By Phil Anastasia
Led by pitchers John Murphy (pictured left), Joey Gatto (pictured center) and Devin Smeltzer (pictured right), Gloucester Catholic, St. Augustine and Bishop Eustace will open the season as the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in The Inquirer Top 20 rankings.
Read more about the pitching depth that has marked the three-way rivalry between the programs, all of whom will compete for a South A title, in Sunday's baseball preview package in The Inquirer.
Here's a sneak peek at the projected preseason Top 20:
1. Gloucester Catholic (29-5 last season): The Rams have won four state titles in a row and the nucleus of this team were members of the Brooklawn squad that won the American Legion World Series in August. South Jersey's deepest pitching staff features junior John Murphy (8-1, 0.61 ERA), a Maryland recruit, along with senior Steve Mondile (4-0) and his sophomore brother, Tyler Mondile (2-2, 1.56 ERA). Senior shortstop Phil Dickinson (.448), junior infielder Sean Breen (.375) and junior outfielder Fran Kinsey (.358, 19 SBs) lead an experienced and talented lineup.
2. St. Augustine Prep (22-7): The Hermits have a dynamite 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in senior righty Joey Gatto (5-3, 2.35 ERA), a North Carolina recruit, and senior lefty Zach Warren (6-1, 1.26 ERA), a Tulane recruit. Sophomore right-hander Mike Vasturia and sophomore left-hander Billy Chillari add to the imposing pitching depth.
3. Bishop Eustace (22-8): The Crusaders have a true ace in senior lefty Devin Smeltzer (8-3, 1.38 ERA, 109 Ks), a Florida Gulf Coast recruit, and a strong No. 2 in junior right-hander Justin Hagenman (4-4, 3.62 ERA). Watch out for junior righty Tyler Phillips, who has electric stuff. But the strength of this team is a lineup that features juniors Nick Browne (.383, nine doubles) and Chris Jones (.390) as well as senior Mike Krusinski, a Delaware recruit who hit five HRs.
4. Northern Burlington (22-5): The defending Central Jersey Group 3 champions are one of the state's most talented teams. Leading the way is senior left-hander Zack Gakeler (9-1), a Pitt recruit. Junior shortstop Tyler O'Dell is a top defensive player and lead-off hitter and junior outfielder Ryan Shinn cracked eight homers with 42 RBIs as a sophomore.
5. Pennsville (23-4): The Eagles will be led by a loaded senior class that includes shortstop Drew Burdsall, who hit .438, and outfielder Eric Lankenau, who hit .370 with nine homers. Junior Josh Shimp batted .439 with 11 doubles. The team will get a boost from the return of senior Dylan Cummings, who missed last season with an injury, and the mound availability of senior Mitch Walker, who couldn't pitch last season because of injury.
6. Millville (11-12): The Thunderbolts should have a fine first season on newly named Mike Trout Field. They have one of the Cape-Atlantic League's top all-around players in senior Kyle Cox along with senior Robert Rivera, a St. Augustine (N.C.) recruit, and another top infielder/pitcher in senior lefty Calvin Clark.
7. Washington Township (23-6): The Minutemen will be led by senior right-hander Mark Scarpa, (7-1, 1.65 ERA) and senior outfielder Justin Sommerman (.397, 32 RBIs). Sophomore right-hander Nick Evangelista is a pitcher to watch.
8. Burlington Township (16-8): The defending South Jersey Group 3 champions and state Group 3 finalists feature senior catcher Dave Viselli, a St. Joseph recruit who batted .384, and senior outfielder/pitcher Aaron Crichlow, who hit .371 and went 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA on the mound.
9. Moorestown (17-9): The Quakers have a pair of top players in senior centerfielder Dallas Clark, a Rider recruit, and 6-7 senior right-hander Scott Zimmer, a Delaware recruit. A key addition could be senior Tom Gamble, a transfer from California and son of the Eagles' executive of the same name.
10. Camden Catholic (19-10): The Irish have a potent lineup led by seniors such as shortstop Joey Craig (.373, 25 RBIs), a Monmouth recruit, as well as first baseman Christian Bilan (.333), catcher Dom Messina (.311) and outfielder Albert Faiola (.369).
11. Aududon (20-5): The Green Wave have a strong top of the rotation in junior right- handers Wayne Test and Austin Tassi and a top hitter in senior outfielder Eric Schorr.
12. Cherokee (9-17): The Chiefs have a seasoned lineup led by seniors Jake Powell (.288) and Troy Domenick (.364) and a pair of solid arms at the top of the rotation in Lehigh recruit Frank Rosetti and junior lefty Brian Marconi.
13. Cherry Hill West (17-8): The Lions have one of South Jersey's top hitters in junior shortstop A.J. Wright (.455, 12 doubles) and a pair of veterans in senior catcher in senior Kyle Bordner (.341) and senior outfielder Wilson Brickner (.302).
14. Cinnaminson (22-8): The defending Group 2 state champions must rebuild their pitching staff but have a pair of seasoned senior hitters in centerfielder Christian DeLuca (.381) and catcher Cody MacNair (.382, 21 RBIs).
15. Delsea (19-7): The Crusaders have solid pitching led by ace Bryan Dobzanski, a Louiville recruit, and junior right-hander Joe Brewin.
16. Cherry Hill East (8-14): The Cougars will rely on the top of their rotation in senior right-hander Nick DiEva, a Stony Brook recruit, and senior lefty Mike Brambilla, a Monmouth recruit. Senior outfielder Nick Ciocco is a St. Peter's recruit, while Jordan Friedman is a top defensive shortstop and junior third basemen Jon Hansen is a player to watch.
17. Sterling (17-8): The Silver Knights have an ace in right-hander Donovan Casey (7-1, 0.11 ERA), a Boston College recruit, and a top shortstop in Ryan McGoldrick (.390). Junior pitcher Andrew Miller is a player to watch.
18. Vineland (20-6): The Clan has a top infielder/pitcher in Johnny Malatesta (.457, 2.43 ERA) and a couple of strong hitters in first baseman Andrew Gee (.343) and catcher Jimmy Hague (.339).
18. Paul VI (14-14): The Eagles have a top pitcher/shortstop in junior Matt McKeown, a Delaware recruit who batted .347, and a top outfielder in Devin Ruiz, a North Carolina-Charlotte recruit. Senior catcher John Petrongolo (.317) and sophomore first baseman/pitcher Shane Kubrak (team-high 21 RBIs) also are players to watch.
19. Haddonfield (11-16): The Bulldogs will be led by senior third baseman Mike McLaughlin (.471), who already has 100 career hits, as well as senior pitcher/infielder Carter Fitcher (6-4, 2.80 ERA), junior outfielder Jake Thorndike (.317) and senior pitcher/outfielder Mark Ostbye (.313), a Virginia recruit.
20. Shawnee (16-10): The Renegades must rebuild their lineup but have a solid set of starting pitchers in senior Scott Leventon and sophomore Jake Miller and a table-setter at the top of the order in senior second baseman Nick Corbi.
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