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South Jersey Group 4 Baseball Preview

South Jersey Group 4 Baseball Preview
Usually there are several contenders for the South Jersey Group 4 baseball championship and this year is no exception. There is so much balance that even more than the usual number of contenders could emerge in this balanced field. As deep as SJ Group 3 is, Group 4 may be deeper with more teams capable of contending. Here is a look at the tournament which begins he week of May 20.
 
Defending Champion: Third seeded Jackson defeated No. 9 seed Shawnee, 1-0 in the SJ Group 4 final.
Favorite: Shawnee. The Renegades have reached the Joe Hartman Diamond Classic championship and the competition in that tournament will clearly help in the Group 4 tourney.
Other Contenders: Jackson, Eastern, Kingsway, Cherry Hill East, Toms River North. No doubt, other contenders could emerge from this deep field. Jackson won’t relinquish its sectional championship very easily.
Dark Horse: Lenape. The Indians are expected to be a No. 13 seed, but they are playing their best baseball heading into the tournament. Despite entering the week just 12-7, the Indians have won five in a row, which includes a 4-2 victory over Shawnee as Bryan Feldman allowed just one earned run in five innings. Lenape has played one of the tougher schedules in South Jersey and the Indians should be primed for a Group 4 run.
Outlook: Shawnee had lost four of five games before beating St. Augustine, 4-3 in eight innings in a Diamond Classic second round game. The Renegades then earned a trip to the title game with a 3-1 semifinal win over Bishop Eustace. Both wins came on Saturday, meaning the Renegades defeated two of the leading contenders for the South Jersey Non-Public A title in one day. (St. Augustine is the defending state champ as well). Senior Jackson Balzan (5-0, 0.86 ERA) leads a deep Shawnee staff. Will the Renegades have the consistent offense needed to get through Group 4? That is the key question.
 
Jackson began the week 17-3, but the Jaguars will have to regroup after being upset by Toms River East, 1-0 in the Ocean County Tournament. Sophomore Matt Potok (6-0, 0.91) leads the Jackson staff. It wouldn’t be surprising if Jackson and Shawnee met again in the final, but there are plenty of other teams ready to contend. Eastern and Cherry Hill East of the always deep Olympic Conference American Division bear watching. Eastern has some big wins, over the likes of Shawnee, Gloucester Catholic (in the Diamond Classic) and Mainland. The Vikings can beat anybody and like the rest of the American Division teams, has played a brutal schedule. Cherry Hill East has split its games with Shawnee and owns a victory over Group 3 favorite Cherry Hill West.
 
Kingsway has been up and down, but the Dragons own a win over Shawnee and can’t be discounted. Actually, either can the likes of Rancocas Valley, Clearview and Williamstown. Don’t be surprised if plenty of lower seeded teams earn wins in this up-for-grabs section.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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