SCOREBOARD

Secaucus baseball team off to strong start

When Neal Czechowski took over the Secaucus High School baseball program a year ago, he knew that the Patriots would have to endure some growing pains.

“I knew that last year would be a bit of a feeling-out period,” Czechowski said. “There was a bit of a learning curve, both for the players and for me. They were getting to know me better.”

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After the Patriots managed to muddle through an 11-12 record a year ago, Czechowski knew that 2019 would be a better campaign.

“I thought it would be a lot easier this year,” Czechowski said. “I think the kids knew what to expect from the get-go. I thought our pitching might be a question mark, but I was going to count on our sophomores to do the job. I knew that we were going to be competitive and had the potential to do something special with this team. The kids definitely put the work in.”

Well, whatever the Patriots did, it has seemed to work, because in the early going of the season, the Patriots stand at 5-2 and vastly improved over a year ago.

Leading the way for the Patriots is senior right-handed pitcher/shortstop A.J. Kirvin, who is hitting an astounding .583 over the first seven games of the season with 15 stolen bases. At press time, Kirvin was on a streak of five straight games with two or more hits.

“He’s our leadoff hitter,” Czechowski said. “It’s hard to find a kid with the kind of hustle that he has. When I took over, I didn’t know much about him. But he does it all. He gets on base and gives his teammates chances to drive him in. We’re seeing a lot of great senior leadership from him. As a pitcher, he comes in and pounds the strike zone. He keeps the ball down and mixes up his pitches well.”

Another senior pitcher is right-hander Justin Mastropietro.

“Justin is more of a control guy,” Czechowski said. “He has been using his fastball a lot. He’s able to keep the score down and give us a chance to win with our bats.”

Senior William Gercich is another standout righty on the Patriots’ deep pitching staff.

“He moves the ball around and changes speed well,” Czechowski said.

Then there are the talented sophomore arms, which have pleasantly surprised Czechowski.

Sophomore righty Patrick Pantoliano might be better known for his basketball prowess, but he has displayed some baseball skills as well this spring.

“He throws hard and throws a heavy ball,” Czechowski said. “He comes in and pounds the strike zone.”

Sophomore William DeIosi has also displayed some quality stuff early on.

“He hits the corners well and has consistently kept his walk totals down to a minimum,” Czechowski said.

Sophomore Jamling Lama, the basketball phenom, has brought his talents to the baseball team. Lama is a left-handed pitcher and outfielder.

“He has the ability to be the best athlete on the field,” Czechowski said. “He has developed into a nice outfielder and throws hard as a pitcher.”

Sophomore Jhackzon Gil has to find a spot in both the rotation and the lineup. As a pitcher, Gil throws hard, but as a player, he’s been unreal, collecting seven hits in his first eight at-bats (.875) with a home run, a double, a triple and four RBI. He might be a player to watch.

“He has amazing speed,” Czechowski said of Gil.

The catcher is senior Julian Rocco, who had to miss all of last season due to injury.

“His bat has really come alive,” Czechowski said of the backstop, who is hitting .364 with two homers and 10 RBI thus far. “I’m impressed with his power, especially after having the year off.”

First base duties are shared by Gercich and Pantoliano.
“They both make good contact and can hit the ball hard,” Czechowski said.

Mastropietro plays second base when he’s not pitching.

“He’s our No. 2 hitter, but he’s not the stereotypical No. 2,” Czechowski said. “He hits the ball in the gap so Kirvin can fly around the bases.”
Kirvin holds down the shortstop position, with senior Edwin Tavarez at third.

“Edwin is a solid fielder,” Czechowski said. “He’s a very strong kid with a solid swing. He puts the ball in the air.”

Senior Chuck Snyder is the left fielder. The multi-talented Snyder is hitting .391 with five RBI.

“He came back to play baseball this year,” Czechowski said. “He is a solid left fielder who chases the ball down well. His bat has solid potential. He’s the glue who keeps the lineup together. He does a little bit of everything.”

DeIosi is the centerfielder with Lama in right. Sophomore Mark Dehnert is the team’s jack-of-all-trades, pitching and playing all the infield positions except first base.

“Depending upon who’s pitching, Mark is going to get in the game,” Czechowski said. “He has a good bat.”

Needless to say, things are looking up in Secaucus, which was once a traditionally strong baseball town. Maybe Secaucus is making a comeback.

“Our kids show up ready to play,” Czechowski said. “When we do that, we can beat anybody. We’re hoping that the tide has turned in Secaucus. I was around when we had all those great years. I’m hoping we keep it together and reap the benefits of a good young group.”
Sure looks that way.

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com and follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.

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