Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

We're getting to down to the nitty gritty in the high school baseball season with the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament final on tap for Saturday and the sectional playoffs starting next week.

Lenape Valley wrapped up the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division title on Monday with a 6-4 win in nine innings over Wallkill Valley. The Patriots (14-3, 11-1 division), who have won four in a row and seven of 10, will be the No. 2 seed for the North 1, Group 2 playoffs.

"This is our fifth year in the NJAC and we've finished second [2011 in the Freedom Division]," seventh-year coach Bob Klinck said following the win. "It's not like we haven't been knocking on the door. But this is the first one and it feels good."

Hackettstown won the first two Freedom titles in 2010 and '11, followed by Hopatcong in '12 and Newton in '13. The Braves went 13-1 a year ago in divisional play. No team has run the table in winning the title.

Junior first baseman Pat Togno, who hit the go-ahead single in the ninth for Lenape Valley to cap a three-hit day, is 8-for-16 in his last four games.

"Pat's been solid all year. He's hitting around .370 and leads the team in RBIs," Klinck said. "He's a clutch hitter and never strikes out with runners in scoring position."

Ace Jim Fluke (7-1) has 73 strikeouts this season while No. 2 Dan Rafferty is 4-1. Cole Swanson ran his record to 3-0 with a win against Butler on Saturday.

"Dan has thrown fantastic all year ... my 1 and 2 are really good," Klinck said. "Swanson has won his last two starts."

In the American Division, Sparta is closing on its first division title and will likely be a six or seven seed in North 1, Group 3.

On Saturday, North Hunterdon will square off against Hunterdon Central for the HWS championship at Diamond Nation -- the first All-Hunterdon final in the event's five-year history. Central has reached the title game all five years, winning it all in 2010 and '13.

More on this game later in the week. Now onto this week's rankings:

1. North Hunterdon (16-7) -- Lions are on a major roll right now -- beating Watchung Hills, 2-1, in 12 innings on Monday for their sixth straight win and keeping their Skyland Conference Delaware Division title hopes alive in the process. Outfielder Marc Monks belted his third homer -- a walk-off shot-- of the season for North, which has played three extra-inning games in its last five for a combined total of 52 innings in those contests. In Saturday's 6-0 win over Vernon in the HWS semifinals, Shayne Fontana went 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs and ace John Wilson earned the win with four K's. Over the last six games, Lions pitchers have yielded a total of three runs with three shutouts.

Up next: at Immaculata today; Phillipsburg at home on Thursday; Hunterdon Central at Diamond Nation on Saturday in HWS final.

2. Hunterdon Central (18-3) -- Red Devils rolled to a 14-4 win over Phillipsburg last Thursday as Mike Pfenninger went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs while team RBI leader Zac Vacca drove in four runs in the Skyland Conference Delaware Division matchup. Coach Mike Raymond's club (9-3 division) holds a half-game lead over North Hunterdon atop the standings. Central followed that win with an 8-2 victory over Pope John on Monday in the HWS semifinals. Brett McManus was 2-for-4 with a solo homer -- his fourth -- and Matt Stalter went deep with two RBIs. Ace Pat Clare (6-1, 2.43 ERA) has won all three tri-county games for the Red Devils, who are 17-2 all-time in the event.

Up next: Hillsborough at home today; Hamilton West at Diamond Nation on Wednesday; at Bridgewater-Raritan on Thursday; North Hunterdon at Diamond Nation on Saturday in HWS final.

3. Sparta (14-5) -- Spartans clinched at least a share of their first NJAC American Division championship following wins over Pope John (6-2 last Wednesday), Morris Knolls (8-2 on Friday) and High Point (9-1 on Monday). Coach Sam Slobodzian's team (11-1 division) holds a two-game lead over Mount Olive (10-3) in the loss column with two to play. Second baseman Austin Unglaub is heating up -- going 3-for-4 against PJ, 3-for-4 with an RBI against Morris Knolls and 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs vs. High Point. Ace Kevin Foulds struck out 10 in the win over Knolls and went 2-for-4 with a solo homer against PJ. No. 2 Dillon Mendel got the win against High Point and was 3-for-4 with three RBIs at the plate.

Up next: at Montville on Wednesday (a win clinches the division title); at Vernon on Thursday.

4. Pope John (11-9) -- Lions have won four of their last 11 including wins over Morris Hills (7-1 last Thursday) and Delbarton (7-5 on Friday) before an 8-2 loss at home to Hunterdon Central on Monday in the HWS semifinals. Second baseman Axel D'Addario had two hits in each win and was 2-for-4 with a double against Central. No. 2 pitcher Ethan Collins got the win over Delbarton and is 3-3 on the season. Kyle Malejko was 3-for-4 with an RBI against Morris Hills.

Up next: at Morris Knolls on Wednesday; at Montville on Thursday; vs. Malvern Prep at Delbarton on Saturday.

5. Vernon (7-11) -- Vikings went 1-3 last week, earning a 4-1 win over High Point on Friday for its first win in the NJAC American Division after an 0-8 start in divisional play. First baseman Dave Baxter went 4-for-4 with an RBI and catcher Connor Fitzsimmons was 2-for-3 with three RBIs to back winning pitcher Christian Capuano (2-0). That win avenged an 8-6 loss to High Point two days earlier. Coach Scott Berge's team dropped a 6-0 decision to North Hunterdon in Saturday's HWS semifinals. The Vikes made history by becoming the first No. 10 seed to win a tri-county game and reached the semis for the second straight year. Second baseman Mike Harboy had a big week, going 2-for-4 in a 6-1 loss to Mount Olive and the loss to High Point.

Up next: at Montville today; at Morris Hills on Wednesday; Sparta at home on Thursday; Montville at home on Friday.

6. Lenape Valley (14-3) -- Patriots won their first NJAC Freedom Division title -- the program's first conference championship since 2006 -- with a 6-4 win in nine innings over Wallkill Valley on Monday. Junior first baseman Pat Togno delivered the go-ahead single in the ninth as part of a three-hit day and ace Jim Fluke (7-1) earned the win in relief with seven strikeouts, raising his season total to a remarkable 73. Coach Bob Klinck's team also earned the No. 2 seed for the upcoming North 1, Group 2 playoffs. The Pats have won four in a row -- also beating North Warren (5-4 last Tuesday), Hopatcong (5-1 on Wednesday) and Butler (5-3 on Saturday). Togno, who is 8-for-16 in his last four games, went 2-for-3 against North Warren and Butler.

Up next: Hackettstown at home on Wednesday; Jefferson at home on Friday; at Belvidere on Saturday.

7. Newton (10-8) -- Braves rolled to a 13-0 win over North Warren last Wednesday before back-to-back losses against West Orange (3-2 in 12 innings on Thursday) and Jefferson (3-1 on Monday). Center fielder Ben Cramer went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and Nick Grant had a double and two RBIs to back winning pitcher Steve Kelly against North Warren, while third baseman Joe Maker went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI in the loss to West Orange. After scoring 23 runs in wins over Lenape Valley and North Warren, the offense produced three in the last two losses. Last year's NJAC Freedom Division champs are battling Jefferson for second place in the standings.

Up next: at Kittatinny on Wednesday; Hopatcong at home in a doubleheader on Thursday; High Point at home on Saturday.

8. Wallkill Valley (8-9) -- Rangers have gone 1-5 since a season-high six-game win streak, including a tough 6-4 loss in nine innings to Lenape Valley on Monday in an NJAC Freedom Division clash. Lefty starter Joe Colosimo struck out eight in a no-decision, while Brandon Grabkowski went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the loss. In Friday's 13-3 win over Hopatcong, Michael Armstrong went 2-for-4 with an RBI while Larry Ball was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs to back winning pitcher Grabkowski, who helped himself by going 5-for-5 with three doubles and five RBIs. Colosimo belted his first homer.

Up next: Jefferson at home on Wednesday; at North Warren on Friday.

9. Delaware Valley (9-7) -- Terriers opened this week with a 6-3 win over Delran in a game played at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton (home of the Double-A Thunder). Coach Marty White's team went 2-1 the previous week with wins over Franklin (5-0 last Tuesday) and Phillipsburg (7-6 on Friday night). Ace right-hander Logan Brown (5-1) got the wins over Franklin and P'burg with a combined nine K's. Nick Perna was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI vs. Franklin, while catcher Mike Pilone finished 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs against the Stateliners.

Up next: North Plainfield at Riegel Ridge Park tonight; at Bernards on Wednesday.

10. Hackettstown (8-9) -- Tigers re-enter the rankings after a 1-2 week, including a 10-5 win over Wallkill Valley on Wednesday in an NJAC Freedom Division clash -- the first win in three meetings with the Rangers this season. Justin Nicholls drove in a pair of runs while John Franco went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to back winning pitcher Tyler Prouflias (4-2). Nicholls went 2-for-4 with a double, homer and five RBIs and Prouflias struck out four for the win in Monday's 10-5 victory over North Warren.

Up next: at Lenape Valley on Wednesday; Kittatinny at home on Thursday.

On the bubble: High Point (5-10-1); North Warren (8-8); Warren Hills (10-11).

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