Last season, teams from the seven-county South Jersey area failed to win an NJSIAA state championship and only one team, Shawnee (Group 3), advanced to a final.
A year later, Pitman, Audubon, Ocean City and Gloucester Catholic will vie for state championships in Saturday's title games at Toms River East, North or South.
Here is a preview of the games involving local teams.
Group 1. Pitman (22-4) vs. Whippany Park (20-3), 11 a.m. at Toms River East. Pitman coach Gene Reid said he would likely go with lefthander Steve Schuler (9-1). Shortstop Nick Capelli went 2 for 3 with a run and two RBIs in Wednesday's 7-6, state-semifinal win over Robbinsville. Capelli is batting .406 with 29 runs and 12 RBIs from the leadoff spot.
Whippany Park coach Barry Russomano said his candidates to pitch were senior righthanders Pasquale LaBracio (5-1) and Matt Mantione (7-0). Mantione is hitting .586 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs.
Group 2. Audubon (21-5) vs. West Essex (27-3), 12:30 p.m. at Toms River South.
While Audubon took a bus to Rutgers, only to be rained out Tuesday before winning Wednesday's state semifinal, 13-3, over Spotswood, West Essex did play Tuesday.
West Essex righthander P.J. Lawless (7-0) went the distance and would be eligible to pitch under NJSIAA pitching rules. The starter is expected to be junior righthander Dan Gautieri (6-0, 1.42).
Audubon coach Rich Horan said he would pitch senior righthander Wade Gies (8-2, 1.98 ERA). Gies has not thrown since a complete-game, 4-3 win over Buena on May 28.
Senior shortstop John Flacco, who is batting .527 with six home runs and 44 RBIs, has been Audubon's offensive leader. His brother Brian, a junior second baseman, is hitting .519 with 4 home runs and 41 RBIs.
Group 3. Ocean City (21-8) vs. Cranford (25-5), 11 a.m. at Toms River North.
Ocean City coach Craig Mensinger says he will go with Connor Ortolf (7-2, 1.22 ERA). The Lafayette-bound lefhander is well rested, having last pitched May 28 in a complete-game, 9-2 win over Highland in the South Jersey Group 3 final.
Second baseman Brian Longo (.427, 41 runs, 18 RBIs) drives the offense.
Cranford coach Dennis McCaffery says he could use one of two lefthanders, Ryan Williamson (4-2, 3.28 ERA) or Nick Cook (5-1, 1.80), or righthander Kurt Rutmeyer (6-1, 1.28). Cook is a Widener recruit.
Junior first baseman Greg Matiosz is batting .387 with 35 RBIs for Cranford.
Non-Public B. Gloucester Catholic (23-7) vs. Morristown-Beard (21-8), 2 p.m. at Toms River North.
Morristown-Beard coach John Sheppard says his likely starter is junior Jack Fleming (10-1). Fleming pitched a complete game and struck out nine in Tuesday's 9-6 North Jersey title win over St. Mary's Rutherford.
Catcher Ryan Kinsella, an Elon recruit, is batting .448 with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Gloucester Catholic coach Dennis Barth said he was leaning toward starting junior lefthander Cody Brown (8-1, 2.08). Brown has won all three playoff games, beating Mater Dei, 4-0; Sacred Heart, 15-2, in five innings; and St. Rose, 4-2.
The Rams have a balanced offense. Seven players have 23 or more RBIs, led by Tim Patterson and Joe Brooks, each with 28.