by Phil Anastasia , Staff Writer @PhilAnastasia | email@example.com
The preaseason Top 25 for South Jersey baseball, which begins Saturday (weather permitting):
1. Eastern (21-7 last season): The Vikings return most of the lineup from the squad that captured the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic last season, led by first-team All-South Jersey players in junior centerfielder Jack Herman and senior third baseman Davis Schneider. Junior infielder/pitcher Jesse Barbera, who shut down Gloucester Catholic in the Diamond Classic title game, is another player to watch among many others for the heavy-hitting Vikings.
2. Gloucester Catholic (24-4): The Rams should be good in April and even better in May and June, when pitcher/hitter Brendan Bean, a transfer from Wildwood and Penn recruit, becomes eligible after sitting out 30 days. Among the key returners for the perennial state power are seniors such as catcher Sam Punzi, an Iona recruit, first baseman Chris Turco, an Albany recruit and shortshop Evan Giordano, a Stony Brook recruit. Sophomore outfielder Lillo Paxia already has committed to Florida State.
3. Lenape (15-10): The Indians have a top team to break in their refurbiushed field, which should be ready before the middle of this month. Senior shortstop Tommy Gardiner is a Maryland recruit and junior infielder Jake Topolski is Duke recruit. Senior Ben Harris is another top hitter for the Indians, who should field one of South Jersey's top lineups but will need to develop pitching depth.
4. St. Augustine (20-9): The defending Non-Public South A champions have a couple of top hitters in senior infielder Greg Elfreth, who hit .300 last season, and Jake Catalano, who batted .340 and also was 5-4 in the mound with a 2.70 ERA. Senior Mike Myles and juniors Kevin Eaise and Jack Billings lead what should be a deep pitching staff.
5. Williamstown (18-8): The Braves have a senior-heavy squad led by infielder Tommy Gibson, a Penn State recruit, and Devon Jeffreys, a Hofstra recruit. Max Keegan and Justin Rouse, a Rhode Island recruit, lead what should be a deep pitching staff.
6. Seneca (15-7): The Golden Eagles have the look of a gathering storm. A loaded junior class is led by Nick Decker, a Maryland recruit and one of South Jersey's top two-way players. Junior Kevin Gsell is another player to watch and seniors Nick Trendler and Josh Knapp anchor what should be a strong pitching staff.
7. Audubon (17-6): The Green Wave have a top catcher in senior R.J. Concepcion, a first-team All-South Jersey selection, and a pair of aces at the top of the rotation in seniors Dan Wilson and Andrew Fehr. Senior third baseman Coe Nolan is another player to watch.
8. Cherry Hill West (17-8): The Lions will be led by senior pitcher John Stankiewicz, a Fordham recuit, and junior outfielder Nick DiVietro, a LaSalle recruit who stole 26 bases as a sophomore and batted better than .400. Infielders Isaiah Ishmail and Jack Owens and pitcher Liam Anderson are players to watch.
9. Millville (19-9): The Thunderbolts have one of the state's top players in third baseman Budy Kennedy, a North Carolina recruit who hit nine home runs last season. Seniors Nick Grotti and Ryan McIsaac are both pitchers/infielders and four-year starters and junior catcher Luis Vargas could be an emerging star.
10. Bishop Eustace (13-12-1): The Crusaders will be young but experienced and talented, with a loaded sophomore class led by pitcher/infielder Matt Orlando and outfielder Johnny Piacentino. Junior infielder/pitcher Sky Duff is a Pitt recruit and senior right-hander Brian Bernetich is the staff ace.
11. West Deptford (25-6): The defending Group 2 state champions have a true ace in senior left-hander Drew Wilden, a Maryland recruit. Senior catcher Ryan Baglivo batted .325 last season and senior shortstop Kyle Garrison drove in 20 runs. Senior pitcher Chis Leporati is a top No. 2.
12. Washington Township (12-13): The Minutemen have an experienced squad led by senior shortstop Ryan Swift, who batted .338 last season, and senior catcher Alex Gattinelli, who hit .373 with 22 RBIs and three home runs. Senior second baseman Dan Gee is another seasoned veteran for a team that will look develop some pitching depth behind senior right-hander Rich Racobaldo.
13. Cherokee (17-10): The Chiefs have a top senior infielder in Nick Schooley. Senior right-hander Jarrad Delarso, a Richmond recruit, could be an ace upon his return from injury in mid-April. The Chiefs will get another boost from the eligiblity of senior Shayne Clowar, a top hitter and pitcher who will sit the first 30 days after transferring from Bishop Eustace.
14. Shawnee (12-10): The Renegades sustained a blow when junior right-hander Dylan Deveney was lost for the season with an injury. But Shawnee still has top pitchers in juniors Sean Heine, a Maryland recruit, and Brian Hendry along with senior Greg Albert. Senior outfielder Jax Luzinski, an Army recruit, and junior catcher Colin Wettereau, a St. John's recruit, anchor what should be a strong lineup.
15. Highland (17-6): The South Jersey Group 3 finalists have some pitching depth with seniors Anthony Masseli, Jake Rappaport and Nick Yoder. Senior Brian Gallante is a veteran catcher and senior Jon Markulics is a top outfielder.
16. Rancocas Valley (12-8): The Red Devils have one of the state's top hitters in senior first baseman Tyler Dearden, a Penn State recruit who batted .481 with nine doubles, and a pair of top senior infielders in Colin Pollard and JoJo Alvarez. Sophomore outfielder Eli Dickerson is a young player to watch. Senior Trevor Perks and sophomore Bryce Mangene lead the pitching staff.
17. Northern Burlington (17-9): The Greyhounds have pitching depth, a more important commodity than ever in the pitch-count era. Juniors Sam Irvin, Ryan Wainwright and Mike Bell anchor the staff. Senior shortstop Alex Popovich is a Fordham recruit and senior Ben Jones is a top catcher.
18. Holy Cross (24-7-1): The defending Non-Public B state champions have a top catcher in senior Nate Zito, who joins with classmates Casey Fitzsimmon and Logan Napoli to create some pitching depth. Juniors to watch include pitcher Jeff Undercuffler and outfielder Tim Petrucelli.
19. Haddonfield (24-5): Senior shortstop Joe Loperfido leads the way for the Bulldawgs. He's a Duke recruit who batted .431 with 11 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs last season. Seniors Dan Brown and Jonah Perna are top infielders and junior Jacob Small, who was 7-2 last season, leads the pitching staff.
20. Kingsway (14-10): Senior outfielder Rob Scanlan is a top defensive player who also batted .386 with 10 steals. Other top returners include seniors such as outfielder Sam Craig, catcher Josh Ritchie and infielder Joe Dellaquilla. Senior shortstop/pitcher Mike Biasiello and junior Alex Crothers are top pitchers.
21. Egg Harbor Twp. (15-11): The Eagles will look to build on momentum created by strong finish last season. Senior Nick Milhan batted .315 with 25 RBIs and senior Drew Hickman was 6-2 on the mound. Sophomore Jordan Sweeney, who batted .453 with three homers, is a young player to watch.
22. Holy Spirit (13-12): The Spartans suffered a blow with the loss of ace Billy Kral to injury. Senior Bobby Spicer is a top pitcher and the squads have seasoned hitters in seniors such as shortstop Nolan Charlton, third baseman Tyler Knox and outfielder Dom Boselli.
23. Delran (20-6): Juniors Luke Smith, Matt Fey and Luke Heisler lead the Bears in coach Rich Bender's 42d season. Smith batted .350 with four home runs and had a 1.45 ERA on the mound with 55 strikeouts in 48.1 innings. Fey was 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA and Heisler batted .358.
24. Pennsville (23-7): The defending Group 1 state champions have one of the state's top juniors in shortstop Max Dineen, who batted .442 with three home runs and eight doubles. Senior second baseman Jeremy McCoy is another returning starter and junior Dustin Garrison leads the pitching staff.
25. Mainland (15-9): The Mustangs have a top pitcher/catcher in senior Anthony Capasso and one of the Cape-Atlantic League's top juniors in Nick Atohi.
Under consideration: Buena (16-6), Clearview (22-6-1), Delsea (13-7), Moorestown (10-10), ocean City (21-6), Pitman (15-11), Paul VI (7-16-2), St. Joseph (21-8), Timber Creek (11-12).
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