It’s pitching, pitching for Colts Neck nine

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Calling all arms. That’s the cry of Colts Neck High School’s baseball team in 2008.

“Pitching, that’s our big thing,” said coach Mike Yorke. “We’ll go as far as our pitching takes us.”

Which, in the Cougars’ case, should be pretty far. They not only have the area’s best hurler in Anthony DeSclafani, but a lot of talent in support of him, led by Ethan Jackson, who could give Colts Neck the best one-two combo in the Shore.

DeSclafani will be pitching free of pressure this season, having already signed with the University of Florida. The strongarmed right-hander was the winning pitcher in the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) final, an 8-2 victory over Christian Brothers Academy. He was 8-2 last spring with a 1.72 earned-run average. He was overpowering, striking out 84 batters in 60 innings of work. Colts Neck’s ace since his freshman year, DeSclafani brings a career record 18-8 into the season. He has struck out 222 batters in his career in just 162 winnings, an average of just under 1.5 an inning. That is domination.

Jackson could be the No. 1 starter for most teams in the Shore. He went 6-1 with a 2.58 ERA in ’07 and fanned 37 in 40.2 innings of work.

Together, DeSclafani and Jackson were 14-3.

As if DeSclafani and Jackson weren’t enough, Yorke goes six deep with his staff. Ken Potis (who will miss the first two weeks of the season with a broken finger on his pitching hand), Chris Coutos, Chris Leroy and Charlie Lasky will allow Yorke to put a quality pitcher on the mound all the time, which will come in handy if the schedule gets overloaded because of rainouts.

All of his pitchers have one thing in common- they don’t rely on one pitch.

“They can throw more than one pitch for a strike,” noted Yorke.

Colts Neck experienced a historic season in 2007. The Cougars finally collected that long overdue first championship banner. And, it was a big one, Shore Conference Tournament champions. They also went 22-7, establishing a school record for wins in a season.

The foundation of the Cougar program, A.J. Rusbarsky (Seton Hall) and Dominick Hayes (New Jersey Institute of Technology), both four-year starters, have graduated to college ball and their leadership will surely be missed.

However, they passed the torch to a very good senior class led by DeSclafani, who, like them, is a four-year starter. The

winning experience of the Cougars’ 12 returning seniors is what Yorke is banking on as Colts Neck looks to pick up where it left off in ’07.

“I expect our kids to play hard,” said Yorke. “We have 12 seniors and we’ll attempt to match what

we did last year.

There are no guarantees, but we’re pretty excited.

“Pitching is the key,” he added. “Our pitchers can keep us close and we’ll look for seniors to get us over the top.”

Outfielder Ashton Jackson is among those 12th-graders. He brought a new element to the Cougar offense last year, speed, and he used it to disrupt defenses and set the table for the team’s big bats. He batted .418 and scored 27 runs. Lest pitchers look at him as a singles hitter, he gave them more to think about with his power. He had five doubles, four triples and two home runs and drove in 20 runs.

Frank Piazza and Joe DeNora, who had big seasons in ’07, return in the outfield with Jackson.

Matt Crank and Dave Leber complete the outfield corps.

Pat Specchio and Mike O’Reilly, who played important roles last year, anchor the field. Specchio has moved to shortstop, and O’Reilly is a defensive force behind the plate. He threw out 11 base stealers.

Billy Noble (second base) and Coutros complete the infield rotation.

Tom Goldberg and Potis will see action at third, while DeScalagani, Jackson and Crank will rotate at first.

Offensively, the Cougars are looking for consistency, noted Yorke. Through preseason games, the team was up and down getting runs in bunches and then going several innings with nothing.

With a pitching staff that will keep the team in every game, the offense can take time to find that consistency. They won’t be playing from three of four runs down very often.