South Jersey Group 4
Top seed: Eastern
Favorites: Eastern, Lenape, Shawnee, Egg Harbor Twp.
Players to watch: Davis Schneider, Eastern, Sr., 3B; Jake Topolski, Lenape, Jr., 2B; Alex Gattinelli, Washington Twp., Sr., C; Buddy Kennedy, Millville, Sr., 3B; Tyler Dearden, Rancocas Valley, Sr., OF; Jax Luzinski, Shawnee, Sr., OF; Nick West, Atlantic City, Jr., P/SS; Isaih Pacheco, Vineland, Jr., OF; Tim Dezzi, Clearview, Sr., SS; Tommy Gibson, Williamstown, Sr., SS; Jordan Sweeney, Egg Harbor Twp., Soph., P/OF; Matt Stil, Cherokee, Jr., P/OF; Will McMahon, Kingsway, Jr., C/INF.
Best opening-round game: No. 10 Williamstown at No. 7 Clearview. This showdown of Tri-County Royal teams has a number of storylines to follow. Both are the last two champions - Williamstown won the sectional title in 2015, while the Pioneers took it all last season. Rocco Cornacchia, the former longtime Clearview coach who had to step down after retiring from his position as a guidance counselor, is now the pitching coach at Williamstown. And they split their two regular-season matchups, each being two-run games. The question now is what team takes the most important matchup?
Prediction: This is a sectional where the seeding is pretty much irrelevant, aside from determining who has to get out early from school and take a bus ride. Any number of teams is capable of winning it. A lot of these teams have beat up on each other all season, especially those coming out of the Olympic American, so most will be battle-tested. Look for an Eastern-Shawnee final, with Eastern rising to the occasion.
South Jersey Group 3
Top seed: Hammonton
Favorites: Cherry Hill West, Hammonton, Highland
Dark horse: Seneca
Players to watch: Brad Dobzanski, Delsea, Sr. P; Zach Geurrier, Hammonton, Jr.; Anthony Masselli, Highland Sr.; Kevin Gsell, Seneca, Jr., INF; John Stankiewicz, Cherry Hill West, Sr., P; Dan Nunan, Ocean City, Jr. P; Nick Decker, Jr., Seneca, OF;
Best opening-round game: Ocean City took a step back this year after a terrific 2016 campaign and finds itself against a very young and very strong Cherry Hill West program. The Lions fell 5-2 to Shawnee in the Diamond Classic on Saturday and can now say they have a singular focus.
Prediction: Both top seeds in Hammonton and Highland have had signature wins this season. The two Tri-County Royal programs met twice with Highland winning both times. Hammonton – which has struggled since the cutoff - however as the top-seed has a route that avoids seventh seed Cherry Hill West until the final. West to come out of this group on top, but the toughest game will be the quarterfinal with Highland and the winner there is the clear favorite.
South Jersey Group 2
Top seed: Delran
Favorites: Delran, Haddonfield, West Deptford
Players to watch: Luke Smith, Delran, Jr, P/DH; Nolan Mason, Medford Tech, Jr., INF; Timmy Marker, Cedar Creek, Jr., INF; Jimmy Porcelli, Bordentown, Sr., DH; Kyle Garrison, West Deptford, Sr., SS; Donnie Stone, Oakcrest, Sr., SS; Matt Harris, Middle Twp., Sr., P/INF; Alex Margot, Collingswood, Soph., P; Brennan Ray, Lower Cape May, Jr., P/INF; Joe Loperfido, Haddonfield, Sr., SS; Paul Ganiel, Sterling, Jr., OF; Christian Massara, Cinnaminson, Sr., OF.
Best opening-round game: No. 10 Collingswood at No. 7 Cinnaminson. These are teams that had a rough end to the regular season. Collingswood comes in with losses in three of its last seven games, while the Pirates have lost five of their last six. What makes it an interesting game is that the matchup represents an opportunity to put the past aside and look ahead. Postseason is a whole new ballgame.
Prediction: This looks like a sectional where the top seeds are the strongest in the field. Delran has played consistently well all spring, getting solid pitching from a host of talented arms. Haddonfield and defending state champion West Deptford split their two Colonial Conference games and are on a collision course to meet in the semifinals. We like a Delran-Haddonfield final, with Duke-bound senior shortstop Joe Loperfido leading the Haddons to the crown.
South Jersey Group 1
Top seed: Audubon
Favorites: Audubon, Pennsville, Gloucester
Dark horse: Haddon Heights
Players to watch: Max Dineen, Pennsville, Sr., INF; Andrew Fehr, Audubon, Sr. OF/P; Matt Diorio, Haddon Heights, Jr., INF; Kieran Burns, Sr., Haddon Twp., P; Joey Perez, Sr., Paulsboro, C; Jack Hammill, Sr, INF/P; Ethan Long, Schalick, Jr., INF; Kevin Teschko, Gateway ; Evan Horvath, Maple Shade, Jr., INF; Chris Maldonado, Sr., Glassboro, INF.
Best opening-round game: While it’s true Gateway won both games this year over Paulsboro, it’s tough to beat a team three times. Especially two teams that are located as geographically close as these two. The Gators will be the home team, but either way this should be the best contest of the round.
Prediction: On paper this looks to come down as a game between Audubon and defending Group 1 state champion Pennsville. Audubon caught everyone’s attention as the Green Wave came out of the gate strong and never looked back behind starter Andrew Lehr. Pennsville, of course, has Max Dineen in the lineup and this is potentially the best final in South Jersey this year with Audubon having the slightest of advantages.
South Jersey Non-Public A
Top seed: Bishop Eustace
Favorites: Bishop Eustace, St. Augustine, Red Bank Catholic
Dark horse: Christian Brothers
Players to watch: Matt Orlando, Bishop Eustace, So. Inf/P; Kevin Eaise, St. Augustine, Jr. P/OF; Rich Giandrea, Paul VI, Sr., Inf/P; Joe Lisnak, Camden Catholic, Sr., P.
Best opening-round game: Paul VI enters the tournament with a sub.500 record and Bishop Ahr has just one more win than the Eagles. With an array of byes this game is for the honor of playing top-seeded Bishop Eustace. The Eagles have already played their Camden County neighbors twice and did lose the second game 3-2.
Prediction: Hard not to see this being anything but a Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine final. The two programs have been in the SJSD Top 10 all season and both have quality young players they are building around. The Crusaders have been led on the mound by sophomore Matt Orlando and with the way the tournament sets up expect him to see time, if not start, in the final. That said the Hermits are a deeper squad and look for them to take the title to add to their Diamond Classic trophy.
Non-Public B South
Top seed: Gloucester Catholic
Favorites: Gloucester Catholic, St. Rose, Holy Cross
Darkhorse: Holy Spirit
Players to watch: Evan Giordano, Gloucester Catholic, Jr., SS; Lillo Paxia, Gloucester Catholic, Soph., OF; Nolan Charlton, Holy Spirit, Sr., SS; Matt Rivera, Holy Spirit, Jr., C; Zac Taylor, Holy Cross, Jr., INF; Tim Petrucelli, Holy Cross, Jr., OF; Joe Marino, St. Joseph Hammonton, Sr., P; Hakim Abdus-Salaam, St. Joseph Hammonton, Soph., OF
Best opening-round game: No. 13 Wardlaw-Hartridge at No. 4 Holy Spirit. There is no true opener between traditional South Jersey teams. Holy Spirit has been playing well as of late and will get one final regular-season game in before the playoffs start on Thursday. Steve Normane said after Saturday’s loss to Gloucester Catholic in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic that he felt his team was ready. We’ll see soon enough.
Prediction: Gloucester Catholic is head and shoulders above every other team in the field, so the Rams will clearly have a bull’s-eye on their back. Pitching depth is one of their major assets, while they’ve shown the ability to take advantage of opponent’s mistakes time and time again. We’re looking at GC taking on defending state champion and No. 3 seed Holy Cross in the final, with the Rams adding another piece of hardware to the trophy case.
*NOTE: Traditional South Jersey teams competing for Central Jersey titles include:
Group 3: Pennsauken, Burlington Twp., Northern Burlington, Moorestown
Group 1: Palmyra, Florence, Riverside, LEAP Academy
Tag(s): Home Gloucester Catholic Cherry Hill West Eastern Regional Washington Twp. Bishop Eustace Paul VI Williamstown Collingswood St. Augustine Prep Schools Tri-County Conference Olympic Conference Cape-Atlantic League Colonial Conference Gateway West Deptford Lenape Shawnee Burlington Co. League Audubon Lindenwold Paulsboro Hammonton Pennsville Delsea Clearview Highland Egg Harbor Township Holy Spirit Millville Senior Ocean City Saint Joseph Cinnaminson Delran Holy Cross Rancocas Valley