State Tournament checks in at loaded Skyland Conference

By Bob Behre | June 3, 2022

Lefthander Jason Cozzi could be the man Bridgewater-Raritan coach Max Newill goes to tomorrow.

The high school baseball season is much more of a sprint than a marathon, but it can feel like the latter when you compete against rugged competition day-in and day-out as is the case in the Skyland Conference.

NJ.com revealed that Skyland Conference dominance best this week when its latest Top 20 hit the streets and it ranked Hunterdon Central (21-4) at No. 5, Ridge (23-3) at No. 6 and Pingry (23-2) at No. 9 in its statewide poll.

Four Skyland Conference teams will remain in contention for the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 championship when the second round of the NJSIAA tournament is played today and tomorrow.

Top-seeded Hunterdon Central and second-seeded Ridge are on a collision course for a third meeting between the heated Skyland rivals, this time with a sectional championship on the line. Hunterdon Central has defeated Ridge twice, 7-6 and 5-1, on the way to clinching the Skyland Conference title.

Both, however, have to navigate a challenging sectional field that includes a couple conference rivals intent on spoiling plans for that third 2022 encounter.

Ridge draws a difficult Bridgewater-Raritan club with enough hitting and, certainly, the arms to make it a tough out in a quarterfinal game set for 2 p.m. on Saturday in Basking Ridge.

Hunterdon Central, meanwhile, will be a decided favorite against ninth-seeded Elizabeth (14-9-1) on Saturday and, should it survive, could draw league rival and fourth-seeded Watchung Hills (15-11) in the semifinals. The Warriors must get past a solid Bayonne club first.

We admit to paying a bit more attention to the Skyland Conference here at Diamond Nation because so many of our Diamond Jacks players assume critical roles for many of those squads.

Hunterdon Central’s Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers, Maryland-bound left-handed senior Kyle McCoy (5-0, 0.00 ERA) and junior lefty James Scott (5-2, 1.73 ERA) are Diamond Jacks, as are second baseman Chase Moskowitz (.378), third baseman Mike Contiliano (.427, 35 hits) and outfielders Nick Ferri (.356), committed to Seton Hall University. Scranton-bound Logan Mason (.358) has been in the middle of so many rallies for the Red Devils and is the team’s lights out closer, pitching to a 1.62 ERA. The sophomore Contiliano is also committed to Seton Hall.

Watchung Hills boasts 6-2, 200-pound junior catcher Martin Howell (.397, 3 HR, 29 RBI), a Penn State commit, and talented Stetson University-bound shortstop Lorenzo Meola (.435, 3 HR, 18 RBI) out of the Diamond Jacks program, as are outfielder John King (.300) and pitcher Nick Perillo (1.50 ERA in 9.1 innings). 

The Bridgewater-Raritan program is loaded with Diamond Jacks, including junior lefty Jason Cozzi (3-3, 3.50 ERA), who could get the start against Ridge. Cozzi lost a 3-1 decision to the Red Devils on May 9. His Panther teammates are fellow Diamond Jacks, as well. Junior infielder Michael Fattore (.470, 5 HR, 28 RBI), senior catcher Matt Salinger, freshman catcher J.R. Rosado (.312), junior infielder Jacob Rosado, sophomore pitcher Joe Letko, junior Matt Moore and infielder/pitcher Lou Arone all call Diamond Nation home.

Watchung Hills is guided by catcher Martin Howell.

Despite its high ranking, Pingry finds itself in the unenviable task of trying to navigate a South Jersey, Non-Public A sectional field that is as tough as they come.

The Martinsville-based school is seeded fifth in the section and travels today to fourth-seeded and perennial Shore power St. John Vianney for a 4 p.m. game. Should Pingry survive that challenge, next up will likely be St. Augustine Prep, the No. 1 ranked team in the state.

Diamond Jack Super 17U player Nick Lorenzo mans third base for Pingry and is batting .347 with 25 hits, 17 RBI, 20 walks and 15 stolen bases. Lorenzo has also registered 21.2 innings on the mound for Pingry and the righthander has 29 strikeouts and 18 walks and a skimpy 1.29 ERA. “Don’t sleep on Pingry,” warned Lorenzo in a recent chat with this writer.

Another Skyland Conference entity, Immaculata, presents a stronger state tournament case than one would think with its 11-12 record to date. As Lorenzo warned about his team, don’t sleep on the Spartans, who already own victories over Hunterdon Central, Shore Conference champ Red Bank Catholic and Bridgewater-Raritan. Immaculata defeated Newark Academy, 10-0, in the first round of North Jersey, Non-Public B and visits fourth-seeded Morristown Beard, the 2021 Non-Public B state runner-up, today at 4 p.m. A victory could set up the Spartans with a semifinal match-up with another Skyland Conference squad, top-seeded Rutgers Prep (18-5), a Somerset County Tournament finalist.

It’s a young Immaculata squad with a pair of impressive freshmen in the lineup with Diamond Jack roots. Third baseman Jayson Labrador (.347, 25 hits) and outfielder Jayden Capindica (.297, 19 hits) have played beyond their age. Senior infielder A.J. Johnson (.355), 27 hits, 3 HRs, 13 RBI) has been terrific. Sophomore catcher Danny Ferguson (.276), senior righthander Matt Warzeniak (32.2 IP, 36K, 2.14 ERA) and senior righty Aidan Rumain, who has given his team 21.2 innings on the mound, are also Diamond Jacks.

Somerville (14-13) has struggled to pair its potent lineup with consistently viable pitching and that is a recipe for challenges, especially when you are a Group 3 team competing against the Group 4 giants in the Skyland Conference. But the Pioneers have never backed down from a challenge and that is exactly what it faces in tomorrow’s noon clash against a season Hamilton squad in Central Jersey, Group 3.

The Pioneers bring plenty to the plate, though, so it would be foolish to take this club lightly, not with the likes of leadoff hitter Brayden Keller, No. 3 hitter Matty Wright and cleanup man Tyler Stone, all Diamond Jacks, fronting the lineup. Fellow Diamond Jacks pitcher Chase Wengryn (42.2 IP, 43K, 2.79 ERA), a sophomore, and right-handed junior Kolbie Stellpflug (39 IP, 38K, 3.41 ERA) play critical roles for Somerville, as well.

Wright, a lefty-hitting senior center fielder bound for Stony Brook, is hitting .465 with 33 hits and 18 RBI. Keller, a lefty-hitting junior, has produced in so many ways, as well. The first baseman is batting .328 with 21 hits, 14 RBI, 16 walks and 29 stolen bases. Stone, the third baseman, is hitting .373 with 28 hits, 27 runs and 21 RBI. He also has seven triples.

Meanwhile, 2021 NJSIAA Group 2 champion Voorhees defends its championship as the No. 4 seed in Central Jersey, Group 2. It plays host to 12th-seeded Nottingham tomorrow at 11 a.m.

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