Baseball – Week 1 Jersey Mike’s Team of the Week: Shore
With a team heavy on sophomores and juniors and coming off a 2021 season in which it went 0-14 in Shore Conference Class A Central divisional play, the Shore Regional baseball team did not have an easy transition into the 2022 season.
The Blue Devils walked off the field after their first game of the season embarrassed, but not demoralized. Three days later, they came out inspired.
After a weekend to stir over a 23-0, season-opening loss to Red Bank Catholic -- the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 -- Shore came out on Monday intent on shocking the state and somehow pulled it off.
Three days after enduring the lopsided opening-day loss to the Caseys, Shore stunned RBC, 10-6, to end a 17-game division losing streak and beat the Caseys for the first time since 2014. Later in the week, Shore topped Raritan, 13-7, to add to its division win total and with those two inspired performances, the Blue Devils are the first Jersey Mike's Team of the Week of the 2022 baseball season.
After handling Shore in the opener, Red Bank Catholic sent a freshman to the mound for the second game against the Blue Devils, but it was not just any freshman. Already committed to pitch at the University of Virginia, 6-foot-5 Ryan Prior took the ball for his anticipated high school debut and ran into a team intent on bouncing back from its opening-day defeat.
Against Prior and talented sophomore Steven Svenson in relief, the Blue Devils worked a combined 10 walks against the two underclassmen and delivered four timely hits. Junior starting pitcher Christian Simonsen was 1-for-1 with an RBI and junior Donovan Hughes -- who picked up the save in relief -- delivered a big two-run single in the bottom of the sixth to extend Shore's lead to 10-4.
Sophomore catcher E.J. Stefanelli added a double and sophomore shortstop Joe Santi chipped in with a pair of runs scored in a 1-for-3 day at the plate for the Blue Devils.
On the mound, it was Simonsen and Hughes carrying Shore to the finish line. The two right-handers battled their own issues with the strike zone (11 combined walks) but fought their way out of trouble enough to let the offense take over. Simonsen allowed one earned run over the first four innings and turned a 7-4 lead over to Hughes, who gave up an earned run on two hits.
Shore's aggressive approach paid off, with the Blue Devils putting the ball in play enough to force five Red Bank Catholic errors. On the basepaths, the Blue Devils scored four of their 10 runs on wild pitches, despite playing on a home field with a backstop that is closer to home plate than is typical.
After three days to bask in the victory while inclement weather delayed their schedule, the Blue Devils returned to the field on Friday and slugged their way past Raritan. Simonsen, Santi and junior Lucas Rosa each doubled and contributed to the scoring, with Rosa driving in two runs, Santi scoring three and driving one in and Simonsen driving one in as well.
Sophomore Cole Stefanielli was also 2-for-3 with two RBI and junior John Dunleavy went 2-for-4 with an RBI for the Blue Devils, who leaned on Cole Stefanelli (three innings) and junior Rob Stock (four innings to earn the win) to handle the work on the mound.
Shore came down off its high with a loss to Point Pleasant Boro on Saturday, but it came in a competitive game. The host Panthers answered a three-run rally by Shore to go up 4-2 in the top of the sixth with a four-run rally in the bottom of the inning to take a 6-4 lead -- one the Panthers would protect until the final out.
The start to the season is all-the-more impressive considering Shore's lone all-division player from 2021 -- junior two-way player Rylan Fegan -- has been slowed by injury. A return by the left-hand pitcher and outfielder will be a boon to the already-improved lineup, whenever it happens.
It has been eight years since Shore won the NJSIAA Group I championship and with an inspired start to the season, plus a young roster that includes only one senior, the Blue Devils hope to be building toward another championship run.