minisink Valley (N.Y.) last Saturday. Coach Sam Slobodzian's Spartans rely on the top half of a potent batting order with leadoff man Thomas Ruddy (.381, .480 OBP) and second baseman Austin Unglaub (.333, .391 OBP). Shortstop T.J. Estanislau led the team with seven RBIs through the first six games.

Keep an eye on North Warren, which features ace pitcher Alex Hladik. In three wins, Hladik racked up a total of 34 strikeouts, including 13 in the Patriots' 13-0 win over Hopatcong on Wednesday.

Projected seeds

(UPDATE: Records and power point totals through Thursday's games  in parentheses):


Top bracket

9A-Phillipsburg (1-8, 44) at 8B-Sussex Tech (1-7, 36), winner to meet 1A-North Hunterdon (5-4, 136)
5A-North Warren (4-1, 67) at 4B-Wallkill Valley (3-4, 68)
6B-Kittatinny (3-2, 55) at 3A-Warren Hills (7-2, 125)
10B-Vernon (1-4, 32) at 7A-Delaware Valley (4-3, 64), winner to meet 2B-Lenape Valley (7-0, 124)

Bottom bracket

9B-High Point (1-3-1, 32) at 8A-Belvidere (3-3, 46), winner to meet 1B-Pope John (7-1, 127)
5B-Newton (3-4, 61) at 4A-Hackettstown (4-4, 93)
6A-South Hunterdon (3-5, 66) at 3B-Sparta (5-3, 97)
10A-Voorhees (0-6, 21) at 7B-Hopatcong (1-8, 37), winner to meet 2A-Hunterdon Central (7-1, 135)

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