Monday, May 5, 2014

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

We're down to the Final Four in the fifth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.

North Hunterdon and Vernon both advanced with thrilling quarterfinal wins in extra innings, while Pope John and Hunterdon Central scored decisive victories.

Saturday's semifinals: Vernon at North Hunterdon and Hunterdon Central at Pope John should be very entertaining games.

North Hunterdon and Pope John -- the two No. 1 seeds -- will have some extra motivation facing the teams that ousted them a year ago. North-Vernon is a rematch of last year' semifinal -- a 3-1 win in eight innings for the Vikings. Pope John dropped a 4-2 decision to Central in the quarterfinals.

What is it with the Vernon Vikings and the HWS? For the second straight year, coach Scott Berge's team is enjoying a Cinderella run. They're the first No. 10 seed to ever win a tri-county game, now 3-0 overall this season after Saturday's 5-2 thriller in eight innings against Wallkill Valley.

As a No. 6 seed last year, the Vikes scored a 6-2 win over Newton in the quarters before the win over North Hunterdon that put the Sussex County school in its first championship game.

"Confidence," said second baseman Mike Harboy, when asked why Vernon has been so successful in this event.

"When I looked at the bracket, I thought we were in a good spot," Berge said on Saturday. "I know what we're capable of. We do have a legitimate shot [to win] in the semis. We're looking at it as a free game. North Hunterdon was a huge semifinal win last year and I'm sure they'll be looking for a little redemption."

We will take a closer look at both semifinal games and project the winners later in the week.

Now onto this week's rankings:

1. North Hunterdon (12-7) -- Lions are back at No. 1 following a 14-0 drubbing of Hunterdon Central last Tuesday -- their second win over the Red Devils. Coach Mike Kane's team followed that with a thrilling 2-1 win in nine innings over Newton in Saturday's Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex quarterfinals. Senior shortstop Austin Arndt delivered a walk-off single with two outs to put North in the semifinals for the third straight year and fourth time in the event's five-year history. Sophomore lefty John Wilson struck out seven in a no-decision as Griffin Hatton fired a scoreless ninth and picked up the win. Against Central, Marc Monks went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI and Tom Schumacher was 2-for-3 with a double.

Up next: at Randolph on Monday; Hillsborough at home on Tuesday; Watchung Hills at home on Thursday; Vernon at home on Saturday in HWS semifinals.

2. Hunterdon Central (15-2) -- Red Devils' reign at the top lasted just one week following their second loss to North Hunterdon -- 14-0 on Tuesday. That ended a 12-game win streak for coach Mike Raymond's squad, which also dropped a 6-1 decision to the Lions on April 3. Central rebounded with a 4-2 win over Immaculata on Thursday and closed the week with an 8-4 win over Sparta in the HWS quarterfinals. Second baseman Brett McManus went a combined 5-for-6 with two doubles, a triple and two RBIs in the victories and is batting .417 with 13 RBIs overall. Sean Hanigan went 2-for-3 with two RBIs vs. Sparta, while ace Pat Clare improved to 5-1. Catcher Zac Vacca leads the team with 20 RBIs.

Up next: Voorhees at home on Monday; at Montgomery on Tuesday; at Phillipsburg on Thursday; at Pope John on Saturday in HWS semifinals.

3. Sparta (11-5) -- Spartans saw their five-game win streak snapped with Saturday's 8-4 loss at Hunterdon Central in the HWS quarterfinals. Leadoff man Thomas Ruddy went 2-for-4 with a stolen base and two RBIs and Dillon Mendel went 2-for-4 with a double. Matt Pampin took the loss on the mound. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team held a 3-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings before giving up seven runs over the fourth and fifth innings. On Friday, the Spartans cemented their spot on top of the NJAC American Division standings with an 11-1 win over Morris Hills, giving them a two-game lead over second-place Mount Olive.

Up next: Pope John at home on Tuesday; at Vernon on Thursday; Morris Knolls at home on Friday.

4. Pope John (9-6) -- Lions snapped a two-game skid last week with Saturday's 10-0 rout of Warren Hills in the HWS quarterfinals. Axel D'Addario had a fine week at the plate with a double and two RBIs vs. the Blue Streaks after hitting for the cycle last Thursday in PJ's 11-7 loss in 10 innings to Randolph. Jack Nelson was the star on Saturday, going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs and logging six strikeouts in getting the win on the mound. Outfielder Michael Young went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs against the Blue Streaks. Shortstop Jay Sanford was 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the team's 7-3 loss to Mount Olive on Friday that hurt coach Vin Bello's team in the NJAC American Division race.

Up next: Mount Olive at home on Monday; at Sparta on Tuesday; at Morris Hills on Wednesday; Montville at home on Thursday; at Delbarton on Friday; Hunterdon Central at home on Saturday in HWS semifinals.

5. Vernon (5-8) -- Vikings kept on rolling with a 5-2 win in eight innings over Wallkill Valley on Saturday in the HWS quarterfinals. No. 9 hitter Joe Roccasanta, who is hitting .189, delivered the go-ahead RBI single and second baseman Mike Harboy (.370 average, team-high 15 RBIs) added a two-run single to cap the scoring. Harboy finished 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs, while first baseman Dave Baxter had two hits. Winning pitcher Anthony Germinario (4-1, 2.68 ERA) struck out six and gave up just five hits. The ace right-hander is 3-0 in HWS games with 22 K's and is among the team leaders in batting average (.366) and RBIs (13). On Friday, coach Scott Berge's team posted a 3-2 win at Delaware Valley.

Up next: Jefferson at home on Monday; Mount Olive at home on Tuesday; High Point at home on Wednesday; Sparta at home on Thursday; at High Point on Friday; at North Hunterdon on Saturday in HWS semifinals.

6. Newton (9-6) -- Braves have gotten their act together in a big way, winning four of their last five and seven of nine since a 2-4 start. Coach John Selitto's team made a statement with Sunday's 10-0 win over a Lenape Valley squad, which came in unbeaten in the NJAC Freedom Division standings and had pinned a 14-4 loss on Newton on April 5. The Braves lost a heartbreaker on Saturday -- 2-1 in nine innings to North Hunterdon in the HWS quarterfinals. Senior center fielder Ben Cramer has been heating up at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a stolen base and an RBI vs. Lenape. In his last five games, Cramer has four steals, three RBIs and a double. Shortstop Jon Bernotas was 2-for-4 with a stolen base and two RBIs vs. Lenape. Cole Van Luvender went 1-1 in the two games, getting the win over the Pats.

Up next: North Warren at home on Tuesday; at West Orange on Wednesday; Kinnelon at home on Saturday.

7. Lenape Valley (10-3) -- Patriots went 1-1 last week -- earning a 12-0 win over North Plainfield on Saturday before dropping a 10-0 decision to Newton on Sunday in an NJAC Freedom Division showdown at Memory Park. It was the first division loss for coach Bob Klinck's team, which scored a 14-4 mercy rule win over the Braves on April 5. It also was the first loss for ace Jim Fluke (5-1), who struck out four. In the win over North Plainfield, shortstop Fluke went 2-for-3 with a double and three RBIs and Ryan Lindner was 2-for-3 with a double and three RBIs. Rob Sparacino hit a two-run homer. The Pats can clinch at least a share of the division title with wins over North Warren and Hopatcong this week.

Up next: North Warren at home on Monday; Hopatcong at home on Tuesday; Butler at home on Friday; High Point at home on Saturday.

8. Wallkill Valley (7-6) -- Rangers lost a heartbreaker on Saturday -- 5-2 in eight innings to Vernon at home in the HWS quarterfinals. Coach Kevin Lukich's team was an eyelash away from becoming the first in program history to reach the semifinals, as it had the first two batters on in the sixth and seventh innings but could not score. Losing pitcher Joe Colosimo (1-2) went seven strong innings before hitting the wall in a three-run eighth. The lefty struck out four and allowed nine hits and four earned runs. Sean Endres had an RBI double and catcher Nick McWilliams had an RBI single. On Friday, the Rangers saw their six-game win streak snapped with a 6-4 loss to Kittatinny.

Up next: Morris Catholic at home on Monday; at Hackettstown on Tuesday; at High Point on Thursday; Hopatcong at home on Friday.

9. Delaware Valley (6-6) -- Terriers dropped to .500 with their third straight loss -- 3-2 to Vernon on Friday at home. Losing pitcher C.J. Schaible (1-2) struck out eight and allowed two earned runs on seven hits. Coach Marty White's club now has four losses by two runs or fewer. Over the last two seasons, perhaps no team has dropped as many tight games. Of its nine losses a year ago, six were decided by two runs or fewer. The offense continues to struggle, scoring a total of eight runs in the team's last five games. Third baseman Joe Chiarino is hitting a team-high .452, while shortstop/pitcher Chris Fiaschetti is batting .400. On the mound, he's 2-2 with a 2.13 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 23 innings. Ace Logan Brown is 3-2 with a 1.00 ERA. He has 40 K's in 28 innings.

Up next: at Franklin on Monday; Somerville at home on Tuesday; at JFK-Iselin on Thursday; Phillipsburg at Riegel Ridge Park on Friday night.

10. High Point (4-6-1) -- Wildcats, who have won three of their last four, enter the rankings for the first time this season. Coach Mickey Thomas' squad -- in its lone game of the week -- earned a 12-2 win over Morris Hills on Saturday in an NJAC American Division clash. Senior Kyle Adams went 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI at the plate and was the winning pitcher. Catcher Riley Keenan was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs. The 'Cats will be busy this week with six games, including two against Vernon. Interesting thing there is Keenan's brother, Brady, plays for the Vikings.

Up next: Kittatinny at home on Monday; Montville at home on Tuesday; at Vernon on Wednesday; Wallkill Valley at home on Thursday; Vernon at home on Friday; at Lenape Valley on Saturday.

On the bubble: North Warren (6-5); Hackettstown (6-7); Warren Hills (9-8).

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