Baseball: Friday's big game predictions

By Phil Anastasia

Here's a closer look at Friday's sectional finals:

Friday, 4 p.m.

South Jersey Group 4
-- Shawnee (16-9) at Eastern (26-3): The Vikings beat the Renegades twice in the regular season by a combined 23-5. Eastern has been remarkably consistent this season and has ace Steve Priolo ready to take the mound. The top of the lineup of Nick Tierno, Ryan Delaney and Tom Flacco has set the table all season. Shawnee has gotten hot in the tournament and the Renegades have a veteran corps with perhaps the most dangerous 3-4-5 combo in SJ in Jarret DeHart, Brian Lawler and Nick Montefusco. Frosh Jake Miller likely will take the mound for Shawnee. In 95-degree heat, the teams might need 2-3 pitchers, which would seem to favor Eastern given its pitching depth. Lawler, who beat Lenape with a walkoff three-run HR on Wednesday, said this game is extra special for Shawnee's seniors because as eighth graders in Medford, they lost a title game to a Voorhees team that featured a bunch of Eastern's seniors. Pick: Eastern, 4-2.

South Jersey Group 3

-- Burlington Township (15-7) at Ocean City (23-3): Led by Beau Hall and Kyle Andrews, the Red Raiders have won 20 in a row. OC hasn't lost since April 13. Their regular-season schedule wasn't the most demanding but they've validated their record with a great run in the state tournament. This program has quietly become a regular deep in the state tournament. BT started slowly in part because their field wasn't ready for home games. They've played their best baseball over the last month, led by juniors Aaron Crichlow and Dave Viselli as well as seniors Ronnie Grant and Ryan Bell. Pick: OC, 4-3.

South Jersey Group 2

-- Cinnaminson (19-8) at West Deptford (18-6): The Eagles are riding high after upsetting Sterling, which had beaten them twice by a combined 18-0 in the regular season. Harry Sturgis led the way on the mound. The Eagles have quietly made their way to the sectional final, something that they've done on a regular basis in recent seasons. They seem to find a way to play their best in late May. Cinnaminson has been solid all season, with great work from pitcher John Bednarek and infielder Cole Pewor. Pick: WD, 5-4.

South Jersey Group 1

-- Pitman (19-5) at Pennsville (23-3): These Tri-County Classic rivals split in the regular season, with the Eagles' Luke Westfield flirting with a perfect game against the Panthers in a May 13 victory. Westfield retired the first 17 that day, walking the No. 9 hitter on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the sixth. The Eagles have not lost since April 16. Eric Lankeneau hit two HRs in a 10-0 win over a solid Haddon Twp. team in the sectional semis. He has eight HRs. Pitman has a veteran squad led by Trevor Datz (11 doubles) and Chris Seibert (four HRs, four triples, .514 average, great work on the mound all season including in Wednesday's 8-4 win over defending champion Audubon). Seibert is 6-1 with 90 Ks in 56 innings. Pick: Pennsville, 6-5.

Central Jersey Group 3
3 p.m. start

-- Wall Township (23-5) at Northern Burlington (21-4): The Greyhounds have junior ace Zach Gaekler (8-1, 171. ERA) ready to take the hill. This team won just seven games last season and looked to be a year away when this season started, since NBC has just one senior in a key role. But junior Ryan Shinn (9 doubles, 8 HRs), sophomore Tyler O'Dell (11 doubles and Gaekler have turned the Greyhounds into one of the surprise teams of the season. Pick: NBC, 3-2.

South A semifinals

Bishop Eustace (22-7) at St. Augustine (21-6): This projects as a great pitching matchup with junior ace lefty Devin Smeltzer (8-2) on the mound for BE vs. senior ace righty Chris Oakley (8-1) on the hill for SAP. The Prep has won eight in a row. Senior catcher Barry Buchowski cracked a grand slam, his 6th HR of the season, to finish off a 12-0 win over rival Holy Spirit in quarters. The Hermits also have junior lefty Zach Warren ready to pitch on this 95-degree day. Smeltzer has been among the most dominant pitchers in SJ this season. He owns a 4-0 win over the Prep in the finals of the Heinkel tournament April 20. The question is how many innings he can go in this heat, and how the Crusaders pick up the innings with ace righty Zac Gallen unavailable after going 7 in a 5-1 win over CC on Wednesday. Soph Justin Hagenman, who hasn't pitched since May 19, likely would be first in relief. Pick: SAP, 3-2.

Paul VI (14-13) at Gloucester Catholic (26-6): The 13th-seeded Eagles are surprise of the section, having upset fourth-seeded RBC and fifth-seeded Immaculata. They've scored 17 runs behind seniors Jason Roselli and Nick Gallo and junior Devin Ruiz. Pitching is a concern for coach Pat Fisher, who said he might mix and match 4-5 guys in the heat. GC has won 5 in a row and 8 of 9. Senior righty Mike Shawaryn is likely to take the hill, with plenty of strong, rested arms behind him (although soph John Murpphy is unavailable after beating SJ Metuchen 10-0 on Wednesday. Senior Giovanni Gussen and junior Phil Dickinson lead the offense for the defending NP A champions who have won a total of three consecutive state titles. Pick: GC, 6-1.

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.