Manville armed and ready for baseball season

Anderson, Snyder, Jurkowski back on mound

By: Rudy Brandl
   If the 2002 high school baseball season turns into an arms race, then Manville High should be in very good shape.
   The Mustangs return three quality pitchers from last year’s team that posted a 10-7 record and qualified for the Central Jersey Group 1 playoffs. Although most of the last year’s top hitters graduated, the Mustangs expect to compete for the Valley Division title because of their solid, deep pitching staff.
   "We’ve got some pitching," MHS skipper Steve Venuto said. "I’m looking for consistency, especially with the top three guys. They just have to do their job."
   Senior right-hander John Anderson returns as the ace of the staff. Anderson, now in his third full year of varsity ball, is a workhorse who can log plenty of innings. He’ll get the ball at least once a week.
   Venuto, a fine high school pitcher in his playing days at Middlesex, is expecting Anderson to take charge on the mound. Anderson has pitched in his fair share of big games and should be able to handle the stopper role.
   "John’s got to be dominant," Venuto said. "He’s pitched over the winter and he’s learned. He’s got to be in control and put guys away with two strikes. He has to become a complete pitcher."
   Juniors Robert Snyder and Justin Jurkowski will get the rest of the starts for the Mustangs. Snyder has worked on his mechanics and is very effective when he throws strikes. Jurkowski has a live arm and a nasty breaking pitch.
   "Justin and Robert have some experience under their belt now," Venuto said. "They just have to learn from their past mistakes and overcome them."
   All three returning hurlers made their team goals known in the off-season and Venuto is counting on them to deliver. Anderson, Snyder and Jurkowski agreed that the Mustangs will be in contention for the Valley Division title.
   "I’m holding those guys to that," Venuto said. "We had a little taste of it last year when we were in the hunt for a while. I told them from day one we want to go for it. We want to make a run for something this year."
   While the same guys will be throwing the ball this spring, the Mustangs will have a completely new look at the top of their batting order. The graduation of Jason Perone, Gregg Snyder and Bryan Galumbus, who batted 1-3 in last year’s lineup, leaves Venuto searching for new table-setters and run-producers.
   It might take a few weeks before the Mustangs have a set batting order. The defensive alignment appears somewhat clear and defined, but the batting order could take on several forms before Venuto is satisfied.
   The infield is very versatile and interchangeable depending on who’s pitching. Anderson will play first base when he’s not on the mound, which would likely send senior Anthony Conti to the bench. Jurkowski is the regular shortstop and Snyder plays third base.
   Junior transfer John Saladin will play a key role as the utility infielder, covering for Jurkowski or Snyder when they pitch. Saladin could also play second base if Venuto decides to move senior Orlando Rodriguez to the outfield. Saladin, who moved into town from Edison, could also see action on the mound.
   Several candidates are in the hunt for outfield positions. Sophomore Eddie Gryzeski looks good in left field, with junior Joey Pohl in center and senior Chris Hardgrove in right. Senior Ian Shaute and juniors Jon Gangwer and Jon Pfoutz are also in the mix. Hardgrove could also be used as a designated hitter.
   Junior Jimmy Thomaszfski takes over behind the plate. Pohl and Pfoutz, a utility man who can play third base, could also see action at catcher.
   Manville’s infield looks very solid, especially with the addition of Saladin, who’s also one of several candidates for the leadoff spot. Rodriguez, Pohl and Gryzeski could also find themselves in the 1-2 spots in the order. Rodriguez figures to bat somewhere in the top three positions.
   Anderson will probably bat cleanup, with Hardgrove, Thomaszfski and Gryzeski following. Venuto lies Gryzeski in the sixth spot because of his ability to run, make contact and drive in runs.
   Jurkowski will probably bat ninth since Venuto loves having speed at the bottom of the order. Jurkowski is versatile with the glove and the bat and may also show a little more power at the plate this year.
   "We have a lot of options with the batting order," Venuto said. "We have to see what happens."
   The Mustangs will have to find some new sources of offense in 2002. Otherwise, the pitchers will have to be near-perfect.
   "We know we have the experience," Snyder said. "If we’re on our game, we know we can win. We know we have to pitch to keep our team in the game early in the season, but we’re working harder than last year. We might have to carry the team at the beginning with our leadership and experience, but we still have to score some runs."
   It’s not uncommon for the pitchers to be ahead of the hitters early in the season. As long as the MHS bats catch up eventually, the team will be just fine.
   The combination of the new field construction and last week’s inclement weather didn’t help the situation for a team that needs at-bats.
   "It’s just a matter of getting in the box and doing the job," Venuto said. "I think we can do some things with the bat. We have to get more live pitching."
   "A lot of guys haven’t seen varsity pitching," Snyder added. "That’s a big jump from jayvee."
   The Mustangs will see some serious live pitching in the opening week against Union County foes New Providence and Jonathan Dayton Regional. If the bats come around and the pitchers do their thing, it could be a big-time season for the Mustangs.