Due to the inclement weather that hit March and is creeping into April, the South Jersey high school baseball season may take a little longer to hit some steam. Yet once that happens, it should be an exciting season, with the usual suspects expected.
Just as a refresher, here are the defending sectional champions:
South Jersey Group 4: Clearview
South Jersey Group 3: Ocean City.
South Jersey Group 2: West Deptford.
South Jersey Group 1: Pennsville.
South Jersey Non-Public A: St. Augustine
South Jersey Non-Public B: Holy Cross.
Holy Cross, Pennsville and West Deptford ended up earning state championships.
Not surprisingly, all three teams figure to be competitive with West Deptford the team that appears to have the best chance to repeat as state champ.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but the Eagles have one of South Jersey’s top pitchers in lefthander Drew Wilden, who has signed with the University of Maryland.
Of all the Groups, it is not surprising that Group 4 seems to be the most competitive.
In The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Preseason Top 25, 10 were South Jersey Group 4 teams. They were led by No. 1 Eastern and followed by No. 3 Lenape, No. 8 Cherry Hill West, No. 9 Millville, No. 12 Washington Township, No. 13 Cherokee, No. 14 Shawnee, No. 16 Rancocas Valley, 20 Kingsway and No. 21 Egg Harbor Township.
Think about that for a minute. The NJSIAA lists 20 baseball schools in South Jersey Group 4 and half of them were in The Inquirer preseason Top 25.
What’s interesting is that defending South Jersey Group 4 champion Clearview wasn’t one of those teams in the preseason Top 25. That doesn’t mean that Pioneers won’t find a spot or won’t contend, but they did lose a lot to graduation. Mostly Clearview must replace lefthander Kenny Mendoza, who was the winning pitcher in Clearview’s 3-0 win over Millville in last year’s sectional final.
Mendoza finished with a 9-1 record and signed with the Texas Rangers after being selected in the 24th round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.
Eastern is an interesting team, expected to have South Jersey’s top offense, while likely earned the Vikings their No. 1 preseason selection.
Junior centerfielder Jack Herman leads the strong offense after hitting .533 last year. He has long had a commitment to attend the University of Maryland, but could surface as an early round selection in the 2018 MLB Draft.
As for this year’s draft?
The highest rated South Jersey player according to Baseball American is Delsea righthander Brad Dobzanski, who has signed with the University of Kentucky. Baseball America rates him as the 94th best overall (high school or college) draft prospect.
Another highly regarded player is Millville third baseman Buddy Kennedy, who has committed to the University of North Carolina. Kennedy figures to also be a potential high draft choice in what is shaping up as a talented senior class in South Jersey.
Back to teams, there likely won’t be a deeper division than the Olympic Conference American Division. In the aforementioned Top 25, the American Division teams are Eastern, Lenape, Washington Township, Cherokee and Shawnee (all in the top 14).
The American Division teams play each other twice a year, and it’s hard to envision any of those squads emerging undefeated in league play.
The season will get some momentum after there are more than just a few days of good weather, but once it happens, there is plenty to showcase both individually and team-wise in South Jersey baseball.
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