NJSIAA Group IV baseball semifinal preview

NJSIAA Group IV baseball semifinal preview


NJSIAA Group IV baseball semifinal preview


Who: Eastern (27-3) vs. Hunterdon Central (21-8)

Where/When: Monmouth University, today, 4 p.m.

How they got here: Eastern defeated Shawnee 16-6 (6 innings), Williamstown 4-0, Toms River North 7-3 and Millville 4-2. Hunterdon Central defated Brick Memorial 2-1, Marlboro 11-1 (5 innings), West Windsor-Plainsboro South 7-4, Howell 11-1 (6 innings).

Eastern report: Seven of the 17 hits Eastern had in the sectional final were for extra bases. Junior third baseman Tom Flacco, the youngest brother of Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, has emerged as one of South Jersey’s premier underclassmen. He had two doubles, a triple, two RBI and four runs scored in sectional final. He has a 1.833 OPS during the postseason and leads the team with hits (41, 15 for extra bases) and 26 stolen bases. The top five batters in the Eastern lineup were a collective 13-for-19 with nine RBI in helping the team win its first South Group IV title. Junior first baseman Jake Quinn is hitting .400 with runners in scoring position and has had six RBI in the playoffs. Senior second baseman Nick Tierno (who’s headed to play at La Salle) is second on the team in hits (34) and homers (3). Senior center fielder Ryan Delaney leads with 42 runs scored. Marist-bound senior right-hander Steven Priolo earned wins over Shawnee, Toms River North and Millville in the sectional playoff and will likely start against Central. He is 8-1 with two saves, a 1.99 earned run average and has struck out 61 in 6313 innings. He’s also hitting .636 in the postseason.

Strength of schedule: Eastern has had winning streaks of five, 11, six and is currently on a five-game streak. Vikings’ last loss was a 6-1 May 18 setback at Bishop Eustace. Eustace also beat Eastern 9-6 April 10 in Voorhees. The other loss was 3-2 May 1 to Washington Township. Eastern opponents averaged 10.6 wins and 8.4 losses.

Eastern history: The South IV title won Friday over Shawnee was the program’s first.

Hunterdon Central report: The Red Devils are led by senior shortstop Jeremy Ake, who leads the team in homers (7), doubles (10) and RBI (27). Ake is headed to the University of Delaware. Freshman first baseman Matt Toke has become a big contributor since becoming a starter. The lefty is hitting .359 with 21 RBI and two homers in 26 games. Sophomore second baseman Brett McManus leads the team in batting average (.410) and is second in homers (3) and RBI (22). Senior Paul Cucco also has 22 RBI. Central is hitting .300 as a team, is averaging 6.2 runs per game and allowing 3.4. The Red Devils have a team earned run average of 2.61 centered on Iona-bound senior righty Billy Maier (7-2, 1.98). He has struck out 45, walked 13 and allowed 50 hits in 64 innings. He’s the probable starter. Sophomore righty Mike Novello is 6-2 with a 2.61. He’s struck out 36 and walked 12 in 46 innings.

Strength of schedule: Central has won 12 straight since a 3-1 loss May 2 to Immaculata and 19-3 since a 2-5 start. Central opponents averaged 8.4 wins and 7.2 losses.

Hunterdon Central history: The Red Devils have three Group IV titles and are 3-for-3 in finals: 1987 (beat Elizabeth), 2008 (beat North Hunterdon), and 2009 (beat Randolph). The 1987 team also holds the school record for a winning streak with 20.


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