And one team remains.
The lone team left from the Central Jersey Sports Radio coverage area in the NJSIAA state playoffs will wrap up its season today, as the Immaculata Spartans take on Ranney School in the Non-Public Group B title game down in Hamilton.
Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas will call all the action for you live from Veteran’s Park with first pitch set for 7 pm. Scroll through this story for a complete preview, pitching matchups, key stats and notes, past coverage, title history, and more.
Non-Public Group B Championship Game:
Immaculata (16-13, North B Champion) vs.
Ranney (25-5, South B Champion)
7 pm Wednesday at Veterans’ Park in Hamilton, NJ
Click here to listen. Pregame starts at 6:15.
Announcers: Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas
Immaculata: Josh Thompson (7-2, 3.75 ERA)
Ranney: Marcello Mastrianni OR Nick Coniglio OR A.J. Gracia
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Immaculata – 5-seed, North B:
1st Round: def. (12) Newark Academy, 10-0 (5 innings)
Quarterfinals: def. (4) Morristown-Beard, 9-6
Semifinals: def. (1) Rutgers Prep, 11-2
Finals: def. (6) Gill St. Bernard’s, 8-7
Ranney – 1-seed, South B
1st Round: BYE
Quarterfinals: def. (8) Holy Cross, 10-0 (5 innings)*
Semifinals: def. (5) Holy Spirit, 16-8
Finals: def. (2) Gloucester Catholic, 8-7
*5-inning no-hitter by Nick Coniglio
COVERAGE ON CENTRAL JERSEY SPORTS RADIO
- Coming together: Immaculata grew from Day One in ’22, now playing for state title
- Early love of baseball still fuels Immaculata freshman Capindica
- Immaculata’s A.J. Johnson talks Spartans coming together, influence of Hewitt, ahead of state final vs. Ranney
- Added emphasis on athletics has turned Ranney into a parochial power, with some GMC influence
THE SKINNY ON…
Immaculata: It’s been an up and down season to say the least for the Spartans. Their current four-game winning streak – which started with the opening round win over Newark East Side – is their longest of the season. After starting the season 0-3, they won their next three, then had another three-game winning streak in mid-May, but lost their last three games heading into the playoffs.
Now at 14-12, simple math tells you that means the Spartans were just 10-12 heading into the state playoffs. But they play in the rough-and-tumble Skyland Conference Delaware Division, loaded with teams like Hunterdon Central (North 2 Group 4 champs and Division champs), Ridge (North 2, Group 4 semifinalist, and Somerville.
And they’ve beaten some really good teams, too, along the way. In the playoffs, they knocked off top-seed and Somerset County Tournament finalist Rutgers Prep 11-2, and late in the regular season, they beat Red Bank Catholic, which won the Shore Conference Tournament this year.
Bottom line is: the Spartans seem to have found their groove at the right time.
Ranney: At 25-5, and winners of the Shore B Central Division at 11-0, Ranney has the look of a winner, claiming their first-ever sectional title in walk-off fashion over Gloucester Catholic. And this team can score runs.
The Panthers are averaging 10.5 runs per game this year, and have scored at least 10 runs in half of their 30 games played this year, including a controversial 46-run outburst in a shutout win over Asbury Park – which went winless in just eleven games this season – back on April 12th. Ranney scored 35 runs in the first inning, then got four in the second, three in the third and one more in the fourth.
But when scoring fewer than ten runs, Ranney is 10-5, and 0-5 when scoring five runs or less. So, Immaculata will need to keep the Panthers from scoring early and often.
Their losses have all come to Shore Conference powerhouses, though – Rumson Fair-Haven (22-4), St. John Vianney (18-7-1), Middletown South (21-10) and Jackson Memorial (22-9) – with an out-of-conference defeat to Ocean City (19-9).
Their divisional schedule – other than Point Pleasant Beach, which is 20-9 after beating Middlesex Friday to win the Central Jersey Group 1 title – is rather weak. The rest of the teams – Mater Dei, Henry Hudson, Keyport, Keansburg and Asbury Park – are a combined 25-57.
But the did also have five victories against 20-win teams this season: Delbarton, Ferris, St. Mary-Rutherford, Middletown South and Don Bosco Prep, which will play in the Group A final at 4 pm Wednesday against St. Augustine. They’re the only one of the five remaining in the state tournament.
In postseason play, Ranney lost in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 to Jackson Memorial, 9-2. They lost in the first round of the Monmouth County Tournament, 6-5 to St. John Vianney.
Immaculata: The Spartans are led by A.J. Johnson, a senior infielder/pitcher who’s tops in a number of offensive categories (.337, 29 hits, 3 HR, 11 walks). Freshman Jayden Capindica is going to be one of the core guys to build around in the future. The freshman is hitting .307 on the season, leading the team with 16 runs scored and 21 runs batted in, along with three triples, for a team-leading slugging percentage of .507. In the states, he’s hitting 5-of-13 with a whopping 13 RBIs, including five on sixth-inning two-run homer and a seventh-inning walk-off bases loaded triple to win the Non-Public North B final in dramatic comeback fashion over Gill St. Bernard’s. Danny Ferguson is the team’s leading hitter in the states, hitting .364 (4-for-11) with two walks.
Josh Thompson has been excellent on the mound in two starts, one an easy cruise past Newark Academy in the opening round of the North B playoffs, the other a complete game in the 11-2 upset of top-seed Rutgers Prep, the Somerset County Tournament runner-up. In 11 and 1/3 innings, he’s allowed just three runs, all earned, for a 1.86 ERA. Aidan Rumain has had two appearances in the postseason thus far, including two critical shutout innings against Gill St. Bernards, and hasn’t allowed a run in three innings of work overall.
Immaculata has outscored its four state tournament opponents 38-15, with a shutout of Newark Academy factored in. They also held top-seed Rutgers Prep to two runs in their sectional quarterfinal game.
Ranney: As a team, the Panthers are hitting .442, though that number would be significantly lower if you took the Asbury Park game out of the equation. Against the Blue Bishops, they went 30-for-42 (.714), and otherwise they would be .421, still highly respectable. Diego Tavarez leads the regulars at .558 on the season, with AJ Gracia next at .492, with 39 runs batted in. That’s second on the team to Charlie Chropuvka’s 41. Read more on his heroics in the South B final below.
Pitching-wise, junior Nick Coniglio threw a five inning no-hitter in the South B quarterfinals, a 10-0 victory over 8th-seed Holy Cross. In 30 innings pitched this season, he has an 1.87 ERA. He threw an inning and a third against Gloucester Catholic.
NOTES AND NUGGETS
Can You top This? Both teams got to the Group B Final in dramatic fashion. Things didn’t look good for Immaculata in the North B final, getting no-hit into the fifth, and trailing 7-0 heading into the sixth. But a two-run homer by freshman Jason Capindica was part of a three-run sixth that cut the Gill St. Bernard’s lead to three, then his bases-clearing double in the seventh walked it off for the Spartans. It was the program’s fifth sectional title, to go with crowns in 1985, 1995, 1997 and 2010.
Ranney, meanwhile, also came back in its final at bat in the South B title game against Gloucester Catholic. And it was a super-wild finish, with almost all the run-scoring coming late. Ranney took a 1-0 lead in the first and a 3-0 lead with another two runs in the fifth, and things looked good. But the Rams scored three times in the sixth to tie it, with the Panthers scoring twice in the bottom of the inning to take a 5-3 lead. And things were just getting started. In the seventh, Gloucester Catholic added four more to take a 7-5 lead. But in the bottom of the inning, Ranney got a three-run walkoff homer from Charlie Chropuvka to win it 8-7, and take the program’s first-ever sectional title.
The GMC Connection: Ranney head coach Pat Geroni previously coached at Monroe, where he led the program to unprecedented success for seven seasons before stepping down in 2018 with a record of 104-62. His teams made three GMC Tournament finals, in 2013, 2015 and 2017, beating Sayreville in 2015 to win the Falcons’ first and only title. They also made the Central Jersey Group 4 title game in 2014, losing to Jackson Memorial.
Now in his third year with the Panthers – not counting the missed COVID year – Geroni is 52-20 at Ranney.
Or, and Or: Ranney head coach Pat Geroni was still evaluating who his starting pitcher would be, and said then it could even be a game time decision between Marcello Mastroianni, Nick Coniglio and A.J. Gracia. He also said it’s possible Immaculata could see all three pitchers. Since the Panthers last played Friday, there would be no pitch count restrictions on any of the three.
Common Opponents: There are none, and Ranney didn’t play anyone from the Skyland Conference out of league, but Immaculata did play Red Bank Catholic, the Shore Conference Tournament champion who finished 20-9 on the season. The Spartans beat them 7-4 on May 19th.
Most Famous Alums: For Immaculata, it’s probably Theo Riddick and head coach Kevin Cust’s brother, Jack, who are most well-known, having played in the NFL and MBL, respectively. Not an alum, but Pierce Frauenheim was the longtime football coach – for 47years – and athletic director at the Somerville school, after a notable career at Rutgers on the gridiron.
For Ranney – which only has just over 600 students from pre-K and up – it’s actress Kiertsen Dunst, though she only attended through fifth grade. Jessica Springsteen, the Boss’ daughter and an international equestrian – also is a graduate.
The Spartans have had immense Somerset County Tournament success, winning a record 14 titles, all between 1991 and 2019, including an unprecedented run of six straight from 1997 to 2002, and four of the next five from 2004 to 2008.
But the state tournament is always tougher. Still, the Spartans have five now to their credit, plus two group titles:
- 2022: North B Champs (beat Gill St. Bernard’s 8-7, playing in the Group B final)
- 2010: South A and Group A Non-Public Champs (beat St. Joseph-Metuchen in the Group A final)
- 1997: North A Champs (lost to Bishop Eustace in the Group A final)
- 1995: North B Champs and Group B Non-Public Champs (beat Gloucester Catholic in the Group B final)
- 1985: North B Champs (lost to Gloucester Catholic in the Group B final)
For Ranney, it will be the Panthers’ first trip to a group final, with their Non-Public South B title being the program’s first.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF IMMACULATA: