Rising Sophomore Aaron Channing delivers a pitch during Monday’s game against Montclair Kimberley Academy.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Mounties and Montclair Kimberley Academy summer baseball teams met Monday afternoon in High School Development League play, something scheduling didn’t allow for during the regular season.

While neither team was made up of varsity players — the Mounties are all freshmen and the Cougars also field mostly freshmen — MKA head coach Spencer Pyke was happy to get the 14-2 win in six innings.

Mounties coach Ron Gavazzi would have liked a win, but for both coaches the point is to see improvement during the summer and he has certainly seen that from his team.

“We’ve got a lot of developing players, some are [more] ahead in certain areas than other guys but they’ve all worked relatively hard,” Gavazzi said after the game. They’ve given it the most that they can. We hope for better results, but it’s not always the case.”

Pyke has seen the same from his team.

“The boys have really shown growth in the summer, they’re putting the ball in play, making the routine plays, which you want to see in the summer since we aren’t practicing every day.”

Both teams still struggled at times with errors while fielding, and the Mounties had some up and down pitching. However, both coaches said they feel that in a league like this they can give the pitchers some more latitude to fight through tough stretches.

“They’re working on things, working on locating pitches, pitching to a philosophy, working on mechanical things,” Gavazzi said. “Things that they had worked on between starts and in practice. So this is just like playing innings for us.”

“We give them a little more rope and we give them more leeway with things when it goes wrong,” Pyke said. “But we also don’t let it get too out of control because they’re not throwing bullpens every day, so we don’t want to wear out their arms.”

Pyke says he tries to keep in mind the in-season pitch count rules as well, and tries to hold his pitching staff to between 70 and 80 pitches. That said, he wants to see them work their way out of trouble and won’t pull them too quickly.

The league is made up of SEC teams, and some very good ones at that. Both Pyke and Gavazzi welcome the competition, as it can only sharpen their players in preparation for next season.

“We’re playing some pretty big teams like West Essex and Caldwell and Bloomfield and we’re hanging in there,” Pyke said.

With the Mounties, their players are not just getting tested by good teams. They’re being tested by what are largely veteran players, which is why while wins might be nice, they aren’t the end goal.

“We have freshman playing against, typically JV and varsity players. We’ve been playing up all season, and destined for good and bad games,” Gavazzi said. “There has been good and bad in every game. We hope to keep learning from both the good and the bad.”

The league wraps up play this week before a tournament which will take place this weekend and next week.

For the Mounties, that will wrap up a lot of baseball. Gavazzi said that the program fielded six teams throughout the summer. He and coach Anthony Genche have managed the rising 10th graders, as well as an eighth-grade team.

That’s not all.

“We also have a seventh/eighth grade combo team, a seventh-grade team, a 16U and an 18U,” he said. “Six teams, we’re talking 57 kids playing this summer, sometimes on the same night, which is fun.”

For both the Mounties and the Cougars, the hope is that players they have been working with this summer will carry over into the 2018 season and that some of the players might improve enough to be contributors then — perhaps even at the varsity level.

Gavazzi says he’s proud of the way his guys have worked this summer.

“I give them credit. They come here with a good mindset every night, they’ve got a willingness to learn, they’ve got a willingness to play hard, and that makes it fun every night no matter what the ultimate outcome is.”