Ocean Twp. baseball to be led by Rosenkranz

BY DOUG McKENZIE Correspondent

Anytime a team loses threeAll-State caliber players to graduation, it’s going to leave a void, even for a program that has enjoyed as much success as the Ocean Township Spartans have in recent years.

That being said, it is the ability of the elite programs to reload rather than rebuild in such circumstances, which is exactly what head coach Del Dal Pra is hoping will happen with this spring’s group of Spartans.

“Certainly, it’s not easy to lose guys like [Keith] Weincofsky, [Kyle] Norman and [Eric Hinckle], because they really did it all for us,” Dal Pra said. “They pitched, they hit, and they played great defense for us. But we have a lot of returning starters, and it’s a great group of guys who were role players for us in the past few seasons, and will now be asked to do a little more.”

One player who was not a role player is senior Jamie Rosenkranz, the team’s ace pitcher and shortstop, who is coming off a brilliant year both on the hill, and at the plate, where he hit .396, with 40 hits, four home runs, 24 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

“Jamie started out hitting fifth for us last year, moved up to the lead-off spot for a while, and bounced back to the fifth spot when other guys started hitting for us,” Dal Pra said. “This year he’ll bat third for us, and we expect another big season from him.”

Rosenkranz drew plenty of interest from colleges, but chose to stay close to home in the end.

“It was mostly Ivy and Patriot League schools coming after him, and someBigEast schools,” Dal Pra said. “But in the end, he wanted to stay close to home, and it doesn’t get any closer than Monmouth University.”

Dal Pra is also looking to senior Tony DeSantis to emerge as a leader on this team.

“Tony’s a threeyear starter who catches, pitches and may even play a little bit of shortstop for us when Jamie pitches,” the coach said. “He’s really more of a defensive specialist for us.”

Neal Raffe is another player Dal Pra has some high expectations for this spring.

“Neal will play both second and third base for us, and hit .275 last year, with six stolen bases and six RBIs,” the coach said.

Sean DaSilva (.271 with 21 runs scored and 25 hits last year) will also anchor the infield at third and shortstop, while Gabe Kaczka (the third of the team’s co-captains with Rosenkranz and DeSantis) will man center field.

“Gabe hit .275 for us last year, and is my quarterback in the outfield,” Dal Pra said. “He pretty much runs the show for me out there.”

The Spartan pitching staff will be led by Rosenkranz, while sophomore right-hander Ed Mejias will hold down the No. 2 spot after enjoying an impressive freshman season.

“Ed’s 6-5, 220 pounds, and was 3-1 with a 1.98 ERAfor us last season,” Dal Pra said.

Senior lefty Bryan Gold is the team’s third starter, while Dal Pra is still working out a slew of players for the Nos. 4 and 5 slots in the rotation.

“Pitching is going to be our big thing,” the coach said. “We’ve got some good arms, but we’re also going to need our defense to be strong.

“As for our offense, we’re going to need some extremely timely hitting,” the coach added. “We’re not going to be the kind of team that gets 10 hits, with three of them being home runs, like we’ve been the past couple of years.We’re probably only going to get about five to six hits a game, so we’re going to have to make them count. We haven’t broken out the small ball yet, butwe will, especially in the bottom of the order.”

One of the team’s strength will be its recent experience, as the returning players have certainly enjoyed their fair share of success over the past few years.

“And that’s one of the things I really like about this team,” Dal Pra said.

“There isn’t an arrogance with them, even though they’ve accomplished a lot. They realize that sometimes you’re going to fail, but it’s howyou bounce back that determines how successful you’re going to be.”

So while the Spartans may not enter the season with the kind of expectations they’ve become accustomed to, Dal Pra is not counting out another strong season in Ocean Township.

“As far as the division goes, I think it’s Wall, thenMonmouth Regional, then either us or Freehold Borough,” he said. “So we’re really in the middle of the pack. “But if we play together, maybe we can have a shot.”

If history rings true, Ocean will surprise some people this season, and will reaffirm the Spartans’ status as one of those teams that doesn’t rebuild.