Nozza hopes to help Montgomery move on

Newcomer fits right in 11s squad

By: Justin Feil
   It could have been difficult to integrate onto a Montgomery all-star baseball team that had grown close while battling to a World Series appearance at 10-year-olds, but not for D.J. Nozza.
   Nozza is the lone newcomer to the team, and he has been a welcome addition from the first day he came on board to his home run in his first District One game to his first grand slam for Montgomery this week.
   "It’s been very easy," said Montgomery manager Tom Verducci. "He fits in perfectly."
   Nozza has slid into the clean-up spot for Montgomery, the District One champions who open the Cal Ripken Southern New Jersey Tournament 7:30 p.m. tonight against Galloway at tournament host Mount Laurel. The winner plays the Mount Laurel-Indian Mills winner 7 p.m. Saturday. The SJ final is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday.
   "It’s very exciting," Nozza said. "I feel good about myself being new and all. I’m very happy that I just hit my first grand slam for the team. It’s great for me. I love my team’s support. I think we’re going to go all the way to regionals."
   Regionals are the farthest that Cal Ripken teams can advance at the 11-year-old level. Nozza and his family moved from Elizabeth in December, but never heard about Montgomery’s 10-year-old accomplishments until he made the team.
   "Nobody ever told me," he said. "When I first learned that, I was amazed. My dad told me. I didn’t even know this team got that far.
   "I didn’t know about it at all," he added. "I had to take a tryout to make it on this team. It was very good."
   Nozza, who will be a seventh grader at the Montgomery Upper Middle School, was the top player on his Elmora Little League team. He pitched and he played catcher. While he has filled in those spots, he has found a role in the outfield, and also shown he can play some first base.
   "I never used to play outfield," he said. "I was good at the diving catches. But I was usually a pitcher or catcher. Wherever they put me, I’ll do my best."
   That attitude is what helped Nozza find immediate acceptance from his teammates. He never demanded to pitch or catch. He just wanted to play and help Montgomery win games.
   "We don’t have any egos at all," Verducci said. "He’s the same way. He’s a very good player, but he doesn’t broadcast it to anybody. All our players are like that. We talk about it all the time — it does take 12 kids to win."
   The returning 11 remember well that lesson. They played together all last summer and did plenty of winning at the 10s level. With Nozza joining the team, Montgomery has continued to move forward. He picked up quickly the team’s confidence in the district tournament.
   "I knew they were going to win," he said. "We had great offense and defense and we’re great on the bases. We’re all-around great."
   Nozza helped immediately when he homered in the first game, adding power to a Montgomery lineup that was already potent.
   "It wasn’t a bad start for me," Nozza said. "I just take my natural swing every time. I just let things happen. It happens to everyone on our team — Greg Kocinsiki, Andrew Link, Ben Verducci. We have a lot of guys who have hit home runs. We’re a very good hitting team."
   Though it’s been two weeks since they won the district, Montgomery has not be resting on its early achievements. This week alone, they completed pool play in the Readington tournament at 5-0, and led 5-1 in the Bridgewater tournament semifinals when rain pushed the scheduled conclusion to Thursday.
   "Ideally you’d like a day off before you get into states," the elder Verducci said. "We have pretty good pitching depth. The important thing is gearing things toward states and getting ready to play those games, getting the pitching lined up.
   "I think we play in a very competitive district that prepares you well for states. I think the same is true this year. Looking back on states, we won 2-0, 2-0, and 5-4. Then we won the final, 10-0. But the first three games were all close games, low-scoring games. That’s what we’re going in expecting. Hopefully our pitching and defense will do well."
   Between playing three tournaments since the districts — Montgomery lost in the final of its own tournament — they have had plenty of time to sharpen themselves for the next level of competition. There is no worry about having played too much.
   "These kids are great. They really enjoy playing baseball," Verducci said. "What I like is they enjoy playing the right way, smart baseball, team baseball. They play that way no matter what the score, what the opponent, what the tournament. They don’t feel they need to raise their level to play in states. They have a very consistent approach."
   Adopting that consistent approach, and becoming a consistent force at the plate and fielder in the outfield, D.J. Nozza has been able to contribute to the Montgomery all-stars. He hopes that continues as they look to repeat as state champions.
   "We don’t value any one player above any other," Verducci said. "D.J. is same way. They all regard each other as peers. We feel like whoever’s at the plate can start or finish a rally. D.J. thinks along those same lines. He’s a very humble kid and talented player. He’s fit in very easily and quickly."