Local high school baseball teams celebrated unprecedented achievements during the past three seasons.
St. Augustine Prep won a state title in 2011. Buena Regional and Ocean City reached state finals in 2012 and 2010, respectively. They are the only Cape-Atlantic League public schools to reach a state final since the state tournament began in 1971.
Will the success of local teams continue when this season begins Monday?
The following is a preview of the local teams. Teams have been placed into four categories:
Favorite: The teams to beat.
Contender: Should be right there for a league title and playoff spot.
Spoiler: If things go right, these teams could pull some upsets and qualify for the playoffs.
Rebuilding: Better days are ahead.
Favorite: St. Augustine Prep
Contenders: Hammonton; Egg Harbor Township
St. Augustine Prep should be one of the top teams in the state. The Hermits feature a talented pitching staff but are also strong up the middle with catcher Barry Buchowksi, who enters the season with 82 career hits, and shortstop Christian Adorno, who batted .396 with 23 stolen bases last season.
Hammonton features junior pitcher Justin Smith, one of the region's best. Smith pitched the Blue Devils to the South Jersey Group III title last season with four playoff wins. He finished 10-2 with a 1.26 ERA. Alex Padovani is a standout outfielder.
Egg Harbor Township catcher Troy Dixon has committed to play for St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., on a partial scholarship. Dixon batted .500 (35-for-70) with 18 RBIs last season.
Millville graduated two standout pitchers - Press Player of the Year Andrew Biggs and Aaron Cox. But the Thunderbolts are strong up the middle with shortstop Emilio Santiago and second baseman Roberto Rivera. Junior Kyle Cox, who is Aaron's younger brother, will spark the offense.
Absegami could feature an entire lineup of underclassmen. The Braves (6-15) lost eight one-run games last season. Sophomore Matt Ardente will pitch and play the outfield.
Favorite: Mainland Regional
Spoiler: Holy Spirit; Atlantic City
Mainland features several talented players. Tommy Bradway (OF) batted .351 last season and is a four-year starter. Senior Colin O'Shea batted .333 last season and is a three-year starter. Four-year starter Alex DeNafo (2B/SS) anchors the infield, and pitcher Matt Tepedino is an NCAA Division I prospect.
Holy Spirit (16-10 last season) returns a solid core of seniors. Catcher Rich Hopkins batted .340 last season. Senior left fielder Ryan Solari is a power hitter. Senior Gannon White (2B/P) missed of all last season after undergoing shoulder surgery but is healthy this year.
Vineland returns an experienced group from last season's 10-15 team. Seniors Don Money and Mark Rowan lead the pitching staff.
Oakcrest (14-13) must find a way to replace some of the batting power it lost to graduation, most notably first-team Press All-Star Cody Stashak. Among the Falcons' returning players are junior Brent Theriault and Kenny Merlock. Oakcrest has steadily improved during the preseason but must continue to do so.
Atlantic City (15-10) is the defending division champion, but the Vikings graduated most of their 2012 pitching staff. Atlantic City does return experienced position players in Jon Bruccoleri (OF), Mike Monacello (C) and Matt Dicerbo (1B).
Contenders: Buena Regional; Ocean City
Spoilers: Middle Township; Sacred Heart
Rebuilding: Lower Cape May Regional; St. Joseph
Harry Grose takes over for George West (now an assistant principal at Egg Harbor Township) at Buena Regional. The Chiefs finished 25-8 and lost in the state Group II final to Mahwah 11-4. Buena returns several key players, most notably center fielder Robert Bunton. He is one of five returning position players who started in the state title game.
Ocean City features pitching depth and team speed. Beau Hall, who will continue his career at Georgetown, should be one of the league's top pitchers and center fielders. Hall was 8-2 last season.
Former Vineland coach and Buena Regional assistant Tom Ryder takes over Sacred Heart. Senior Chris Repice returns on the mound and at first base for the Lions.
Middle Township (11-12 last season) could surprise in this division. Senior Doug Schwartz (1B/P) batted .540 last season. Catcher Zack Vogelei has 85 career hits.
Lower Cape May will rely on shortstop and pitcher Josh Pennington, who batted .324 and had a 1.64 ERA last season. Senior Denny Olson will bat cleanup but he's out until mid-April with a broken hand.
Rich Chini, who led Egg Harbor Township the CAL American Conference title in 2007, takes over at St. Joseph. The Wildcats feature junior Alex Craig (P/INF) and senior catcher Luke Ordille. Chini said the Wildcats could start several freshmen by the time the season is over.
Contender: Cedar Creek
Spoiler: Wildwood Catholic
Rebuilding: Bridgeton; Pleasantville; Cape May Tech
Cedar Creek (10-14) has a promising outlook as the Pirates return nearly their entire team and a few new players. Seniors Chris Newman (OF/P) and JD Langlois (P/INF) lead the team. Sophomore Zach Newman brings offensive power.
Wildwood Catholic (6-16) returns plenty of young talent. The Crusaders will rely on the sophomore trio of Kevin Laffey (.388 average last season); Tyler Norris (P/CF) and Sal Zampirri (10-for-24 last season).
Bridgeton (3-22 in 2012) returns senior pitcher Eymar Huerta, who threw two complete games in 2012, and junior outfielder Jason Davis, who led the team with 13 stolen bases.
Senior Rease Pearson (P/CF) leads a Pleasantville team that won three games last season.
Rebuilding: Lacey; Wildwood; Cumberland Regional; Southern Regional; Pinelands Regional
Barnegat graduated standout pitcher Mark McCoy, who is now at Wake Forest. But the Bengals return six position players, including sophomore catcher Nick Fraim, who started as a freshman.
Southern is rebuilding but returns key veterans in pitcher/shortstop Dan Higgins (.333 average last season) and catcher Mark Heslin.
Lacey Township senior Donovan Waller should be one of the top pitchers in the Shore Conference A South Division.
Pinelands features a young team. The Wildcats will rely on senior pitcher and third baseman John Arch.
Wildwood returns two starters from last season's 18-13 team. Junior third baseman and outfielder Devon Bradshaw batted. 337 with 31 RBIs in 2012. Junior center fielder and pitcher Matt Bolle has 41 career hits.
Sam Parks, a former assistant coach at Rowan University, takes over a Cumberland Regional team that was 6-14 last season.
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