North 1 Group 4 preview
16-Morris Knolls at 1-Ridgewood; 9-Memorial at 8-Randolph; 12-Kearny at 5-Roxbury;13-Bloomfield at 4-North Bergen; 14-West Orange at 3-Montclair; 11-Paterson Kennedy at 6-Livingston; 10-Clifton at 7-Wayne Valley; 15-Union City at 2-Passaic Tech.
Defending champion: Morris Knolls.
Team to beat: Ridgewood. The top-seeded Maroons carried a 17-6 mark into this weekend. Since starting the season 5-3, they’ve played exceptionally well every time out, including in a pair of close setbacks to Don Bosco. This is a lineup that just doesn’t give a pitcher a break. Kevin Skettini, who is 5-0 on the hill, Nico Symington, Kengo Kawahara, Kurt Hommen and Mike Coniglio all wield bats capable of doing significant damage. And, a tough schedule should have it primed for what lies ahead.
Sleeper to watch: Bloomfield. The 13th-seeded Bengals, who open against 4th-seeded North Bergen, built a head of steam in the week leading up to the start of the tournament, scoring wins over quality Essex County foes Nutley, Montclair and Millburn. Junior centerfielder Mike Carter, who has amassed over 100 career hits, is as smooth at the plate as he is ranging to get under a fly ball. Senior shortstop Jared Guglielmino is another part of the lineup to be concerned with while Jeremiah “Zeb” Smith has honed his skills on the mound against some of the best teams the county has to offer, so the pressure of the state tournament shouldn’t be a problem.
Interesting rematch: Clifton at Wayne Valley. Wayne Valley had to forfeit a win over Clifton in the first round of the Passaic County Tournament and could seek a measure of revenge. Brian Kokos has proven to be a front-end pitcher for Wayne Valley while doubling as an important stick in the lineup.
Pitchers beware: Randolph’s Connor McMahon has put together a quite the season. The athletic 6-4, 165-pound senior, who is heading to Lafayette, has accumulated over 40 hits.
Best first-round matchup: The Bloomfield-North Bergen tilt shouldn’t disappoint. North Bergen features a good pitching staff with A.J. Gale (5-1), Gianni Zayas (5-1), who hasn’t lost since Opening Day and is heading to North Carolina State and Marco Hernandez (4-2). The Bruins also count on an offense that’s deep with the potential to be explosive. Jeremy Cerda, P.J. Cardone, Jose Moreno, Willie Cruz, Brandon Diaz and Hernandez are integral parts of the lineup.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner