E.B. Junior Legion squad earns state playoff berth

By doug mckenzie
Staff Writer

By doug mckenzie
Staff Writer

The East Brunswick Junior American Legion team is enjoying its first stint in the Middlesex County league, earning a berth in tomorrow’s playoffs.

Head coach Joe Cruz’s squad had its final game of the regular season rained out on Tuesday, but still managed to get the seventh and final spot in the first round of the playoffs with an 11-7-1 overall mark.

"We were in fifth place [in the county], but with the rainout [Tuesday] night, and two other teams getting their games in, we slipped to seventh. So we just made it, thankfully."

The Bears will take on Father and Sons of Edison, the No. 2 seed, tomorrow night at 5:45 p.m. at Edison High School. Father and Sons finished at 16-4 for the regular season, with one of those wins coming against East Brunswick, 11-5.

"Not to take anything away from them, because they are an excellent team, but I think we could have given them a better run if our pitching staff was in order," Cruz said. "We played them coming off three games in a row and had to use an outfielder as our pitcher. We gave up five runs in one inning just because his arm gave out on him."

Tomorrow night, Cruz won’t have to worry about who’s pitching, since all of his guys are available, starting with Nicholas Meyers, the squad’s top gun. But if Meyers struggles, Cruz can use any of his other arms, including No. 2 starter Justin Kaplan, Angel Sotomayer, David Cruz (the coach’s son) or Robert Drako.

East Brunswick had what the coach described as "pretty good" pitching depth this year, though it was severely tested by the number of make-up games following last month’s rain.

"The rainouts really made it tough, because we went from playing two games in a row to playing three or four in a row," he said. "I’ve had outfielders pitching for us at times, and they did a fine job. But every team in the league had the same handicap."

Offensively, the Bears have been solid, with a nucleus of 10 players helping the squad make its first season of legion ball a successful one.

At the top of the lineup is Meyers, who plays first base when not pitching. He is followed by the shortstop Kaplan. Another shortstop, Sotomayer, bats in the three hole, with left fielder Eric Zimmerman in the clean-up spot.

Utility man Anthony Viani occupies the fifth spot in the lineup, and is followed by third baseman Drako and second baseman Cruz.

Among the other players that filter their way into the lineup are center fielder Joseph Giaquinto, catcher Michael Kerwin and utility man Zachary Tardiff, who has seen time at center field, behind the plate and on the pitcher’s mound this year.

"Those are the 10 guys that have been there 100 percent for us this year and have brought us to where we’re at," Cruz said. "They’re the ones who have battled it out."

The East Brunswick squad also received contributions from a handful of players who played when available, as they had other commitments (such as all-star teams) as well. That group included first baseman Richard Auteri, catcher Jason Karlowski, catcher Bill Krapf, third baseman David Silitsky and catcher Frank Steinhauser.

Tomorrow’s game represents the first game in the single-elimination state playoffs. Five teams will emerge from Middlesex County to play in the district tournament next week. The top team will head to Linden to play in the Northern Division round, while the other four will head to Tabernacle for the Southern Division round.

St. Joseph’s Green, which ended the regular season at 19-0, has earned the top spot in the Northern Division, and a bye tomorrow night.

The other playoff games being held tomorrow night include No. 5 North Brunswick (13-7) at No. 4 Bishop Ahr (14-5), and No. 6 Fords (12-7) at No. 3 Holmdel (14-5).

The remainder of the Middlesex County teams’ seasons are over. Milltown Post 25 finished the summer at 9-8; South River was 7-10; while Sayreville was 2-14.