Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Baseball: Final Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

Well, another high school baseball season in the Open Mike area is in the books. It goes by too fast.

Unfortunately, no teams from Hunterdon, Warren or Sussex counties brought home sectional titles, but Lenape Valley wrapped up a tremendous season with a loss in the North 1, Group 2 final -- the lone area team to appear in a championship game.

Lenape Valley and Sparta won division titles in the NJAC Freedom and American, respectively, while Hunterdon Central claimed the Skyland Conference Delaware Division title.

As we wrap up this season, thoughts turn to next year where just about all of the top teams in the area will sustain heavy graduation losses. Should make for an interesting spring in 2015. Thanks to all of the coaches for their cooperation and I hope to see all of you again next season.

Here are the final area rankings:

1. Hunterdon Central (21-4) -- Red Devils, the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey, Group 4 playoffs, were upended by No. 16 Sayreville, 5-4, in the season finale on May 19. It was a disappointing ending for coach Mike Raymond's club, which it had its five-game win streak snapped with the loss. Junior second baseman Brett McManus (.421 avg., 5 homers, 19 RBIs) and senior third baseman Mike Pfenninger (.400, 22 RBIs) were among the offensive leaders this season, while junior ace Pat Clare (7-1, 2.61 ERA) picked up victories in all four tri-county games as Central avenged a pair of losses to North Hunterdon with a 6-3 win to claim its third Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex title and second in a row. Central also captured the Skyland Conference Delaware Division title. Raymond will enter 2015 with 289 career wins. McManus, sophomore first baseman Matt Toke (.442) and junior outfielder Henry Hawkins (17 RBIs) will be returning starters.

2. North Hunterdon (20-10) -- Lions dropped three of their last five games, including a 3-1 loss to Bridgewater-Raritan in the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals after a 7-1 win over Edison in the opening round. A 5-4 loss to Montgomery on May 20 cost coach Mike Kane's club a piece of the Skyland Conference Delaware Division title despite beating champion Hunterdon Central two out of three times. Shayne Fontana belted a homer in the loss to Bridgewater, while ace John Wilson took the loss. Fontana is part of a good junior class, along with third baseman Tom Schumacher and catcher Andrew Meiners. Wilson, a lefty is a sophomore.

3. Sparta (18-7) -- Spartans saw their four-game win streak snapped with a tough 6-0 loss to Mount Olive in the North 1, Group 3 semifinals on May 27. Coach Sam Slobodzian's team was bidding for the program's first finals appearance since winning its lone sectional title in 2000. Sparta captured its first NJAC American Division title, splitting with Mount Olive during the regular season. Leadoff batter and Yale recruit Thomas Ruddy finished up a stellar four-year career as the school's all-time hits (130) and stolen bases (86). Ruddy batted .448 this season with 39 hits and had an RBI in the 4-0 win over Montville in the sectional semifinals. Ace pitcher Kevin Foulds (7-2, 0.59 ERA) earned wins in two state playoff games with 10 K's against River Dell and nine against Montville. Slobodzian, who will enter 2015 with 286 career wins, will look to reload with the loss of 11 seniors. Juniors Dillon Mendel (4-1, 1.14 ERA) and Nick Makowitz (.346, 15 RBIs), third base and first base, respectively, will be the leaders next spring.

4. Lenape Valley (18-5) -- Patriots capped one of the finest seasons in program history with a 7-1 loss to Ramsey in the North 1, Group 2 final. Junior ace Jim Fluke (10-1, 1.40 ERA, 88 K's, 60 IP) was a big reason for the team's success and earned wins in three of the team's four playoff games. He also drove in the lone run against Ramsey. Senior third baseman Ryan Lindner (.361 avg., 25 RBIs) and junior first baseman Pat Togno (.342, 19 RBIs) were part of a potent lineup and helped the Pats post a 12-2 record -- splitting with Jefferson and Newton -- in winning the program's first NJAC Freedom Division championship. Coach Bob Klinck's team, which won eight of its final 10 games, loses five senior starters, but Fluke and No. 3 pitcher Cole Swanson return, along with Togno, who was on fire at the plate in the second half, and junior catcher Rob Sparacino.

5. Pope John (16-11) -- Lions saw their four-game win streak snapped with a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to Paramus Catholic in the opening round of the Non-Public North A playoffs on May 23. Coach Vin Bello's team got off to a fast start this season at 7-1 before dropping two of its next nine. Pope recovered from that dismal stretch to go 7-3 down the stretch, including a pair of nice independent wins over Malvern Prep (Pa.) -- 4-3 in 11 innings on May 17 -- and Don Bosco Prep -- 3-1 on May 21. Leadoff hitter Michael Young had a strong senior campaign -- batting .380 with 30 hits. Senior second baseman Axel D'Addario (.345, 30 hits, 22 RBIs) and junior shortstop Jay Sanford (.289, 22 hits) also led the offense. On the mound, junior Ethan Collins (4-3, 2.63 ERA) and senior Dan Cunico (4-4, 3.40) were a nice 1-2 punch. Collins will be the staff ace next season and the Lions will rebuild around junior catcher Zach Leach and junior pitcher Jack Nelson, along with sophomore Kyle Malejko.

6. Newton (14-9) -- Braves enjoyed a second-half turnaround after a 5-5 start. Junior ace Nick Grant led the charge both on the mound and at the plate. The lefty went 4-1 with a 1.12 ERA and 41 K's in 45 innings, including a four-hit shutout in Newton's 1-0 win over North Warren in the opening round of the North 1, Group 2 playoffs. Grant also drove in the run with a single in the third inning. The Braves' four-game win streak ended with a 4-1 loss to Lodi in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Cole Van Luvender (5-2), who really stepped up in the No. 2 spot in the rotation, took the loss in the finale. Coach John Selitto will bid farewell to seven senior starters, including outfielders Ben Cramer and Justin Smith, along with third baseman Joe Maker and catcher Charlie Grotyohann. Cramer was the team's best offensive player the last two seasons, batting .373 with 15 RBIs and 17 stolen bases this spring. Grant, Van Luvender and junior shortstop Jon Bernotas will be the nucleus of a rebuilding effort in 2015.

7. Vernon (9-14) -- Vikings had a much better season than their record indicates -- going 2-11 in a tough NJAC American Division. Coach Scott Berge's club, which went 3-6 down the stretch, advanced to the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals for the second straight year -- becoming the first No. 10 seed to win a tri-county game in the process. The Vikes also knocked off NJAC Freedom champion Lenape Valley -- 5-1 in the HWS opening round -- and Newton -- 7-2 on April 14. Second baseman/pitcher Mike Harboy and ace Anthony Germinario were major reasons for the club's success. Harboy batted .351 with 27 hits and 25 RBIs, while Germinario, an offspeed throwing right-hander, fashioned a 6-2 record with 2.23 ERA and 49 K's in 53 1/3 innings. He posted wins in three HWS games and gave this team a chance to win each time out. Center fielder Chris Pontus was among the best defensive players in the area. This was another senior-laden team with seven in the starting lineup. Senior first baseman Dave Baxter will also be missed next spring.

8. High Point (7-12-1) -- Wildcats were a tough team to figure out this spring. After a tough 2-5-1 start, coach Mickey Thomas' team knocked off Pope John (12-8 on April 24) and Vernon (8-6 on May 7) and gave sectional finalist Lenape Valley all it could handle in a 3-1 loss in the opening round of the North 1, Group 2 playoffs on May 19 in the season finale. Senior shortstop/pitcher Kyle Adams was one of the top players in the area and NJAC American Division. Adams batted .415 with 20 stolen bases, while crafting a 4-2 record on the mound. Junior catcher Riley Keenan batted .400 and featured one of the best arms in the area, while senior outfielder Matt Musilli batted .426 with 26 hits. Keep an eye on sophomore third baseman Billy Kerwien -- .355 batting average -- next season.

9. Hackettstown (9-11) -- Tigers picked up steam down the stretch by winning four of their last seven, including a 10-1 win over Science Park in the opening round of the North 2, Group 2 playoffs. Senior Justin Nicholls had a double and an RBI, while junior Matt Engels drove in two runs and picked up the win on the mound with 10 K's. Coach Gary Poyer's club ended the season with a 2-1 loss to Lyndhurst in the quarterfinals. Nicholls batted .279 and led the team with 15 RBIs, while also going 1-2 on the hill. Junior catcher Jonathan Pezzato led the team in batting with a .421, while Engels went 4-4 with a 3.22 ERA. The Tigers also finished 7-7 in the NJAC Freedom Division standings, knocking off North Warren (10-5 on May 12) and Wallkill Valley (10-5 on May 6) the second times around.

10. North Warren (11-9) -- Patriots went one-and-done in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs with a 1-0 loss to Newton at Memory Park. In a classic pitchers' duel, senior Alex Hladik took the hard-luck loss -- going six innings and striking out eight. Hladik went 7-1 with a 0.33 ERA and 93 K's in 55 2/3 innings. The hard-throwing right-hander, who had six complete games, allowed just 16 walks. Outfielder Cam Esposito was a bright spot on offense -- batting .415 with 27 hits and 13 RBIs. Coach Jim Haupt's team won five of its last seven and finished 6-7 in the NJAC Freedom Division. The team loses six senior starters, but will return junior third baseman and leadoff hitter Matt Nicholoff (.288, 19 hits, 8 steals) along with junior outfielder John Vuz (.324). Sophomore Sean Thornton (2-2, 3.09 ERA) and junior Vince Lubertazzo will be atop the rotation.

Honorable mention -- Belvidere (11-11); Delaware Valley (9-11); Wallkill Valley (9-12); Warren Hills (12-12).

No comments:

Post a Comment