After missing the first two weeks of the season due to COVID-19 protocol, the Secaucus High School baseball team is off to a solid 3-1 start in the new campaign.
The Patriots started off the season with three wins against Dwight-Englewood, New Milford and Harrison, before falling to rival Lyndhurst.
Right before the season was set to begin, the Patriots suffered a huge loss when it was learned that standout outfielder/pitcher Jhackson Gil decided to transfer to a school in Pennsylvania.
“We would have been able to shuffle our outfield around a little,” said veteran head coach Neal Czochanski. “I really thought he could have developed into something. He just disappeared one day. It came as a surprise to me.”
But the Patriots have a solid group of returning players from the team that finished 12-10 in 2019.
Czochanski doesn’t think missing last year and the first two weeks of this year would have a negative effect on the Patriots.
“I think we have a bunch of kids who trust in the program and are willing to learn,” Czochanski said. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys. If they just learn their positions well, I think we can play winning baseball.”
Leading the returning players is senior right-handed pitcher/first baseman Patrick Pantoliano, who is off to a 1-1 start as the Patriots’ ace. Already committed to play baseball at William Paterson University in the fall, Pantoliano has put his injury woes behind him and looks bigger and stronger than ever. Pantoliano suffered a badly broken ankle that forced him to miss the entire 2019-2020 basketball season and he would not have been able to recover in time if there was a baseball season a year ago.
“I felt Pat was determined to come back,” Czochanski said. “He’s definitely a bulldog to make it back. It was emotional to see him back out there on the field. I think he wants to take the team on his shoulders. I told Pat he doesn’t have to do that. He’s developed so much on and off the field. He was always a good pitcher, but as a hitter, he’s improved leaps and bounds.”
As a hitter, Pantoliano is hitting .345 with three RBI.
“He’s developed nicely as a hitter,” Czochanski said. “I’m really anxious to see what he can do this year. He is constantly working on his game.”
Senior Jamling Lama is another clutch performer. Lama, a three-sport standout (soccer, basketball and baseball), is a left-handed hitter and thrower. He will also pitch for the Patriots this season.
“He covers a lot of ground in the outfield,” Czochanski said. “He’s a real positive part of the team. He’s our leadoff guy. I’ve watched him grow and develop into a nice leader since his freshman year.”
Another key pitcher is senior right-hander William DeIasi, who won five games on the mound as a sophomore in 2019.
“He’s sneaky fast,” Czochanski said. “He’s turned into a nice pitcher. He throws strikes. He’s a control guy. He gets ahead of hitters. He relies on his off-speed pitches to get outs. He’s just consistent and makes hitters hit a lot of ground balls.”
Senior Mark Dehnert is another solid hurler.
“Mark throws hard,” Czochanski said. “Sometimes he struggles with control issues. I think that’s because he’s shaking off the rust from not having pitched in so long. But he’s the glue to the infield defense and makes the solid plays.”
DeIasi plays centerfield when he’s not pitching while Dehnert is a middle infielder.
Another senior hurler is right-hander Matt DeLeo. DeLeo saw limited action at first base and on the mound two seasons ago. DeLeo can also start the merry-go-round at first, meaning depending who is on the bound or who’s swinging the bat well, DeLeo can fill in at first base, second base or shortstop.
“He saw limited time when he’s a sophomore,” Czochanski said. “He can swing the bat a little.”
Here’s a little taste of that versatility thar Czochanski was boasting about.
“DeLeo is the backup catcher and a solid first baseman,” Czochanski said. “We like to move people around.”
One player who probably won’t be moved is starting catcher Sean Moloughney.
“Sean is improving every day as a catcher,” Czochanski said. “He also has good speed for a catcher. He has a good arm. We’re willing to improvise with our players for the sake of the team.”
DeLeo is the team’s starter at first base and can play second base as well.
“He’s a huge utility guy,” Czochanski said. “He’s also our cleanup hitter. He is also our most dominating second baseman. He shows no fear at the plate.”
Dehnert and junior Joe Leon are sharing shortstop duties.
Junior John Young is the starting third baseman, but he can also pitch if called upon. He’s the four-sport athlete that was featured in Scoreboard a few weeks ago. Young potentially has a power bat.
“I’m looking for big things from him,” Czochanski said of Young.
Sophomore Danny Pantoliano is the left fielder. He’s the younger brother of ace hurler Patrick and Danny delivered his first two varsity hits in a game last week.
“I can see him spot pitching as well,” Czochanski said. “He’s developing nicely.”
DeIasi is the main centerfielder and he currently leads the team with six RBI.
Lama plays right field when not on the mound. He’s off to a torrid start, batting .636 with eight runs scored.
“They are the guys who rule the outfield,” Czochanski said.
Others who will see playing time include senior second baseman John O’Connell, junior infielder Zander Orlando and junior outfielders Luke Millevoi-Fournier (the grandson of long-time Ferris High School girls’ basketball coach Bill Millevoi) and Daniel O’Connor, who has a lot of speed and serves as a courtesy runner from time to time.
So the pieces are in place for it to be a successful baseball season in Secaucus. It might have taken 14 months to take place, but the Patriots are poised.
“I think we do have a lot of confidence,” Czochanski said. “I also do have a lot of confidence that we will be competitive. When this team hits its stride, it can be very dangerous.” – Jim Hague
NOTE TO READERS: The Athlete of the Week feature will return next week with a young lady from Snyder who is having a superb track and field season. The story of Faith Bethea will be told next week.