Baseball teams should contend in divisional races

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff Colts Neck's Ashton Jackson looks to lay down a bunt during a recent game against Red Bank Catholic in Colts Neck.CHRIS KELLY staff Colts Neck’s Ashton Jackson looks to lay down a bunt during a recent game against Red Bank Catholic in Colts Neck. If last season can be used as a barometer, the 2006 high school baseball season should be a winning one in the Freehold Regional District.

Colts Neck, Freehold Borough and Freehold Township were all state playoff teams in 2005, and each returns most of its line-up.

Manalapan, a traditional postseason participant, is poised to return there under first-year coach Brian Boyce.

Colts Neck has everything it needs to challenge for the B North Division title. Mike Yorke’s club has pitching, hitting and defense in spades.

Sophomore Anthony DeSclafani did what few pitchers can do on the varsity level, be a dominant pitcher as a freshman. He was the key to the team’s record-setting season, going 5-4 with a stingy 1.55 earned run average. In 54.1 innings of work, he fanned 62, showing he could overpower hitters as a ninth-grader.

SCOTT PILLING staff Freehold Township's Tom Porricelli fires the ball to first during the Patriots' season-opening loss to top-ranked CBA on April 1.SCOTT PILLING staff Freehold Township’s Tom Porricelli fires the ball to first during the Patriots’ season-opening loss to top-ranked CBA on April 1. Colts Neck already had a pair of sophomores in J.D. Rusbarsky and Dominick Hayes, who had proved themselves from the get-go.

Shortstop Rusbarsky not only plays a mean defense, but is one of the top offensive players in the area. He batted .417 in 2005 on 35 hits, of which 15 went for extra bases – nine doubles, three triples and three home runs. He scored 28 times and had 18 RBIs.

Hayes is outstanding with the glove as well, patrolling center field. He’s a major part of the offense, coming off a season in which he had 40 hits and batted .392. He scored 19 times and had 17 RBIs. The junior is also part of the pitching rotation, having gone 3-3 last year.

Matt Yuhas, now a sophomore, showed promise last year on the mound coming up with DeSclafani. The Cougars have depth on the mound.

Also returning are Ashton Jackson (outfield) and Pete Salvati (infield).

Ethan Jacobson (first base), Joe Trucano (outfield) and John Whitley (pitcher) are newcomers to the lineup.

Colts Neck has gotten off to a good start at 2-1. Friday DiSclafani held a powerful Freehold Borough lineup to six hits in nine innings as the Cougars pulled out an 8-3 extra inning win.

Just two years ago, Freehold Township won the A North Division public schools crown and took that success to the Central Jersey Group IV championship game.

Head coach Frank Gualtieri’s team has a similar look to it with a solid corps of seniors (nine, five starters) ready to out with a championship. Last year, they proved they can compete with the best when a late-season push put them in the state playoffs, where they pulled off a pair of upsets on the road and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Key is a very strong starting rotation with Brett Brach, Sean Stewart and Jason Elo, all proven winners on the varsity level. Mike Kinsella, Ian MacLean and Roger Wilmot are there in the wings to provide relief help when needed.

Pitching depth will not be a problem for the Patriots.

Outfielder Damian Csakai heads the group of everyday starters. He led the team in just about every offensive category last year, including batting average (.415), runs (20), hits (39) stolen bases (16) and at bat (94). He was the team’s catalyst. With his speed, a walk was as good as a double. His defense in the outfield can’t be overlooked.

Third baseman Mike LaCava batted .309 with 18 runs scored and 12 RBIs.

Chase Majewski (outfield) and Brian Cooney (outfield), both juniors, could be the team’s big surprises this year. Both had good preseasons.

Rounding out the 2006 Patriots squad are Matt Porricelli (second base), Dan Bava (infield), Tom Porricelli (shortstop), Chris Ballester (shortstop) and John Weir (catcher).

Last year’s taste of state-playoff success showed the Patriots what they can do. But if they are to contend for A North and sectional titles, they need to overcome their tendency to let teams off the hook.

“They have to understand that they have to play a full seven innings,” said Gualtieri. “Finish what we started is our theme. We’ve stressed to the kids that consistency is the key.”

After an opening-game loss to Christian Brothers Academy, the Patriots bounced back with a pair of wins to be 2-1 in the division after the first week of play. They are right where they want to be.

Manalapan is built for division play with as good a one-two rotation as there is in B.J. Martin and Kevin Ernst. Both are power pitchers. Martin fanned 73 in 46.1 innings of work in ’05, while Ernst struck out 49 in 43.1 innings.

Martin has gotten off to a 2-0 start after tossing a three-hitter in a 6-1 win at Howell.

Dave Becker will be one of the keys to Manalapan’s offense. He batted .367 last year and had six doubles, 11 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Martin helped himself and the team out with bat. He hit .375 and had a team-high 15 RBIs.

Frank Pyzik (pitcher/outfield), Joe Volpe (catcher/designated hitter) and D.J. Alie (outfield) are the other returning starters.

Nick Turano (catcher/third base), Mike Kircher (shortstop), Shawn McGrane (pitcher/second base) and Tom Detore (catcher/outfield) are the newcomers expected to make an impact this spring.

Lack of offensive production held the Braves back last year and they’ll need to improve on that to really contend. But they are 2-1 after the first week of action and have been scoring runs, which bodes well for the season.

Martin had a round-tripper against Howell, as did MacGrane. That’s a very good sign for Manalapan.

Another team with all the ingredients needed to contend is Freehold Borough. They returned two of the area’s finest players in Ryan Cuneo and Jason Nardi, both, who are seniors this year. The are co-captains along with John Marx, another key returner.

Cuneo, who has already signed with the University of Delaware, is one of the Shore’s most feared power hitters. He slammed seven home runs last year while batting .448 and slugging .554. The first baseman had 22 RBIs and scored 13 times.

Nardi emerged as the Colonials’ ace last spring, going 6-3 and recording one save. He chewed up innings, leading the team by logging 48 frames, and was a big reason the team saw the postseason.

Nardi and Marx give the Colonials a veteran one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Marx was 3-2 with a pair of saves.

Richard Pultar and newcomer Ryan Kresky will be the team’s spot starters and will also be used in long relief. Cuneo may be used in late-inning situations. Jeff Frost is another potential arm for the bullpen.

Catcher Marc Hubbert is a defensive asset and calls a good game. The Colonials also have two good defenders returning in the outfield in Colton Ruggieri and Jason Baggit.

Kresky (third base) and Frost (second base) will start in the field when not pitching.

Newcomer Neil Bolton is just what the Colonials ordered for the top of the

lineup. He has speed and a good eye. He’s walked nine times in Freehold’s first three games.

He’s just what a lineup that has Marx-Cuneo-Nardi batting third, fourth and fifth needs. They combined for 44 RBIs and 10 home runs.

Despite getting off to a 1-2 start, coach Steve Kochinsky remains confident that his team will compete all the way for the B North title.

“I’m very excited about what I have,” he said. “We have a diverse lineup that has speed and power.

“In the first couple of games our inexperience showed,” he added. “But our captains [Cuneo, Nardi, Marx] have settled the young guys down.”

Marlboro has shown signs in the first week that the Mustangs are going to be one big pain to play because they can score runs. They lost their first game of the season to Freehold Township on Thursday, 10-9, with Nick Tutrone and Dom Imperato going deep. That dropped them to 2-1 overall, the same mark as contenders Freehold Township and Manalapan.

First-year coach Chris LeMore has a number of veterans returning, including Tutrone (pitcher/

infield), Gabe Suarez (pitcher/infield), Daren Saler (pitcher), Adam Helfgott (infield) and Tom Salerno.

Imperato heads the newcomers, a group that has already had an impact. The others are Joe Baldino (catcher), Gary Orlando (pitcher/infield), Andrew Novod (infield), Don LaLima (pitcher/outfield) and Gerard Scapicchio (pitcher/outfield).

Orlando and Saler have picked up the wins for Marlboro. If the pitching can hold out, the Mustangs could be in the A North chase for the long haul.

It’s a rebuilding year for Howell coach Dave Gallacher, but the early results have been promising. The Rebels, 1-2, have been very competitive in each game.

The team has shown surprising power. In their 9-8 win over Middletown North, the Rebels belted four home runs. Chris Mirrione (infield), Brian Battaglia (pitcher/infield), Miguel Medina (infield/DH) and Matt Pfister (outfield) all went deep.

Mirrione and Medina are two of the key returners. Medina slammed five home runs last year.

Tom Appel (catcher), Craig Kimmon (pitcher) and Frank Mormino (first base) are the other returners.

Battaglia and Pfister are among the key additions. Others include J.P. McClave (pitcher), Sean O’Reilly (pitcher/outfield), Frank Ozello (infield), Mike Zduniak (pitcher/infield) and Dave Rooney (outfield),

Kimmon, a junior, who was 3-2 last year, tops a rotation that has appears to be stronger than anticipated. Gallacher has gotten quality starts in every game. The early season difficulties for the Rebels have been on defense. The offense and pitching appear to real. Howell just needs to stop giving teams four and five outs an inning to go from being competitive to winning.