By Phil Anastasia
Here's the final Top 10 of the 2013 South Jersey baseball season. Previous ranking in parentheses:
(Pictured: Senior RHP/SS Zac Gallen led Bishop Eustace to the No. 5 spot in the rankings)
1. Eastern (4) 29-4
The Vikings became just the second boys' team in the school's 47-year history to win a state title. Led by seniors Nick Tierno (.340, 35 hits, 40 runs) and Steve Priolo (9-1, 1.89 ERA) as well as juniors Tom Flacco (.414, 38 RBIs) and Jake Quinn, Eastern set a school record for victories and played with remarkable consistency. From a 4-0 start on a Florida trip in which they didn't allow a run, Eastern answered every challenge. Here's how they responded to their four losses: 11 game winning streak, 6 game winning streak, 6 game winning streak, state championship victory. That's the mark of a special team.
2. Gloucester Catholic (5) 29-5
In next season's drive for a record-setting fifth straight state title, the Rams likely will be led by junior shortstop Phil Dickinson (.448 average, 22 steals) and sophomore right-hander John Murphy (8-1, 0.61 ERA). This season was about sending the senior class out with a fourth straight title and making the coaching transition from Dennis Barth to Mike Rucci. The Rams hit a little bump in mid-season but repsponded in championship fashion, winning their final eight games. In the NP A tournament, they went 5-0 and outscored opponents by 38-1. Senior RHP pitcher Mike Shawaryn (8-2, 0.60 ERA, 81 Ks) capped his career as the winner of a 2-0 victory over a 30-2 Seton Hall Prep team in the state final.
3. St. Augustine Prep (2) 22-7
Led by seniors Barry Buchowski (.434, six homers) and Chris Oakley (9-1, 1.62 ERA), the Hermits were 9-1 after a May 11 loss to Eastern in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic. Great work by those two seniors as well as classmates Mike Elfreth and Christian Adorno kept SAP in the conversation as one of the best teams in SJ all season. The Hermits had wins over Washington Twp., Gloucester Catholic and Bishop Eustace. SAP will be a team to watch in 2014 with junior pitchers Joey Gatto and Chris Warren showing the way.
4. Washington Twp. (1) 23-6
Senior first baseman Shaine Hughes (.493, 26 RBIs) set the tone as the Minutemen went 14-1 after April 27. These guys powered through the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, beating Gloucester Catholic, Audubon, Vineland and Camden Catholic by a combined score of 43-9. WT also captured a share of the Olympic American title with Eastern.
5. Bishop Eustace (3) 22-8
The Crusaders are projected to return junior lefty Devin Smeltzer (8-3, 109 Ks) as well as top hitters Nick Browne, Chris Jones and Mike Krusinski. Senior RHP/SS pitcher Zac Gallen and senior catcher Sam Steele led the way as BE captured a share of the Olympic National title and beat rival Camden Catholic in a decisive, fifth-meeting battle in South A quarterfinals. The Crusaders also handed Eastern two of its four losses.
6. Cinnaminson (NR) 22-8
Sparked by seniors Cole Pewor (17 extra-base hits) and John Bednarek (9-1, 1.66 ERA), the Pirates won the program's first state title. After a so-so start, these guys caught fire in May, kept it going in June and won the state Group 2 title with a taut, 2-1 victory over Mahwah. Fittingly, Bednarek was on the hill and Pewor knocked in the winning run.
7. Burlington Township (NR) 16-8
The South Jersey Group 3 champions started five sophomores as well as top juniors Dave Viselli (.368) and Aaron Crichlow (.371). Seniors Ryan Bell and Ronnie Grant led the way as BT made the state finals and lost a 4-2 decision to a Cranford team that likely will be No. 1 in the final state rankings. After a slow start created in part by the lack of availability of their home field, the Falcons turned up their game in May, captured the SJ 3 title and beat rival NBC in the state semifinals. A team to watch in 2014.
8. Northern Burlington (10) 22-5
Like their Burlco Liberty rivals, the Central Jersey Group 3 champions should return most of their lineup led by junior Zack Gakeler (9-1, 1.69 ERA) and sophomores Ryan Shinn (eight homers) and Tyler O'Dell (11 doubles). This team won just seven games in 2012 but pushed into prominence in 2013. Won the Burlco Liberty title in a division that included BT and RV as well as Moorestown. Like BT, a team to watch in 2014.
9. Cherry Hill West (9) 17-8
Led by senior Brad Machinski (.419, 6-2 on the mound), the Lions finished the season with victories over Sterling and Eastern in the Camden County tournament. After a 1-3 start, CHW followed Machinski and fellow seniors Will Allen and Brandon Perna and became a factor in the Olympic National and made some noise in the Diamond Classic. Allen won seven games on the mound and sophomore A.J. Wright emerged as one of SJ's best young hitters with 12 doubles.
10. Camden Catholic (8) 19-10
Senior pitcher Colan Miller showed the way as the Irish went 9-3 after May 1, with all three losses to Top 5 teams. CC has become a baseball program to watch in two seasons under coach Bob Bergholtz. The Irish captured a share of the olympic National title and made it all the way to the finals of the Diamond Classic. Juniors Dom Messina (12 doubles) and Joey Craig (.373, 25 RBIs) are part of a strong corps that will be back for more in 2014.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically):
Audubon (20-5): The Green Wave won the Colonial Patriot title with a young team featuring junior CF Eric Schorr and sophomore pitchers Wayne Test and Austin Tassi.
Delsea (19-7): The Crusaders won the Tri-Co Royal title with a solid pitching staff led by senior Nick Freijomil, junior Bryan Dobzanski and sophomore Joe Brewin.
Pennsville (23-4): Led by senior pitcher Luke Westfield (10 wins) and junior outfielder Eric Lankeneau (9 HRs), the Eagles lost one game after April 16.
Pitman (20-6): The Panthers won the SJ 1 title behind seniors Chris Seibert (.515, 6-2 on the mound) and Trevor Datz (.506, 14 doubles).
Shawnee (16-10): The Renegades came alive in the postseason, reaching the SJ Group 4 final behind seniors Jarret DeHart (.379, 16 extra base hits) as well Nick Montefusco (7 HRs, 9 doubles) and Brian Lawler (7 HRs, 9 doubles).
Sterling (17-8): Junior RHP pitcher Donovan Casey was 7-1 with a 0.11 ERA. He did not allow a run in his last 41 innings.
Williamstown (16-9): The Braves got great work from senior RHP Kyle Grim (8-0, two walks all season).
-- Phil Anastasia