Staff Report

One of the most prestigious high school baseball tournaments in New Jersey kicks off this week — weather permitting — as an unofficial South Jersey champion will be crowned later this month at Alcyon Park in Pitman.

St. Augustine Prep, the defending champion, garnered the No. 3 seed behind Shawnee and Gloucester Catholic in this year’s Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, which this season has been expanded from 16 teams to 24. The first round is now basically a “play-in” round, as the top eight seeds receive first-round byes, meaning the other 16 teams have to fight it out to take on one of the top eight seeds in the opening round. Most play-in round games are happening on Wednesday, with the first-round games set for Saturday at the top eight seeds’ home fields. The quarterfinals are scheduled for May 10, the semifinals are Saturday, May 13 at Deptford and the championship game is set for Wednesday, May 17 at Alcyon Park in Pitman.

Here’s a quick look at the play-in round matchups, and how the top eight made it into the bye round:

No. 1 Shawnee (12-1): The Renegades have ripped off 12 straight wins after a season-opening loss against Cherokee, including a 4-3 win over Vineland, one of the top teams in the Cape-Atlantic League, and a 3-2 win over Bishop Eustace at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Mainland. Their pitching depth will be tested this week, however, as they are scheduled to play Monday through Thursday, four straight games.

No. 2 Gloucester Catholic (7-4): The Rams got off to a rough start, going 3-3 in their first six games, but have gotten healthy and playing a tough schedule has helped mold this team into a real threat. They are coming off two straight wins, including a win over St. Augustine Prep, and face a tough road test today at Kingsway.

No. 3 St. Augustine Prep (10-3): We could see a rematch in the quarterfinals vs. Gloucester Catholic if the seeds hold. The Hermits haven’t been hitting the ball great this season, but have really done well on the mound, led by Marco Levari and C.J. Furey. The Hermits lost two straight after a nine game winning streak, but got back on track to close out April with a 9-3 win over Audubon.

Marco Levari and St. Augustine Prep, owners of nine wins already this season, are the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, which begins on Wednesday. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

No. 4 Egg Harbor Township (8-5): The Eagles have been a little inconsistent since losing one of their top players, Rutgers commit Justin Sweeney, for the season due to injury. When Coastal Carolina commit Cam Flukey pitches the Eagles are all but unbeatable. He has exactly a 0.00 ERA and has 49 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched. EHT is only hitting .272 as a team so they’ll have to pick it up with the bats to make some noise in this tournament.

No. 5 Kingsway (9-3): The Dragons are always a tough out, and this year is no different. Their three losses are to Audubon, St. Augustine Prep and Ocean County stalwart Jackson Memorial. They have signature wins over Washington Township and Bishop Eustace.

No. 6 Bishop Eustace (8-5): The Crusaders don’t have the kind of sparkling record they normally do this time of year, but they play a tough schedule. They’ve battled teams like Eastern, St. Augustine Prep, Clearview, Kingsway and Ranney and lost just 3-2 to Shawnee. They’ll be ready for this stage.

No. 7 Vineland (10-3): The Fighting Clan have been flourishing under Kyle Jones and have won seven of their last eight games. They have beaten teams like Lenape, Mainland, EHT and Hammonton, and lost just 4-3 to Shawnee in the second game of the season.

No. 8 Buena (13-0): One of the few remaining unbeaten teams in the state, the Chiefs have a big test with a home-and-home matchup against Absegami today and tomorrow. Their schedule gets a whole lot tougher later in the season with games against the likes of Cedar Creek and Vineland, but this tournament is an opportunity for Buena to show it’s for real.

PLAY-IN MATCHUPS:

No. 17 Cherry Hill West at No. 16 Lenape, winner at No. 1 Shawnee: Don’t sleep on Lenape, the Indians have some good wins and half their six losses have come by one run.

No. 24 Holy Cross at No. 9 Audubon, winner at No. 8 Buena: Don’t be surprised if Audubon pulls an upset or two. The Green Wave already has wins over Kingsway, Cinnaminson, West Deptford and Haddonfield.

No. 21 Collingswood at No. 12 Delsea Regional, winner at No. 5 Kingsway: Delsea has to feel a little slighted at this seeding, as the Crusaders are 8-2, the defending South Jersey Group 3 champion and have won six straight. Don’t be surprised at all to see this team in the quarterfinals or even semifinals.

No. 20 Mainland at No. 13 Cedar Creek, winner at No. 4 Egg Harbor Township: A big-time Cape-Atlantic League matchup here. Cedar Creek advancing won’t be easy, Mainland is used to playing tournament baseball and is a very scrappy team that takes advantage of mistakes.

No. 14 Cherry Hill East at No. 19 Cinnaminson, winner at No. 3 St. Augustine Prep: Watch out for Cinnaminson, the Pirates are 9-3 and have won four of their last five.

No. 22 Pennsville at No. 11 Haddon Heights, winner at No. 6 Bishop Eustace: That’s a long bus ride for Pennsville, and Haddon Heights has been playing well, having won six straight.

No. 23 Lower Cape May at No. 10 Cherokee, winner at No. 7 Vineland: The Chiefs can definitely swing the bats as they are hitting .324 as a team and have scored 82 runs in 12 games. They also have a 2.61 team ERA.

No. 18 Ocean City at No. 15 Paul VI, winner at No. 2 Gloucester Catholic: Don’t be shocked to see an upset here. Ocean City has won five of its last six games and have scored more than 10 runs in four of those contests. The Red Raiders scored less than five runs in four of their first eight games and they went 3-5 in that stretch.