by Andrew Garda
The planned scrimmage between Montclair and Westfield high school baseball teams didn’t happen on Saturday due to a last minute cancellation by the Bulldogs, but it didn’t keep Mounties off the field even with the chilly weather.
With the season almost on top of his team, and early parts of preseason stymied by weather, MHS head coach Ron Gavazzi wasn’t going to miss a chance to make up for lost time.
So the Mounties split into two groups for an intrasquad game on March 23, and the staff got another look at what they have to work with.
“We have a real competitive group,” Gavazzi said afterwards. “A lot of depth in all areas and certainly on the mound. And we’re really excited about that. Guys have given great energy, and great enthusiasm throughout the month of March. Everyone is really excited to start the season.”
The Mounties are excited by the depth of this year’s roster, which will enable the team to feature a lot of different looks on the field and in the batter’s box this season. Depending on who is pitching, Montclair can shift the lineup. Sometimes, the team will rely on the middle of the order to drive in runs. Other times, they’ll produce with “small ball” by stealing bases or bunting to move runners around the basepaths.
“Depending on who’s pitching for us, it creates different lineups,” Gavazzi said. “So, we can always play a different style of baseball.”
Producing wins at the high school level is all about how you produce runs. While the long ball gets a lot of attention in Major League Baseball, there just aren’t as many high school kids who can drive the ball out of the park regularly. So a team that can create its own runs by consistently moving runners is a team that can take command of a game.
Of course, the pitching staff still needs to do its job.
The Mounties have plenty of arms to work with, led by senior Conor McGrath.
“He’s such a talented pitcher, there so much he can do on the mound,” Gavazzi said. “We’re really excited for him and happy for him that he’s out there.”
When McGrath is off the mound and playing shortstop, Gavazzi can turn to other seniors like Kyle Miller, Ben Zucker and Kevin Zaccareo.
“[They] all showed a great deal of promise last year, pitching as juniors for us.”
Gavazzi said that behind them will be lefthander Nate Bauer and righty Ben Masuzzo, both juniors who have pitched well at junior varsity.
There’s also sophomores Jack Moed and Jeremy Sacks, both of whom started the intrasquad scrimmage Saturday. And there’s Ethan Greengrass, a junior who pitched for varsity at times last year.
Each player brings a different skill to the field, and each allows the team behind them the flexibility to change how they approach the game.
“We’ve got depth from all parts, senior, junior, sophomore. So we have a good deal of arms to look at,” Gavazzi said.
While there are many ways for the coaching staff to go when putting their lineup together, the Mounties will still look to their seniors to provide leadership and stability, and a lot of that will be provided by the infield.
McGrath will often be at shortstop, with Zaccareo at third base, and Evan Chaladoff, Joey Fischer, Alex Borelli and Michael Strapoli filling in around the rest of the positions.
“So, we’re looking for all those guys to contribute, find a role on the team and depending on what day it is, stepping it up and helping the ball club out,” said Gavazzi.
Since the track at Woodman Field is still far from finished, the Mounties will start the season playing home games at Nishuane Park.
While the hope is that Woodman will be opened for business again soon, MHS is prepared to handle their business at Nishuane Park. Where they play isn’t important, as long as they can score some runs and win their games.
The Mounties get their first chance for a win when they open their season at 4 p.m. on April 1 at Nishuane against West Essex. That game is followed by a road game against Millburn on April 3 and another Nishuane game against Livingston on April 5. Then, with luck, they might be able to access Woodman again to welcome crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy for the yearly Yogi Berra Cup game.