Baseball – 2022 Shore Sports Network Final Top 10: Decorated Season for the Shore Ends With Longshot No. 1
The 2022 season is in the books and what, at one point, looked like it might be a “down year” for the Shore Conference turned out to be anything but.
A vast collection of Shore Conference teams won a championship of some kind and when it came time to test itself against the rest of the state, the teams from Monmouth and Ocean County, more times than not, were up to the challenge. Not only were three of the six overall NJSIAA state champions from the Shore Conference – the first time that has happened since 2014 – but a team from the Shore will finish as the No. 1 public school team in the state and another beat the No. 1 overall team in the state during the regular season.
Counting the six division championships (not including the public division championships), the county titles, the Shore Conference Tournament, 10 potential NJSIAA sectional titles and six groups, there are 25 championships the Shore could have won this season. The Conference ended up with 17 of them, with 11 different teams winning at least a share of a championship: Howell (A North, CJ IV, Group IV), Ranney (B Central, South Non-Public B, Non-Public B), Rumson-Fair Haven (A Central, CJ II), Jackson Memorial (A South, Ocean County), Middletown North (CJ III, Group III), Point Beach (CJ I), Middletown South (Monmouth County), Red Bank Catholic (Shore Conference), Colts Neck (B North), Donovan Catholic (co-B South) and Barnegat (co-B South).
That’s 11 teams that can add to their banners in the gym, even more – Wall, CBA, Central – that made it to championship games of some kind. That kind of season makes for a crowd when it comes to the Top 10, with several deserving teams on the outside looking in at seasons end.
As for the teams that made it, all of them have an impressive list of accomplishments, with nine of the 10 reaching the 20-win mark for the season and the majority taking home a championship of some kind in 2021.
It all starts with a team that is celebrating its first ever NJSIAA Group championship and can now pop another bottle (non-alcoholic, of course) for its first ever No. 1 finish.
1. Howell (25-6, 12-2) Preseason Rank: 10
A historic season for Howell Baseball ends with the Rebels as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference. Howell was briefly the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 after beating Rumson-Fair Haven, but immediately suffered its worst loss of the season – a 19-2 loss to Central in the Shore Conference Tournament – and dropped out. From there, the Rebels licked their wounds, healed up, caught fire and won the program’s first ever NJSIAA Group IV championship. Along they, they suffered two literal wounds, with top pitchers Dan Furlong and Nick Gomes sustaining season-ending injuries in back-to-back playoff games. Nevertheless, Howell persevered, knocking off power programs Jackson Memorial, Cherokee and Hunterdon Central – all by one run – to capture the title. It also doesn’t hurt that Howell won the Class A North division outright, giving the Rebels two of the hardest championships for any team in the Shore to win.
2. Middletown South (21-10, 10-4) Preseason Rank: 3
Middletown South’s season ended in surprising fashion on June 4, when the Eagles bats went silent in a 1-0 loss to East Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals. That goes with another early exit in the Shore Conference Tournament, in which Middletown South lost its first game – a 5-3 defeat at the hands of Southern. Middletown South has some blemishes, but the Eagles also have some of the best wins of any on the board: they beat Red Bank Catholic and Middletown North twice, Howell, Jackson Memorial, Ranney, Cranford, CBA, Wall and Freehold Township and if you peruse this entire Top 10 list, you will find seven different teams Middletown South beat during the course of the season. The Eagles also took home the Monmouth County Tournament championship, so they did not the 2022 season empty-handed.
3. Red Bank Catholic (20-9, 10-4) Preseason Rank: 1
The Shore Conference Tournament champions reached the peak of their powers in the SCT Final, when the Caseys KO’d Jackson Memorial ace Zach Crotchfelt and beat the Jaguars, 5-2, to claim their third straight conference championship. On the way to the SCT final, RBC also took down Wall and Rumson-Fair Haven and during the Monmouth County Tournament, RBC also beat CBA. The one team the Caseys could not figure out in two tries this season was Middletown South, which held RBC to one run in 16 innings en route to a season sweep. Outside the Monmouth County and Shore Conference Tournaments, Red Bank Catholic had mixed results, with the high point a 3-0 win over Rumson-Fair Haven that handed the Bulldogs their first loss, the low point a loss to Shore Regional in the second game of the season and the most devastating loss a 3-1, season-ending defeat to CBA in the state tournament.
4. Jackson Memorial (22-9, 11-3) Preseason Rank: 4
The Jaguars suffered two very tough losses near the end of their season: the SCT Final to Red Bank Catholic with ace Zach Crotchfelt on the mound and a 3-2 loss at Howell in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinal with Crotchfelt lined up to pitch the championship if they could have pulled it out. Jackson Memorial ended the season on a high note, however, rolling over Central, 11-2, in the Ocean County Tournament final two nights after losing to Howell. That was Jackson Memorial’s first OCT title since 2015 and first tournament championship since 2018, which was a nice sendoff for its seniors to go with the outright Class A South championship.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (22-5, 13-1) Preseason Rank: 2
The Bulldogs are in the midst of what could turn out to be their best three-year run in program history and it could have been a four-year run had there been a season in 2020. After winning the Monmouth County Tournament in 2021 and reaching the semifinals of both the Shore Conference and Central Group II Tournaments, Rumson made it back to the SCT semifinals in 2022, captured the Class A Central division outright and won its first Central Group II championship since 2004 with a dramatic, come-from-behind win over Wall. The offense was not as imposing as it was last season, but Rumson’s pitching and defense were deep and dependable, allowing a Shore-best 2.55 runs per game.
6. Ranney (26-5, 11-0) Preseason Rank: 9
With an overall Non-Public B championship, a win over the No. 1 team in the state (Don Bosco) and a road win over a Poly Prep team that was, at one point, nationally ranked, Ranney has a case to be the No. 1 team in the rankings and will almost certainly finish in the top 10 in the state-wide rankings. Some struggles within the Shore, however, keep Ranney in a pile of teams chasing Howell, with head-to-head losses to Jackson Memorial, Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown South and St. John Vianney – with No. 1 starter A.J. Gracia pitching in all four of those games. That being said, this was uncharted territory for Ranney, which has a lot of baseball experience, but was new to playing as a high-school team with a target on its back. In the end, the Panthers got their championship and are set up to make a run at the No. 1 ranking in the state in 2023.
7. Christian Brothers Academy (18-10, 10-4) Preseason Rank: 5
The Colts are the first team in the final rankings to not win a championship of any kind, but their list of quality wins makes them worthy of consideration for a top-five slot. CBA earned season-splits with Howell, Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic – the top three teams in the final rankings – and also took out St. Joseph of Metuchen to secure a spot in the South Jersey Non-Public A final. CBA was one-and-done in the Monmouth County and Shore Conference Tournaments, which is ultimately what keeps the Colts two spots out of the top five to end the season, but when a team reaches the final four of the loaded Non-Public A Tournament and has wins over each of the top three teams in the Shore Conference, it was a very good year.
8. Middletown North (21-10, 6-8) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
The Lions were not ranked all season long and, quite honestly, might not have been ranked had they not prevailed in the Group III championship game against Cranford. They started the season 5-8 and two of those five wins with over Long Branch to open the season, meaning Middletown North went 3-8 during the heart of April. When the calendar flipped to May, however, the Lions started looking like the team that entered 2021 with big expectations. Middletown North closed the season 16-2, including a 12-game winning streak to capture the Group III title. Because the Lions missed out on the Shore Conference Tournament, the bulk of those 16 wins came against rather modest competition, but it got them straightened out for a state-title run. One of the wins, however, was over CBA and before beating Cranford in the final, Middletown North snapped Delsea’s 15-game winning streak.
9. Wall (23-7, 11-3) Preseason Rank: 8
With one different bounce of the ball in two different games, Wall might have won three more championships during its impressive 2022 season. The Crimson Knights made it to the Monmouth County Tournament and Central Jersey Group III championship games while also finishing a half-game behind Colts Neck for Shore Conference Class B North championship. While the MCT final against Middletown South was not close, Wall was within one strike of closing out Rumson in the CJ II final on three consecutive batters and could not put the Bulldogs away. Those losses will certainly haunt Wall’s talents, outgoing senior class, but the Crimson Knights acquitted themselves well in a deep Shore Conference in 2022 with wins over Howell, St. John Vianney, Colts Neck and Governor Livingston.
10. Central (20-11, 8-6) Preseason Rank: 7
The first nine spots don’t really require much convincing as far as whether those teams belong in the Top 10. The final spot, however, will require an argument – regardless of who the choice it. We’re going with Central, which is not an east call considering the years St. John Vianney (beat Ranney, Wall, Pingry), Colts Neck (won Class B North, reached Central Group III final) and Donovan Catholic (won a share of Class B South, reached SCT semifinals) had. The Golden Eagles had some questionable results, for sure: they got swept in Class A South play by both Southern and Toms River North, dropped a Senior Night game to Red Bank and settled for a split with Brick Memorial. All told, four of Central’s losses were to teams that finished with losing records. On the positive side, Central beat the No. 1 team in the Shore – Howell – 19-2 while the Rebels were actually ranked No. 1 and had their No. 1 pitcher on the mound. The Golden Eagles also beat Jackson Memorial one time in four tries after taking Zach Crotchfelt to the wire in 4-3 loss two nights earlier. Central played well in the NJSIAA Tournament as well, taking out defending South Jersey Group IV champion Clearview and Egg Harbor before losing a competitive game at top-seeded Kingsway – the No. 2 team in N.J. at the time.
Top 10 Honorable Mention
St. John Vianney (18-7-1, 10-3-1) – The Lancers were the first team out, with wins over Ranney, Wall, Colts Neck and a Pingry team that lost only three games all season. A loss to Freehold Boro and a tie vs. Matawan hurt and Central’s three best wins (Howell, Jackson Memorial and Egg Harbor) edged out Vianney’s three best (Ranney, Pingry and Wall).
Colts Neck (17-8-1, 11-2-1) – When Anthony Gubitosi was on the mound, Colts Neck was one of the best teams in the state (10-0-1). When he wasn’t, the Cougars were an ordinary team (7-8-1), but one that still found a way to win the overall Class B North division title.
Donovan Catholic (16-12, 10-4) – The Griffins caught fire in the SCT, upending Manalapan, CBA and Southern on the road to reach the semifinals as the No. 22 seed. That was the high point for Donovan Catholic, which settled for a Class B South co-championship with Barnegat for the second straight year.
Freehold Township (14-13, 6-8) – The Patriots collected some impressive wins over the course of the season: Middletown South, Millburn, Jackson Memorial and Middletown North the most prominent among them.
Point Pleasant Beach (20-10, 10-2) – The Garnet Gulls finally broke through, winning their first ever Central Jersey Group I championship by conquering state-tournament nemesis Middlesex. With 20 wins for the first time in program history, a 3-0 record against the Toms River public schools and three wins over Group IV programs to go with the postseason hardware, it was a banner year for Point Beach Baseball.
Southern (14-11, 8-5) – The Rams were one of the surprise teams at the Shore this season, transforming themselves from a last-place team in Class A South in 2021 to a second-place finisher in the division that pulled out wins over Jackson Memorial, two over Central and one over Middletown South in the Shore Conference Tournament.