By Andrew Garda
Much like the rest of the Montclair High School spring sports, the baseball team has found itself behind the curve in terms of preseason preparations. The recent snow kept them off their newly re-sodded field, forcing them into the gym and local batting cages like Lefty’s in Clifton.
“We got a lot of good work as far as hitting,” said assistant coach Jamie Bittner. “As far as team defense, stuff like that, we haven’t been able to do it.”
Which is why the ability to scrimmage has been a godsend to the coaching staff, and the Mounties have jammed in as many as they could get over the past week. Even with access to the gym, there’s just only so much you can do inside.
With the added work against other teams, Bittner feels the team is really coming together, slowly but surely. Luckily, every other team in the league is in the same spot and everyone is playing catchup. That means the Mounties aren’t as far behind as they could be.
It does mean the staff is still trying to sort out who will play where, as the season closes in on them.
Fortunately, they have some veterans to rely on.
The top of that list is senior Mahki Booker, who will lead the pitching staff after an impressive junior year. With a strong arm and good speed, Booker is the anchor for the Mounties and will also provide a good bat and second-base duties.
The expectation is that he will not only be their ace, but a leader younger players can rally around and learn from throughout the season.
He will be joined by Henry Brooks, who will also be a useful utility player as well as a pitcher. Bittner said he had a solid outing in a scrimmage against Old Tappan on Thursday, March 23.
Bittner said overall the team has quite a few arms, a necessity in high school baseball, where athletes are not as likely to throw full games. That’s especially true this season as the rules have changed and pitchers will now be closely monitored.
As of this year, high school pitchers will not be allowed to throw more than 105 pitches in a week (considered a five-day span). If they hit their pitch count in the middle of an inning they can finish it, but otherwise they are done for that period.
That means you have to be careful how often you use your pitchers and how long you leave them in a game. It also means you have to have extra arms to balance the limitation out.
This is critical for the health of the athletes, considering the rise in arm injuries pitchers are suffering at higher levels, including the major leagues. Mountie coaches are happy to make the adjustment for their kids, though.
Aside from pitching, the team expects contributions from several other areas as well.
John Lewis, a transfer from Paramus Catholic, will take over duties in right field. An experienced player who brings a lot of talent to the table, Lewis is expected to be a big part of both the offense and defense of the team.
Meanwhile, Dylan Scarfo will once again handle things behind the plate. It’s good to have a catcher who is familiar with the pitching staff and experienced enough to help the coaches manage them.
Scarfo will be critical to the pitching staff’s success.
MHS plays in the tough American division in the Super Essex conference, and will be seeing some very good teams.
Nothing will come easy for a Mountie team which has been sub-.500 in the division the last two seasons, and is facing the likes of Seton Hall Prep (14-2 in 2016) and Millburn (15-1). Many of the other American division teams are coming off tough years as well, so there is room for MHS to make some noise and bounce back from a 7-9 2016.
Out of their division, the Mounties had a much more successful year, going 9-3.
Teams like Passaic, Columbia and Elizabeth will still be challenging, as will crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy, but if MHS can combine a solid out-of-division record with some wins within the division, they should set themselves up for a shot at some postseason success.