Friday, May 2, 2014

Baseball: Central, Wallkill picks in HWS quarters

Newton's baseball team isn't just playing for program pride when it comes to the fifth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.

"We are trying not only to establish Newton [in the HWS] but Sussex County as well," said senior left fielder Justin Smith, who delivered the go-ahead single in the Braves' 4-2 come-from-behind win over Delaware Valley in Monday's second round.

Newton aside, Sussex County is doing a fine job of asserting itself in this event. As was the case a year ago, the county has five teams still standing in Saturday's quarterfinal round. A noteworthy accomplishment considering since there were a combined total of six Sussex teams to advance to the Round of 8 over the first three years of the event.

Coach John Selitto's Braves, a No. 4 seed, will make the trek south to take on No. 1 North Hunterdon at 2 p.m. in one of four interesting matchups on Saturday. The winners advance to the following weekend's semifinal round. Newton, which is 3-4 all-time in county games, has reached the quarters just twice -- dropping a 6-2 decision to Vernon in this round in 2013.

Smith has been a big reason why Newton (8-5) is enjoying a marked turnaround since a dismal 2-4 start. The speedy leadoff man went 8-for-20 (.400) with seven RBIs and six steals as the team went 4-1 over its previous five games before Friday's 4-0 win over Hackettstown.

Ace left-hander Nick Grant is 3-0, including the win over Del Val, in which he racked up eight strikeouts and allowed just three hits.

It will be interesting to see how Selitto sets up his rotation for the weekend with a scheduled regular season game against Lenape Valley on Sunday. The coach is not a fan of this tournament and will chase a conference title over a county championship, as he did last year in the Braves' run to the NJAC Freedom Division crown.

But Newton (4-4 in the division) is sitting four games behind Lenape Valley (8-0), so expect to see Grant against North Hunterdon.

Here's a closer look at the quarterfinal matchups (seeds precede teams). Records through Thursday:

4B-Newton (8-5) at 1A-North Hunterdon (11-7), 2 p.m. -- Newton is coming in as one of the hottest teams having won five of its last six. In addition to Smith, center fielder Ben Cramer, the No. 3 hitter, is one of the top offensive players in the area, while catcher Charlie Grotyohann features a strong throwing arm behind the dish. With all of the rainouts this week, look for Grant to get the ball for this one. On the other side, North Hunterdon has been one of the top teams in the area for most of the season, sans a a stretch where the Lions lost three in a row and four of five. Coach Mike Kane's team has a pair of lopsided wins over No. 2 seed Hunterdon Central -- 6-1 on April 3 and 14-0 on Tuesday -- and junior third baseman Tom Schumacher is red-hot at the plate -- going 4-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs in a recent win over Bridgewater-Raritan. Over his last nine games, Schumacher has six doubles, two homers, two triples and 12 RBIs. 

Coaches: John Selitto (74-123, ninth season); Mike Kane (40-35, third season).

All-time HWS records: Newton 3-4; North Hunterdon 9-4.

How they got here: Newton beat Delaware Valley, 4-2. North Hunterdon defeated Belvidere, 7-0.

The Pick: North Hunterdon, 4-2.

10B-Vernon (4-8) at 6B-Wallkill Valley (7-5), 2 p.m. -- Here we go again? Watch out for Vernon, which made a surprising run to the final a year ago as a six seed. Coach Scott Berge's Vikings  have been giant killers thus far with a regular-season win over Newton (7-2 on April 14) and Lenape Valley (5-1 in the HWS second round on April 26). Senior Anthony Germinario is pacing the Vikes at the plate with a .424 average and shares the team lead in RBIs with 12, along with senior infielder Mike Harboy. Excellent defensive center fielder Chris Pontus leads with 16 hits. On the mound, Germinario, a right-hander, is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. Wallkill Valley, also making just its second quarterfinal appearance, has been rolling of late as coach Kevin Lukich's club won six in a row before Friday's 6-4 loss to Kittatinny. The Rangers ousted No. 3 seed Hackettstown, 7-3, in the second round as shortstop Kyle Rosencranz continued his torrid hitting with a double and two RBIs. He went 4-for-4 with a double the previous game in the team's win over Newton. Ace Brandon Grabkowski (1-2) struck out five Braves in a no-decision.

Coaches: Scott Berge (43-78, sixth season); Kevin Lukich (62-75, sixth season).

All-time HWS records: Vernon 6-4; Wallkill Valley 5-4.

How they got here: Vernon beat South Hunterdon, 18-2, and Lenape Valley, 5-1. Wallkill Valley defeated Hackettstown, 7-3.

The Pick: Wallkill Valley, 5-4.

4A-Warren Hills (9-6) at 1B-Pope John (8-6), 2:30 p.m. -- Warren Hills is in for a busy Saturday. After this one, coach Mike Quinto's club makes the trek to TD Bank Ballpark in Somerset to take on Ridge in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division contest at 7 p.m. But first, the Blue Streaks will make their third HWS quarterfinal appearance. Catcher Christian Stagaard has been one of the offensive leaders all season -- batting .413 with 19 hits and a team-high 14 RBIs, while infielder Craig Lawson leads in average (.434) and hits (23). On the mound, Nathaniel Capone is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 22 K's. Pope John is looking to get back on track after snapping a three-game skid with last Saturday's 3-1 second-round win over Phillipsburg. Coach Vin Bello's Lions, which claimed the only title for Sussex County in 2011, dropped an 11-7 decision in extra innings to Randolph on Thursday and have lost six of eight. Senior second baseman Axel D'Addario hit for the cycle in yesterday's loss, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs. He's among the team's offensive leaders with a .405 average and 17 RBIs. Outfielder Mike Young is having a great season, while ace Dan Cunico and No. 2 Ethan Collins form a tough 1-2 punch in the rotation. 

Coaches: Mike Quinto (131-140, 10th season); Vin Bello (238-154-1, 15th season).

All-time HWS records: Warren Hills 4-4; Pope John 7-3.

How they got here: Warren Hills beat Kittatinny, 5-0. Pope John defeated Phillipsburg, 3-1.

The Pick: Pope John, 3-1.

3B-Sparta (11-4) at 2A-Hunterdon Central (14-2), 3:45 p.m. --  Sparta has been a major player in this event since its inception in 2010. Coach Sam Slobodzian's teams have reached the semifinals twice and dropped a 10-0 decision to Hunterdon Central in the first championship game. The Spartans, who are riding a five-game win streak also bowed out in last year's semis with 4-0 loss to Central. Senior outfielder and leadoff man Thomas Ruddy (over 100 career hits and the school's all-time stolen base king) and senior second baseman Austin Unglaub are the catalysts atop the lineup. Dillon Mendel was 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Matt Chemis went 2-for-4 in Monday's 5-1 second-round win over North Warren. On the mound, ace Kevin Foulds and Mendel have been outstanding. Hunterdon Central has owned this event with two title runs (2010 and '13) and four finals appearances. The Red Devils were unquestionably the team to beat coming in, despite a No. 2 seed based on a previous loss to North Hunterdon early in the season. Coach Mike Raymond's club was on a major roll -- winning 12 in a row until Tuesday's 14-0 loss to North Hunterdon. Outstanding junior second baseman Brett McManus (.385, 11 RBIs entering the week) went 2-for-2 as Central rebounded with a 4-2 win over Immaculata. Pitcher Pat Clare (4-1, 1.44 ERA) no-hit High Point last weekend. But according to reliable sources, star first baseman Matt Toke may miss a few weeks with an illness. He went 0-for-3 vs. Immaculata.

Coaches: Sam Slobodzian (279-175-3, 18th season); Mike Raymond (282-100, 14th season).

All-time HWS records: Sparta 8-4; Hunterdon Central 15-2.

How they got here: Sparta beat North Warren, 5-1. Hunterdon Central defeated High Point, 5-0.

The Pick: Hunterdon Central, 5-3.

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