Week 3 Playoff Chase Breakdown: Multiplier having an early effect in some sections

Once again, come Sunday afternoon, the website Gridiron New Jersey posted its Week 3 UPR standings, updating how the race for the playoffs looks after three or four weeks of play – depending on who began Week Zero.

Gridiron is the official calculator of the playoff formula for the NJSIAA, and the process is much more streamlined this year with games against non-NJSIAA member schools (i.e., out-of-state, or prep schools) not counting toward win-loss record, power points or OSI as far as playoff qualification.

A full look at the UPR standings can be found here.

Continue reading “Week 3 Playoff Chase Breakdown: Multiplier having an early effect in some sections”

As Gridiron New Jersey releases its first UPR standings of the year, we take an all-too-early look at what it means

We’re only halfway to the halfway point of the regular season in high school football, and the numbers are going to change a lot – trust us! – but Gridiron New Jersey is out with the state’s UPR standings after Week Two of play around the Garden State.

Gridiron is the official calculator of the playoff formula for the NJSIAA, and the process is much more streamlined this year with games against non-NJSIAA member schools (i.e., out-of-state, or prep schools) not counting toward win-loss record, power points or OSI as far as playoff qualification.

A full look at the UPR standings can be found here.

Continue reading “As Gridiron New Jersey releases its first UPR standings of the year, we take an all-too-early look at what it means”

NJSIAA selects Franklin and Cherokee as sites for first-ever football Group Semifinals

Franklin High School in Somerset County and Cherokee High School down in Camden County will be the two sites for football’s NJSIAA Public Group Semifinals in 2022, the round leading up to the stat’s first-ever Public Group Finals take place in December.

The NJSIAA updated its website in the last week or so (it doesn’t issue press releases on site selections) to reflect the designation of the two locations, which will host state semifinal games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 18th through the 20th.

Since 2018 – with the exception of the 2020 COVID season where no playoffs were held – the NJSIAA had expanded playoffs, ending with a “regional championship.” It was essentially a state semifinal in each group but without a state final.

But last June, member schools overwhelmingly approved a plan to play to Group Championships, like every other sport, starting this season.

Continue reading “NJSIAA selects Franklin and Cherokee as sites for first-ever football Group Semifinals”

Out-of-state games may not count for anything, but they could affect playoff standing

One of the many tweaks to the NJSIAA’s playoff system for 2022 is the new rule about out-of-state games: they won’t count this year – at all.

That’s not entirely true; they will count toward the maximum number of games a team can play in a regular season. For public schools, that’s nine, including Thanksgiving. For non-publics, they’re allowed ten since they start the playoffs one week later this year.

But that’s it:

To put it succinctly, “For lack of a better term, it’s an exhibition game, as in every other NJSIAA sport,” says New Jersey Football Coaches’ Association Commissioner John Jacob.

What does that mean? A win or loss will certainly count toward a team’s official record, but as far as they playoffs go, it means nothing.

The change will affect not just those who play out-of-state teams, but their New Jersey opponents as well.

A team that plays an out-of-state (OOS) opponent will not get any power points or OSI value from the win. That won’t necessarily hurt them as it would have in the past because power points are no longer a running total; they’re an average, just as OSI is. Counting only seven of eight games doesn’t necessarily give a team a disadvantage. All it does is give them one less chance to increase their average. Then again, a loss could lower a team’s average. This way, there’s no gain, and no loss.

The only way it could significantly hurt a team is with the new minimum win rule to make the playoffs, which was increased to two this year. Now, a 2-6 team that has one of its wins against an OOS opponent is 1-6 in the eyes of the NJSIAA, and wouldn’t make the playoffs. Of course, one could argue a 1-6 team doesn’t belong in the playoffs anyway.

One person it will benefit is Jon Fass at Gridiron New Jersey, who’s website calculates the official playoff standings for the NJSIAA. That’s because finding the right numbers for out-of-state opponents is time consuming, and even then, not always accurate.

For power points, an OOS opponent’s group size has to be determined, and that number isn’t generally publicly available as for all other NJSIAA schools.

But at least that number can be found out. Strength Index provides even more of a challenge.

Other states don’t use Strength Index, a uniquely New Jersey thing. So the formula the last few years was to find the OOS in the national MaxPreps rankings, then find the closest NJSIAA school. If the game was on the road for the New Jersey team, the closest NJSIAA school above it in the rankings was chosen – the perception that it would be more of a challenge – and their SI value used to determine the OSI value. For a home games versus an OOS school, the closest NJSIAA school below them in the MaxPreps rankings was used. And since MaxPreps uses a completely different mathematical formula, the SI values didn’t always correspond. The next school above or below the OOS opponent might not be anywhere near each other in SI value.

Got a headache yet?

Now, let’s go back to how the NJSIAA doesn’t recognzie that out-of-state win. What about the team that plays a team that plays an OOS opponent?

They won’t get any residuals from that win, since that win didn’t count for playoff qualification.

There are eleven games this year where a public school will play an OOS team (we won’t count non-public since those playoff sections are seeded by committee, and not solely by UPR). One involves a Big Central team, so we’ll use that real life example.

South Hunterdon will play its annual rivalry game with New Hope/Solebury (PA) for the first time since 2017 when they square off on Friday night, in Week Zero. They have seven more games before the cutoff. Their opponents the rest of the year – Roselle Park, Belvidere, Middlesex, Manville, Brearley, Dunellen, and Dayton – will only get residuals from those seven.

If this was 2021, those opponents – only getting residuals from the Eagles’ first seven games – would have gotten residuals from New Hope through the Dunellen game. Now they get Roselle Park through Dayton: South Hunterdon’s last seven games, since the first one “doesn’t count.”

That could affect those teams negatively or positively, depending on if South Hunterdon wins or loses that opener. But, it’s an important distinction to make when figuring out power points and OSI.

There is one Big Central team, however, that could get hurt significantly by this. Somerville opens its first year under new head coach Ian Pace with Mastery HS of Camden, a charter school playing its first varsity season of football. (Mastery operates two dozen charter schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia.) Mastery only plays two New Jersey schools – Lakewood and another charter playing its first season, KIPP Cooper Norcross, also out of Camden.

This means Somerville can only gain, at best, six residuals with a win over Mastery. Also, since it’s their first year of football, they will start with a base Strength Index of 20. With only three NJ schools on the schedule, their SI will probably go up. Somerville is a 75.37, so unless the Pioneers win by 55, Mastery will go up. Lakewood is a 47.18, so that one could go either way. And KIPP will start at 20, so it’s the same deal there.

Bottom line: Somerville will be hurt here. Then again, they play in a very tough division, and that could make up for it.

Some Big Central teams will have a tougher road than others to the playoffs in ’23

Back in the days when power points themselves were simpler, and the only method the NJSIAA used for playoff seeding, there would always be some six-win team that could make a case to get in the playoffs over a four-win team. In 2017, 5-3 Linden missed the playoffs, while Columbia – 0-8 at the cutoff – made it in, thanks to a multiplier.

And even now, with power points more complicated, and OSI added in, there’s controversy. Manville didn’t make the playoffs last year at 6-2, when a Cutoff Weekend loss to Metuchen cost them a playoff spot, meaning the Mustangs would have had to 7-1 to make the playoffs.

This can happen when teams don’t play a strong enough schedule. That was the case with Manville. Meanwhile, other teams could win three games and get in.

And even the NJSIAA adopting a new rule that playoff teams must have a minimum of two wins to qualify (though some coaches and ADs pushed for three) may not be enough.

Over the last few days, we’ve looked at Big Central Strength Index ratings, as well as all 59 teams’ strength of schedule, based on the SI rating of their opponents. We can use that data to determine how many wins a team might need to make the playoffs.

We did this last year, and of the 58 public school teams in the BCC last year, our projections held true for all but three of them.

How did we do it? We took the minimum and maximum OSI each team could get in a year – for going winless or undefeated – and averaged the difference. If a team with eight games could average a 64 OSI for going unbeaten, and a 32 OSI for going winless, that’s a difference of 32. That means each game on average is worth eight points.

Those numbers can change throughout the season, as opponents’ SI numbers go up or down, but generally, they’re fairly accurate because, on average, some teams will go up, some will go down. Unless a whole division is much improved, or entirely down for the year, it often comes close to a wash in the end.

But how many wins would you need to make the playoffs?

We looked at the highest OSI team to miss the playoffs, then took the next team above that which was in the playoffs, and set that as the target goal for OSI. If that team we described above was in a section last year where no one below a 43 missed the playoffs, we could figure they’d probably need just two wins to make the playoffs, three for a lock. Going winless would give them about a 32 OSI, one win would give them 40, two would give them 48, well over the 43 “minimum.”

This is impossible to do with power points because we don’t know what the records of a team’s opponents will be. It’s a much more imperfect science than using SI and OSI, which – after being used in 2019 and 2021 – is a pretty useful – and accurate – tool.

The first year with OSI in use was 2019, after the controversial and failed Born Power Index in 2018. With no playoffs in 2020, OSI was only used again in 2021. So we only have two years of data to work with. But we decided to average the minimum OSI from the last two playoff seasons this year to get the target number.

Back to our predictions last year: in 2021, we were right on 55 of the 58 teams qualifying or not qualifying the playoffs. That is to say, if we said a team needed four wins to make the playoffs, most of those type teams who won only three games didn’t, and those that won more than four often made it. (Technically, 53 of the 58 were accurate, but that was only because Scotch Plains-Fanwood – which made it – was ineligible, and Montgomery – which didn’t make the cut mathematically – took the Raiders’ place).

So, for this year, here are the averages, the minimum OSI we think a team needs to make the playoffs.

  • North 5 – 38.81
  • South 5 – 42.91
  • North 4 – 42.95
  • South 4 – 41.34
  • North 3 – 42.01
  • South 3 – 40.61
  • North 2 – 40.46
  • South 2 – 37.98
  • North 1 – 35.36
  • South 1 – 35.21

Note that North 5 having a 38.81 minimum and South 5 having a 42.91 minimum doesn’t necessarily mean the North playoff teams were better. It just means North 5 playoff teams the last two years generally played tougher schedules. They also may have won closer games (because beating a team by more points drives the opponent’s SI down, thus driving down your own OSI.

Based on the above numbers, our projection is that a team in North 5 would need at least a 38.81 OSI to make the playoffs. That’s the two-season average. It was 40.21 in 2021 (based on 2019 playoff numbers, and they may have been higher because 2019 preseason numbers were based ont the final 2018 Born Power Index numbers) and 37.42 last year; next year, we’ll have three years of OSI to work from.

So, let’s pick a team. Elizabeth has an eight game schedule, with an estimated – because the numbers will change throughout the year – maximum OSI of 64.98 (if they go 8-0) and an estimated minimum of 32.49. Each win with worth about 4.06 OSI points.

One win would get them to 36.55. Two would get them to 40.61. Since the minimum we estimate at 38.81, we would predict that Elizabeth could get in the playoffs with just two wins. Three would give them 44.67. We think three wins would make them a lock. Last year, that would have put them at tenth in the playoff standings.

In actuality, the Minutemen went 3-5 at the cutoff, and made the playoffs, seeded 14th overall. We predicted three wins would get them in and that four would be a lock. They got in with three.

Let’s look at a middle group team: Cranford in North 3. We say 42.01 would be the minimum OSI, which they would also surpass with three wins. The defending North 2, Group 3 champions lose a lot from last year, but we project would be a playoff team with as little as three wins.

The difficulty is that the Big Central doesn’t have a lot of strong small schools, and that makes it difficult for small schools in the league to make the playoffs. For a school like Manville – a Group 1 – its peers are Highland Park, Dunellen, Metuchen. The first two are on their schedule, but overall it’s tougher this year, which could be a good thing – though Manville lost a lot as well.

And believe it or not, Manville is playing just about even against opponents; the average SI of the teams they play is about the same, within a point. But Manville was a 41.07 SI last year, and with a 6-2 season, upped that to 48.84 this season. They got better, and so did their opponents, by about a touchdown.

So, how many wins would the Mustangs need?

In South 1 they would need a 35.21 OSI, averaging out the last two playoff season minimums. With each game worth about 3.01 points, counting up from a winless OSI of 24.10: One win gets them 27.11, two gives them 30.12, three gives them 33.13, four wins gives them 36.14. We think they need four wins to get in, or at least be on the bubble. Five would put the Mustangs at 39.16, a virtual shoo-in.

In that way, we think the Big Central did a good job in Manville’s division and their schedule.

Last year, we predicted they would need an OSI of 37.33. To get that, they would have needed eight wins to get them over the hump. Turns out they would have needed 35.21. They finished 21st – five places out of a playoff spot – with 6 wins and a 29.73 OSI. The loss to Metuchen was the dagger. Seven wins might have made it. Eight likely would have been a lock.

That said, below are all our projections for how many games all 57 public schools in the Big Central (non-publics are seeded by committee) would need to win to make the playoffs:

A few notes and thoughts on our projections:

The Target OSI is the number below above which no team missed the playoffs. Anyone getting having an OSI of that value or better over the last two years, on average, made the playoffs in that specific supersection. The “Closest Over” column is the first number of wins that gets a team “over” the Target OSI. The “Full Step Over” column is simply one additional win.

Inotherwords, Union’s Target OSI is 38.81. They would be need just one win to get over that (39.27) and two to be a virtual lock (43.63). Two wins is the minimum to qualify for the playoffs anyway. So, with two wins, it would be hard for Union to not make the playoffs, unless everyone on their schedule goes winless and their OSI tanks. But that’s highly unlikely. Some will go up, some will go down, it’s usually close to a wash.

Remember the old days when you had to have a .500 record or better to be in the playoffs? Some still believe that, and others don’t. Our projections say the “average” number of wins to make the playoffs is 3.7 (close to 4-4 in an eight game schedule), while a virtual lock would be 4.7 (5-3 over eight games, or 5-4 in a nine-game schedule).

Last year, in the Big Central, the average number of wins we projected was a 4.0, and the lock average was a 5.0. Both numbers are down by 0.3 points. So, on average, the Big Central has made it “easier” for its teams to make the playoffs; requiring only 3.7 wins on average by its teams, compared with 4.0 last year. That’s a good thing.

Some teams, however need a lot of wins. Spotswood, for example, would have to win 7 or 8 games. Based on last year, getting to half that would be a huge success and turnaround for the program. Playoffs may not be a goal for every team. For the Chargers, it’s about getting experience and getting better.

But let’s go back to another team we talked about in a prior story: Brearley. Last year, the Bears were 7-2 at the cutoff with two forfeit wins. We said they needed five or six wins to get in, and they got in with seven, finishing as the 12th overall seed in North Group 1. This year, with a Target OSI of 35.36, they need six wins to pass that at 37.33, and seven wins to virtually lock in a playoff spot with a 40.00 OSI.

Being in a weak division – Bearley has a Strength Index value of 61.53 while only one of the eight opponents on its schedule have an SI over 50 (South Hunterdon at 59.36) – hurts the Bears. They already play four of the other “Division 1” type teams – Dunellen, Manville, Middlesex and South Hunterdon – so they might have been better playing in that same division with Dunellen, et al, and playing schools like Roselle (49.55) and Metuchen (46.59) instead of Spotswood (34.01) and Highland Park (26.32).

And though Brearley likely could make the playoffs, they would probably have to go undefeated to even have a remote shot at a home playoff game.

Carteret, Dayton, Governor Livingston and South Plainfield are the other schools that we believe need at least six wins to get in the playoffs.

As for the “easiest” route? (Remember, we’re not talking easy in terms of opponents, we mean fewer wins needed to make the playoffs.) Bridgewater-Raritan, Phillipsburg, Union and Westfield – we believe – could all make the playoffs with one win, if that were allowed this year by the NJSIAA. Two is the minimum. Roselle, Hillsborough and Elizabeth also fall into that group, needing at least two. That means all those teams are playing tough schedules.

Check back at the end of October; we’ll let you know how we did!

NJSIAA reclassifications move five Big Central teams; others will have new competition, too

According to the NJSIAA football classifications released to the public on its website, five Big Central Conference football teams will compete for a playoff spot in new sections this coming season, with three of them moving up to a larger group size.

Rahway will move up to the North Group 4 playoff supersection, which will feature 31 teams in all. Last year, the Indians played in South 3 with the likes of Carteret, Somerville and South Plainfield. Now, they’re in a supersection with nine other Big Central teams, all with larger populations, including Colonia, JFK, Linden, Montgomery, North Hunterdon, Ridge, Sayreville, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Woodbridge.

Only one of those schools – Scotch Plains – is in their Big Central division, which also includes Cranford, Summit and St. Thomas Aquinas. Linden, however, is on Rahway’s schedule as an early season divisional crossover.

Hillside also moved up, with the Comets jumping from South Group 2 to North Group 3. They’re in with fellow Big Central schools Cranford, Governor Livingston, North Plainfield and Summit. None of those teams are in their division, however, nor on their schedule as a crossover. The Comets are in a BCC division with New Providence, Roselle, Metuchen and Johnson. With a weaker schedule than the teams they’ll be competing with for playoff spots, such a move at this late date would likely hurt their playoff positioning later in the year.

READ MORE: Who’s the “strongest” Big Central team heading into ’22? We take a deep dive into the numbers

Dayton makes a move up from North Group 1 to North Group 2, and will join fellow Big Central members on Johnson, Bound Brook, Delaware Valley Roselle, Metuchen, New Providence, South River and Spotswood. The Bulldogs and Chargers are also in Dayton’s as-yet-unnamed Big Central division.

Bernards and Dunellen made lateral moves.

The Mountaineers shift over from South Group 2 – where they were previously the second Northern-most school (Newark Central being the furtherst North) – to North Group 2, where they are geographically the Southern-most team. Not only that, they are the only Big Central team in North 2, which is heavy on Bergen County teams and has others from northwest Jersey like Sussex Tech and Newton.

The Destroyers bounce over from North Group 1 to South Group 1, leaving BCC schools like Brearley, Belvidere and Roselle Park, and rejoin former GMC mates like Highland Park and Middlesex, as well as Big Central foes South Hunterdon and Manville. Those two and Middlesex all are in Dunellen’s league division with the Owls also on their schedule.

READ MORE: Strength of Schedule and OSI for 2022 H.S. Football; did the Big Central get it right?

In the non-public realm, St. Joseph-Metuchen will remain in Non-Public Group A, while St. Thomas Aquinas is in Non-Public Group B again. For the Non-Public Equivalency, the Falcons are a Group 3, while the Trojans are a Group 1, the same as last year. Neither team is a multiplier again this year for power point purposes.

For a complete look at the NJSIAA football classifications for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, click here for a downloadable PDF.

Here’s a list of all the Big Central teams and their NJSIAA classification:

  • North 5: Bridgewater-Raritan, Elizabeth, JP Stevens, Phillipsburg, Piscataway, Plainfield, Union, Watchung Hills, Westfield
  • South 5: East Brunswick, Edison, Franklin, Hillsborough, Hunterdon Central, Monroe, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Old Bridge, Perth Amboy, South Brunswick
  • North 4: Colonia, JFK, Linden, Montgomery, North Hunterdon, Rahway, Ridge, Sayreville, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Woodbridge
  • South 4: none
  • North 3: Cranford, Governor Livingston, Hillside, North Plainfield, Summit, Voorhees
  • South 3: Carteret, Somerville, South Plainfield
  • North 2: Bernards
  • South 2: Roselle, Johnson, Bound Brook, Delaware Valley, Dayton, Metuchen, New Providence, South River, Spotswood
  • North 1: Belvidere, Brearley, Roselle Park
  • South 1: Dunellen, Highland Park, Manville, Middlesex, South Hunterdon
  • Non-Public A: St. Joseph-Metuchen
  • Non-Public B: St. Thomas Aquinas

Locally speaking, outside the Big Central Conference, Immaculata and Pingry both will are classified in Non-Public B again, and are a Group 1 public equivalency. Neither will be a multiplier for power point purposes.

Strength of Schedule and OSI for 2022 H.S. Football; did the Big Central get it right?

Every couple of years, sometimes every year, leagues and conferences around New Jersey do The Shuffle.

It’s less a dance than a Rubik’s Cube, but the goal is to get all their teams in competitive divisions. Ultimately, someone will say they’re playing too many big schools, or will wind up slaying a bunch of smaller schools, but the decision-makers have nothing to go on other than coach or athletic director recommendations, the eye test, and records.

The reformation of the state’s playoff formula four years ago may have made the system much more complicated – and now requires a slide rule for the average fan to understand – but it also leaves us with some numbers based on the on-field results that can help leagues when they make their divisions.

Since each team now has a strength rating not just based on wins and losses or group size, and that number is used in the Opponent Strength Index that’s 60% of the state’s UPR playoff formula, we can now figure out a team’s Strength of Schedule based on each opponent’s preseason rankings.

How do we figure Strength of Schedule. It’s pretty easy.

We simply take the Strength Index of every opponent and average them out. A team with four opponents ranked 80 and three opponents ranked 50 would average out to a 65.

We’ve already showed you the preseason Strength Index numbers for the Big Central Conference, per Gridiron New Jersey, the NJSIAA’s official calculator of the playoff formula – you can find the numbers here – and a full list can be found here in PDF format.

Knowing that, we can now find the Strength of Schedule for all the teams in the Big Central. Note that we left out any games against out-of-state opponents, since those will no longer be considered for playoff qualification, both in terms of Strength Index and power points.

Continue reading “Strength of Schedule and OSI for 2022 H.S. Football; did the Big Central get it right?”

Immaculata falls to Ranney, 10-1, in Non-Public B title game

In so many ways, it didn’t play out like many people thought.

There prevailing thought was their might be a lot of scoring in the Non-Public Group B title game, especially after a home run to lead off the game by Ranney pitcher A.J. Gracia. But even though Immaculata got a run back in the second when Spartans’ starter Josh Thompson came home on a wild pitch, the game was a pitchers’ duel headed into the sixth, with both starters going well, and the score still tied at one.

The thing was, both pitchers were nearing the standard 110 pitch limit. And all of a sudden Josh Thompson was in trouble, allowing a leadoff walk and a bloop single to Gracia and Brett Wehringer, then after a strikeout, and RBI infield hit by Jack Tallent to break the one-all tie. And that’s when the floodgates opened, and there was no going back.

After a groundout back to Thompson, Diego Tavarez knocked in two runs with a single to give Ranney a 4-1 lead.

Then in the sixth, Ranney got plenty of insurance, scoring six more runs in an inning that saw more walks (five) than hits (three). And the Panthers still left the bases loaded.

Final score: Ranney 10, Immaculata 1, to win the Non-Public Group B title, the Panthers’s first.

Thompson took the loss, while Gracia got the win. The loss ends Immaculata’s season at 14-13, but it was a highly successful year, as a four-game run through their playoff section – including a win over top-seed Rutgers Prep – culminated with a come-from-behind walkoff win against Gill St. Bernard’s last Friday in the North B final, 8-7, giving Immaculata its fifth sectional title in program history, which is what the season will most be remembered for.

Well, that and their turnaround from an 0-3 start, a season that didn’t see them string together more than three wins in a row until the playoffs, which they entered with a sub-.500 record, and came out on the other side with a trophy.

Click below for postgame reaction with starting pitcher Josh Thompson and head coach Kevin Cust:

Sophomore Josh Thompson
Immaculata’s Josh Thompson (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Head coach Kevin Cust

Immaculata seeks third State Championship when Spartans face Ranney for Non-Public B title

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

Starting Pitchers:
Immaculata: Josh Thompson (7-2, 3.75 ERA)
Ranney: Marcello Mastrianni OR Nick Coniglio OR A.J. Gracia


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



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.


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.

Championship History:

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.