The Somerset County Tournament kicks into high gear Saturday with four second round games, all played at the home of the higher seeded teams. Here’s a look at all four matchups, with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s coverage of the SCT presented by Zoned Sports Academy in Bridgewater:
#11 Manville (7-2) at #6 Pingry (4-3), noon
Of course, the main goal is to advance in the SCT, but Manville baseball has had a lot of lean years, and at 7-2, a win against Pingry would equal their win total from 2019, when the team was 8-13. And that was he first time they’d won more than five games in a season since at least the start of the last decade. But the Mustangs aren’t resting on their laurels. They have three players hitting .400 or better, including senior Josh Barrios at .400, and senior Geoffrey Mathis and junior James Mascola hitting .500 on the year. Mathis has a team-leading 16 RBIs and has hit two home runs on the year, adding a pair of doubles and a pair of triples. Pingry hasn’t shown the form yet it did last year, when the Big Blue had a 23-3 campaign and won the Prep A Tournament. But that can happen when you lose your hits leader in Liam Royster and strikeout leader on Thomas Santana to graduation. Hitting .320 last year, Pingry is hitting just .199 on the year, and scored only 23 runs through seven games. Senior Jake Francis is their top pitcher, allowing no earned runs and striking out 26 while walking only three in 18 innings pitched, and he’s hitting .222 with a team-leading eight runs batted in. Will this be the year they beat Pingry? It hasn’t happened in at least 19 years of our research, during Manville’s entire time in the Skyland Conference.
#10 Bernards (4-3) at #7 Hillsborough (3-7), 11 am
This is a rare meeting between the two schools, as they have only played each other twice since 2012. The Raiders won both matchups, 2-0 in the 2012 SCT quarterfinals and 7-6 in the 2014SCT semis. The difference is both of those years, Hillsborough had a winning record: 17-14 the year of the first meeting, and 15-8 the second time around. The Mountaineers got off to a rough 1-3 start but have since won three straight over Voorhees, Warren Hills and Roselle Park, outscoring those three opponents 46-1, with the Blue Streaks the only team to score off Bernards – and an unearned run, at that. Bernards is hitting a monstrous .428 as a team, no doubt buoyed by the last three games. Nevertheless, senior Tyler Hepinstill is hitting .688 with 11 hits in 19 at bats. Charlie Gonella is hitting .476 with six runs batted in, and Matt Giunta has knocked in a team-leading eight runs. On the pitching side, the team ERA is 3.15, good enough to keep any decent-hitting team in a ballgame. Hillsborough, meanwhile, is struggling, having started the season 0-4, and dropping five of its first six games. They’ve lost two straight coming in, but to no slouch teams: Ridge (8-0) and Hunterdon Central (8-7). It’s a team trying to figure it out at the plate, hitting just .207, while the team ERA is 4.48 on the season. Then again, playing in the Skyland Delaware Division can do that to a team. With Ridge, Hunterdon Central and Bridgewater-Raritan, that division is simply loaded.
#12 Rutgers Prep (3-7) at #6 Franklin (4-5), 11 am
This is an intriguing one, as Rutgers Prep is one of those teams that has a ton of talent, including standouts Zach Fronio and Andrew Parisi coming back, among others, but just hasn’t figured it out yet as a group this season. What can you say when a guy like Parisi is hitting .520 (13-25) and leads the team in walks with 13, for a whopping .840 on base percentage? Fronio is hitting well also (.423) and so is freshman Ethan Nepomuceno (.400). Can the pitching get it together? That may be the issue against Franklin, which won at Prep 15-3 just eleven days ago. The Warriors are led by sophomore Izaiah Robinson (.419, 9 RBI) and junior Jacob Cruz (.400) at the plate, though pitching has also been an issue, allowing nearly six runs a game. Looking at common opponents here is interesting, too. In its last three games, Prep beat Phillipsburg 7-5, Watchung Hills 8-0, and lost to Montgomery 11-10. Franklin lost to the Stateliners earlier in the season, 3-1, but beat Montgomery back on the 13th by a 10-1 score. They also beat Gill St. Bernard’s on opening day, 4-3, while Rutgers Prep blanked them 25-0. The Argos could pull an upset if the right team shows up this morning.
#9 Immaculata (1-6) at #8 Bound Brook (4-4), 11 am
This will be the first meeting between the schools at least in the past decade or so. The Spartans are just 1-6, but played Ridge to a tight 2-0 loss on Opening Day, lost 3-2 to West Morris, and 6-2 at Bridgewater-Raritan – the tournament’s top seed – in a regular season game just five days ago. So, they can hang. But they’re not hitting well as a team, just .259 at the moment. Playing in the Delaware Division surely has a lot to do with it, seeing some great pitching in-league on a day-in, day-out basis. The leading hitter among regulars in the lineup is sophomore Jayson Labrador at .381, then Colin Kassai at .360, but there’s a drop-off after that. But playing Bound Brook may be more their speed right now, making this a good matchup. The Crusaders may be 4-4, but after a hot 3-0 start, the Crusaders have lost four of their last five, although the last one was a tight 4-3 loss to red-hot Manville, which is 7-2 and having its best season in years. The Crusaders are hitting well, .319 as a team, led by senior Jake Anderson at .500, with five runs batted in. Sophomore Nick Anderson is right behind him at .478 and a team-leading 11 RBIs. The team ERA is well under four, with Anderson getting it done on the mound; he’s got a 1.34 ERA with 15 2/3 innings pitched, striking out 20 and walking only six.