Baseball: Groups 1 & 2 championship previews
GROUP 1 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
AT TOMS RIVER SOUTH
POMPTON LAKES (22-3) vs. AUDUBON (23-6), 2
PLAYERS TO WATCH
POMPTON LAKES: John Steele (Jr. C .459, 27 RBI, 11 doubles, 3 triple, 3 HRs, 16 stolen bases); Dan Foote (Jr. 2B .406, 20 RBI, 8 doubles, .512 OBP); Sean Lindberg (Jr. SS .393, 25 runs, 21 RBI, 14 stolen bases, 8 doubles, 3 HRs); Jose Arroyo (Jr. LF .429, 33 hits, 23 runs, 18 RBI); Mike Coss (So. LHP 7-0, 1.47 ERA, 62 IP, 82 K); Brian Piccinnini (Sr. LHP 7-0, 0.62 ERA, 35 IP, 57 Ks).
AUDUBON: Boomer Wickersham (C .402, 35 hits, 27 RBI); Josh McShane (LF .392 30 runs); Andrew Schorr (LHP 9-1, 0.91 ERA, 61 1/3 IP, 114 Ks).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
POMPTON LAKES: Coss is armed with a filthy curveball and he’s not afraid to use. The heady southpaw, one of three in the rotation along with Piccinnini and junior Kevin Magee (6-1), hammers the strike zone with his breaking pitch and will throw it no matter where he stands in the count. He can backdoor it on right-handers, bend it on the inside corner versus lefties and roll hitters’ hands to induce plenty of ground balls for a quality defensive infield to devour. The only thing that may trump his deuce is the ace’s steady, unbreakable composure.
Steele destroys the myth that catchers lack speed. He flat out flies, one of the many reasons he leads off for the Cardinals. In the 7-2 state semifinal victory over Ridgefield, it laced three lined shots and the fourth, a slower roller in the infield, he legged out for a single that touched off a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth.
Foote boasts a sharp eye, as his four walks against Ridgefield would suggest. In fact, that is a common thread in a lineup that worked out nine versus the Royals.
Lindberg is a strong, powerful right-handed hitter with good pop to the opposite field. Cleanup hitter Larry Gelok has some power and history of exploding with runners in scoring postion. He knocked in two runs in the win on Tuesday.
AUDUBON: The defending Group 2 state champion has been a mainstay as a yearly contender in this field. Schorr, who is bound for East Carolina, has a propensity for making hitters miss and occasionally chase offerings out of the zone. He also does a great job of helping his own cause, batting .400 with 37 runs to complement the 25 he’s knocked in.
GROUP 2 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
AT TOMS RIVER EAST
MAHWAH (23-6) vs. BUENA (25-7), 2
PLAYERS TO WATCH
MAHWAH: Brendan Brown (Sr. RF .437, 38 hits, 22 RBI, 9 doubles); Cole Fabio (Jr. SS .356, 10 doubles); Eric Kaplan (Jr. DH .372, 12 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HRs, 16 RBI); Adam Hanig (Sr. 2B .385, 39 hits, 23 RBI, 8 doubles); Matt Krupa (So. 1B .337, 13 RBI); Chris Baldi (Jr. RHP 11-2, 1.14 ERA, 92 IP, 75 Ks, 3 SHOs); Shane Woelfel (So. CF/RHP .329, 18 RBI, 6-0); Andy Shuart (Sr. 3B 19 RBI) C.J. Musumeci (Jr. C .14 RBI.
BUENA: Anthony Lopez (Sr. SS .454, 49 hits, 34 RBI); Justin Geri (Sr. RHP 8-1); Robert Bunton (Jr. CF .361, 39 hits, 11 stolen bases).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
MAHWAH: As good as Baldi has been – and, he’s been downright dominating – so, too, has the Thunderbirds’ offense. Since opening state tournament play with a 1-0 victory over Kittatinny, Mahwah has scored 40 runs over the last four contests, accumulating 46 hits in the process.
Seemingly no one has been left out in terms of contributions but two have been utterly explosive. Kaplan has generated four doubles, a triple, a homer and half of his 16 RBI during the tournament while Fabio has delivered four doubles and four RBI within that time frame.
As for Baldi, all he’s done is pick up four wins, including a five-inning, no-hitter that needed only 56 pitches to be completed in an 11-0 victory over Pequannock.
This marks the second trip to the state championship for the Thunderbirds in the last five years. They bowed to Allentown in 2007 and are seeking their first group title.
BUENA: Buena is making its first appearance in a state championship and does so behind Geri and Lopez. The two have accounted for all five wins in the tournament (Geri with three, Lopez has two) and have been instrumental figures offensively. Lopez has lashed three doubles and two triples in the post season.
Bunton instills plenty of energy out of the leadoff spot.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner