by Andrew Garda
The Montclair spring freshman team had a tremendous summer, winning the Essex County 18U HSDL League before losing to Bayonne in the HSDL state tournament semifinal on Monday, July 16. The team went 10-3-1, accruing 35 total points and edging second place winner Caldwell, who finished with 32 points and a record of 8-4-2.
The Montclair Kimberly Academy Cougars finished a distant third with a record of 5-8 and 22 points.
Despite falling short of the tournament win, coach Ron Gavazzi was pleased with how his players responded.
“I am really proud of this team for their growth this summer,” Gavazzi said. “They came everyday willing to learn and compete. The competition they faced was a big step up from the spring, but they didn’t shy away from it. Rather they rose to the daily challenges that baseball presented to them.”
The team was comprised of rising sophomores, aged 14 and 15, all building off their time on the MHS freshman team this past spring. The squad ripped off five straight wins before notching a 3-3 tie at Caldwell on June 20. The Mounties immediately bounced back with a 5-2 win over West Essex on the road, before losing their first game to the crosstown rival Cougars, 6-0. The Mounties then lost to Belleville and Nutley before regaining their footing in a 7-1 home win against Bloomfield.
The team went on to win three of their next four games.
Overall, the Mounties offense was a big part of why they won. The team hit early and often, and was able to not only get runners into scoring position, but get them across home plate as well.
Montclair outscored their opponents 59-16 in their first seven games, and 98-44 over the course of the summer season.
When you’re hitting like that, it gives you a lot of leeway in overcoming any pitching issues or fielding miscues.
Gavazzi said the hit parade was led by Brett Janifer.
Janifer was a standout for the Mounties, leading the team in nearly every offensive category. A two-sport athlete, Janifer was a critical piece on the Mounties ice hockey team this past winter as well, scoring seven times and compiling 12 assists.
Gavazzi also praised second baseman Jack Burke and catcher Eli Cohen for their efforts at the plate, as well as on the field.
The team was helped out by excellent outings on the mound from Jeremey Sacks, Lawton Granger and Jack Moed.
“Winning the Essex County Championship is an outstanding accomplishment for them, one that they now can reflect on,” Gavazzi said. “But the development and strides they made in improving their overall game is more worthy, as it will serve them well as they take it into next year. Summer baseball gets a player ready for their next season. This team put the hard work and sacrifice in it.”
And looking forward to next year is something Gavazzi is already doing as he will have to replace some excellent players from his 2018 varsity squad. That said, he’s more than confident in the talent he has coming up through the program.
“I’ve had the great honor to coach most of these players since their transition to the 60/90 diamond. Spending many seasons with them has brought a ton of fun memories,” he said. “Through commitment, their future will remain bright as they move along to bigger baseball stages.”