Tough road ahead for HoVal baseball


By: Mike Molaro
   Looking at the Hopewell Valley Central High School baseball squad’s 2-8 record is an excellent opportunity to separate the pessimists from the optimists.
   The pessimist would focus on the eight-game losing streak and the extraordinarily high odds against the Bulldogs running the table to qualify for the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament.
   The optimist would look at HoVal slowly putting the pieces together and having the ability to win seven games in a row to have the necessary .500 record by the May 10 cut off date.
   Fortunately for the Bulldogs, head coach John Costantino falls into the latter group.
   "We’re making progress," the rookie head coach said. "We’ve done some good things recently. None of those have translated into runs, but the effort is there. I can see the progress. We’re doing a lot of little things that people don’t see.
   "I’m trying to stress to the guys that one thing can turn around a game. I’m waiting for that to happen for us."
   The Bulldogs on April 24 fell to Allentown, 4-2, at home as senior catcher Bob Piantoni went 2-for-3 and drove in a run.
   "We had some mental errors in this game that hurt us," added Costantino. "Allentown hits the ball well. I knew that coming into this game. They responded. You have to give teams like that credit."
   Nottingham recorded a 16-3 victory last Friday as sophomore right fielder Rob Salyga was 2-for-2 with a stolen base and a run batted in, junior center fielder Chris Borkowski scored a run and drove in a run, senior second baseman John Meszaros and freshman shortstop Mark Yuhas each had a hit and scored once, and Piantoni added an RBI.
   "This game was pretty much over before it started," Costantino said. "Nottingham hit a homer on the third pitch of the game. That was a real confidence booster for them. That’s what I’m talking about when I say that one play can turn a game around."
   In last Saturday’s Mercer County Tournament, sixth-seeded Steinert downed the 11th-seeded Bulldogs, 14-0.
   HoVal was held to just two hits, a single by Piantoni and a double by junior designated hitter Mike Williams.
   "This was a travesty," added Costantino. "We had a young pitcher (freshman Dan Hogan) on the mound. He was a little nervous. He hit three batters and walked two. He didn’t make it out of the first inning."
   With just three seniors starting (Piantoni, Meszaros, and right fielder Matt Boyle), there is a lot of experience coming back next season. Costantino is also laying the groundwork for his own timetable and some additions to the baseball program.
   "You spend a lot of time in your first year getting the guys to buy into your philosophy," he added. "Next year, we’re bringing in more coaches to allow us to specialize even more. This will allow us to do more with the kids.
   "Right now, (assistant coach) Jake Manning and I are spreading ourselves thin. You look at Jim Maher at Hamilton. He has nine coaches on the three (freshman, junior varsity, varsity) levels. Brian Giallella at Steinert has six varsity coaches. That allows them to do more. Additional coaches will help Jake and I to really focus on strengthening the guys’ overall game."
   For the Bulldogs to earn a berth in the state tournament — something Costantino routinely did as a player and assistant coach at Hamilton — they have to win their seven remaining games before May 10.
   "We would’ve liked to have been in a better position, but 2-8 is where we are," said Costantino. "We have to go 7-for-7. We’re trying to reschedule the Ewing game (postponed Tuesday because of rain) before May 10 to give us a slight cushion for a loss."
   "Most people wouldn’t even think about a shot at the state tournament. That was one of our goals and we can do it."
   Only a pessimist would think otherwise.